Saturn Will Not Sleep - Discovery (Official Video)

Fear(s) of the Dark   B+

IFC Films

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directors: Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire
Writers: Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre Di Sciullo, Jerry Kramski, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus, Romain Slocombe
Cast: Guillaume Depardieu, Aure Atika, Louisa Pili, Arthur H, Francois Creton, Nicole Garcia, Christian Hecq.

Review by Rob Vaux

Early negative reviews (and there aren't many) of Fear(s) of the Dark castigate it for not being intense enough. It's too passive, they say: there's not enough blood and guts, and it doesn't engage in the shock-and-awe tactics of, say, the Hostel films. Such complaints only underline the rarity -- and to a certain extent the necessity -- of its quietly creepy approach. With American horror dominated by shoddy remakes, vile torture porn, or some combination of the two, it helps to remind audiences that the genre is far more than just a blood-spattered freak show. This film's heart lies in its mood: evoking the goose across your grave, the nerves you just can't shake, and the delicious chill of staring out a darkened window and realizing that something is staring back. Fear(s) of the Dark distills that feeling into pure and unblemished shudders, rendered with a unique sense of visual imagination. As an anthology film, some parts work better than others, but the sum total becomes very difficult to dismiss.

Its chief distinction stems from the fact that it's animated -- a true rarity among horror movies -- and that each of its six segments is conjured in a different style. The dialogue is in French and the film maintains a distinctly Gallic feel, but words themselves are rarely necessary. Many of the pieces rely solely on voice-over to set the stage, using their images as the principle weapon and keeping complexities to a minimum. At least two are completely dialogue-free, including a brilliant capper from Richard McGuire about a snowbound traveler stuck in a haunted house. The remaining five are interspersed across 75-odd minutes, weaving in and out of each other in an effort to form a logical consistency. All of them are based on very simple and primal concepts. An 18th-century madman sets a quartet of savage dogs on whoever crosses his path. A bullied Japanese schoolgirl becomes the unwitting target of a long-dead samurai. A bookish young man uncovers a strange insect in the woods that really ought to be left where it is. A man returning to his native village recalls a monster that terrorized his youth, and wonders if it was really as mundane as everyone believed. And in the film's most abstract piece, a female voice discusses grown-up fears over images which suggest anything but normality.

The last one is presumably intended as a counterpoint to the others: blathering on about middle-class insecurities while the rest of the film strikes at the terrorized animal portion of our brains. Despite its varied imagery, Fear(s) of the Dark remains unified largely because of its constant sense of unease, and the loneliness and abandonment afflicting each of its protagonists. They are all cut off from the world around them, leaving them with no one else to turn to when the shadows close in. That unwavering tone helps counterbalance the bewildering shifts from story to story: whenever we lose the momentum of a given piece, the overall atmosphere is sufficient to carry us over to the next.

In terms of "boo-gotcha" effectiveness, the film is more uneven. McGuire's piece finishes things in style, and the best of the remainder comes from Charles Burns, whose sex-laced insect yarn conjures hideous notions of invasion and body horror. (Real-life circumstances provide less welcome chills -- actor Guillaume Depardieu, who provided the voice of the lead in Burns' segment, died just a few short weeks ago.) The remaining four sections are content just to provide a decent idea and let it play out. None of them fail, but they don't attain the same resonance of the two centerpieces.

Their eerie, gorgeous visual technique makes up for the occasional lack of enthusiasm, however. All six shorts are shot in black and white, and all of them make exquisite use of the power of suggestion. The deliberation that goes into animated movies means the creators can hint at things scuttling in the corner of our vision without ever showing us too much. Even when the straightforward narratives begin to flag, the artistry on display always demands attention, summoning fears which the storylines themselves might otherwise miss.

And that's really the purpose of the exercise: elegant technique deployed in the service of simple Halloween pleasures. If its French origins seem too art-house for such a ghoulish season, think about the last time an American monster movie provided anything more than business as usual. The best horror films of the last few years have invariably sprung from Europe, picking up where the great maestros of domestic genre filmmaking left off. If Hollywood has forgotten what really scares us, then Fear(s) of the Dark provides a fresh reminder of why horror films are so indispensable. Watch it with someone's hand to grip... and be sure to leave the lights on when you get home.

Review published 10.30.2008.

IMDb | Letterboxd | search on amazon

Shop Now at Amazon



Prime Video


This site was previously at from 2000 to 2008.

contact | copyright | privacy | links | sitemap

Flipside Movie Emporium (
© 2000-2008 Flipside Movie Emporium. All rights reserved.

Facebook    Twitter