Fear, Inc. (2016) Film Review
Starring: Lucas Neff, Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette, Stephanie Drake, and Abigail Breslin
Written By: Luke Barnett
Directed By: Vincent Masciale
Like most horror fans, Joe Foster (Neff), the lead character in the smart, surreal, and sadistically fun horror comedy, Fear, Inc., finds himself so hungry for a good scare this Halloween season, but feels constantly let down. Every haunt he goes to seems so predictable and not nearly real enough. After consuming so many gory, disturbing horror films and visiting haunts that put millions of dollars in to effects and art design to put you inside a hellish world, after a while it can lose the impact and feel like you’ve seen it all. How do you really outdo it? Especially some of these immersive horror theater experiences or even extreme haunts where you can get physically and possibly emotionally scarred? How far can you go in making a simulated living nightmare real when you know it is staged? Fear, Inc. plays with the question of what it would take for such a desensitized horror fan to really be immersed and believe in a personal horror coming alive around him and just how horribly wrong that could go. It’s quite an amazing feat just how many times the film pulls you back and forth between the mentality of this is real and this is just a masterful bloody, cruel illusion and all a part of the game. The end game is completely unpredictable, perhaps the real illusion our characters experience is control and any sense of safety.
Fear, Inc. is incredibly written, acted, and directed film, especially being the first feature film by director Vincent Masciale. It has such a vibrant tone and energy I guarantee will be the fuel to the fire horror fans crave. I’ve been rather disappointed by a lot of horror films in the past few years and Fear, Inc. was really a breath of fresh air. It teeters between being pure horror homage fun and making you so invested in the horrors before you. It really is horror comedy perfection. The creators list Scream as one of their favorite movies and what they were looking to create something in a similar vein, they completely nailed it. There are about as many horror movie and genre movie references in this film that one could possibly fit, while still being its own unique story with relevant intriguing exploration on the current climate of the immersive horror theater and extreme haunt world.
The film is colorful, fun, witty, psychological, and most importantly is horror with a purpose. Horror comedy can be a very tricky thing to pull off, but Fear, Inc. excels at this too. The comedy doesn’t overpower the horror; you are utterly invested in it all. You care about the characters and are in the same position as them, enjoying it, but also realizing at a certain point this has to be real and you are horrified and fear for them greatly as the horrors unleash and the fun horror fanboy’s fantasy world and the grim, shocking reality collide and clash again and again. We are affected by this mind fuck just as much as Joe is so we are really experiencing this all through him, getting us to question what we would do in his shoes.
There’s some very interesting questioning of what crossing the line is with horror simulation, which I think is an equally fascinating and terrifying subject. It also questions would anyone of their right mind really want to be pushed so far to experience even seemingly real torment? And what type of person does a company like this attract, the people that willingly sign up to invoke real fear and a power play over someone in an environment where in a way they have permission to do this because the client “wanted this”. The nature of what Fear, Inc. as a company does is a bit different than extreme haunts, but it still is very obviously in the same realm and exploring it and inherent themes in their own way. With haunts and simulation experiences becoming more and more real, where there isn’t necessarily the safety net of thinking “Oh nothing can really happen to me, it’s all a show” if one seeks out an extreme enough production, Fear, Inc. tackling and really exploring these themes from many different angles is very interesting and offers great substance to the film. In fact, I think this subject matter is really its saving grace in retaining its individuality and having its own voice. Being an homage to so many horror films it would be easy to lose its identity, but I think it’s key that by the chosen subject matter, it manages to have it’s own identity and be its own surreal macabre journey.
Things of course are pushed to the extreme here and you do need to suspend some disbelief that all this could be pulled off and the victim would perceive it a certain way, whether it’s fake or real. It’s well worth it to suspend that disbelief and play along, to lose yourself in the madness of it all. The one thing I wouldn’t have mind being dug in to more was this concept that this company made custom scares. I think it would have been more interesting to dive in to that client’s personal most crippling fears. I didn’t get a sense that anything that happened was Joe’s greatest fear he was being forced to face. Most of it was homages to all of his favorite movies and was fun for him to play and be a a part of it until of course things got a little too real. In some ways that limited his vulnerability and didn’t focus on fear itself as much as I would have liked. I think it could have been even more dark and fascinating, questioning the very nature of fear and how our own fears say so much about us and can push something out of us.
Hearing people who really do enjoy going to the most extreme haunts in the world, where they are being physically hurt and they come back again and again, this is why they say they do it; because it allows them to understand something about themselves and who they are in the face of true fear. Touching on that would have made the film that much more relevant, wise, and important I thought it might go there when I read “custom scares” were a part of the plot, but that would have just been a different way to go about it. Personally I think that could have propelled the film to greatness, but I totally respect that wasn’t the story they were quite looking to tell. Instead they took ones’ horror fantasies and twisted them on the person to show the devastation it could bring once it became more than a game. It was simply a different approach so I don’t have any real issues with this. As is it was quite an enthralling story.
The cast was absolutely incredible. Abigail Breslin, one of my favorite young horror starlets, had a great cameo in the opening that gave us a taste of what Fear, Inc. was all about. It was an intense, yet fun classic horror scene and let us in on the secret that this is not a game you can quit. Lucas Neff as the horror loving Joe was perfect. He nailed all of the comedic timing, he was loveable and relatable, and at times a bit insane, yet still realistic, for how much he relished in being the star of his own horror film by the hands of Fear, inc. Yet when it called for it the emotion and fear was there just as strong. I’ve been a fan of Chris Marquette’s for a long time and it was wonderful to see him in this as Joe’s right hand man and fellow horror buff, but much more cautious and the voice of reasoning. There were some great buddy moments between the two, but Marquette certainly held his own as well, especially when you consider the back and forth between supposed fiction and reality and how at times his character was on a different psychological playing field than the audience even realized.
This if my first time seeing Caitlin Stasey outside of The CW’s Reign and she was just as strong and at home in the horror realm with great emotional range. Patrick Renna (most well known for The Sandlot and The Big Green) brought his A creep game and the instigator for the warped world of Fear, Inc. to come in Joe’s life in the first place. There were a number of fun chilling moments with featured genre actors like Naomi Grossman and Maria Olsen. Really every actor gave a great performance, no matter how small the role was, which just made it feel like it was all that much more real and a compelling fight for your life adventure you could get lost in.
The film’s pacing really was a great strength as well. It gets higher paced and intensity as it goes on, eventually being a whirlwind of enticing meta slasher chaos. Yet it also takes its time and lingers on moments that deserve it. The escalating terror isn’t immediate of course, but the first act of the film doesn’t drag for a moment either. There was no one moment where I wasn’t totally engaged in the film. We spend time with our characters and really get a chance to connect and love them as well as just sit back and enjoy the wonderful horrorphile talk that really touches on the genuine love the characters, the audience, and clearly the writer and director feel for the genre, which really gives the film an infectious spirit that makes it an admirable horror entry among the likes of Scream and The Cabin in the Woods. This is a film not to be missed, it’s very much a film for the horror fans.