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Joe (Lucas Neff) is living a pretty comfortable life. Currently unemployed but staying with his very well-off girlfriend Lindsay (Caitlin Stasey), he spends most days dabbling in household boredom, chilling in the pool, smoking weed, and playing video games. He’s a film fan too, especially of horror, yet he’s seen them all and nothing really gets him scared anymore. At a local haunted house during Halloween, he lazily walks through the halls, predicting every fright. Directly after, he is approached by a curious looking fellow named Tom (Patrick Renna) who hands him a business card and says that if he truly wants to be afraid, then call the number for FEAR, Inc.
Joes shrugs it off, but later when his best friend and wife arrive for a weekend stay, they also mention FEAR, Inc., saying it is a real, albeit not legal, company that is actually dangerous. Intrigued, and wanting to experience something unlike anything before, Joe secretly calls the number, not believing it is anything more than a show. They tell him the tickets are sold out and hang up, and Joe thinks he’s lost the chance. Little does he know, it has actually begun.
Directed by Vincent Masciale, FEAR, Inc. is all about deception, starting with a young woman (Abigail Breslin) trapped in a parking garage being stalked by a man dragging a large axe behind him. She is on the phone desperately calling customer support, trying to “cancel” the encounter, saying it’s too much. I won’t say what happens but it leaves a weighty sense of ambiguity that layers what follows in a thick fog of question. Is it real or is it fake?
That’s the film’s greatest strength, playing with the audience’s expectations and anticipation. What we see seems so real, and yet we watch it with suspicious eyes, never quite convinced, much like Joe as it starts. His extensive knowledge of horror movies lend him an advantage of sorts in the early stages of the film as he recognizes what appears to be very real murders even though they are nearly exact re-creations of famous horror movie deaths. He really seems to enjoy the “game” as it were, until it comes to a choice between his bound and gagged girlfriend and a masked home invader in a black robe. The outcome of that changes everything, and the film itself shifts from comedy to real horror as Joe loses his laid back goofy attitude and becomes entrenched in a nightmare. Or does he?
So you’re probably getting a strong sense of familiarity about all of this, and don’t worry, you’re right to feel that way. FEAR, Inc. sounds a lot like Scream (1996) with a little mix of the David Fincher classic, The Game (1997). It doesn’t really try hard to hide that fact, and perhaps is why it starts with humor, but it raises more questions that it can answer and despite some great performances, makes a fatal flaw with its ending.
That entirely hinges on the breakdown of Joe’s character, who too quickly makes a significant change at the mid-way point. Just when we as an audience are at our most dubious in the goings on, thanks to some excellent production by the in-movie FEAR company–to which Joe too is highly wary–he falls victim to something no one watching will (or at least should). And it strips away the excellent pacing and setup to that point, leaving the second half well-acted (especially by Neff) but unsurprising, even when it tries to pull the rug out from the whole thing in the final moments.
Still, there is some fun here and for a few frights and laughs, FEAR, Inc finds its way in the early stages but sadly can’t truly deliver with any innovation. What starts as a good premise is left hanging with anticipation for something a little more clever.
Director: Vincent Masciale
Writer: Luke Barnett
Stars: Lucas Neff, Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette