It would be trite to refer to Fear, Inc. as a horror-movie version of David Fincher‘s The Game, simply because the movie itself does so, repeatedly. And that’s just one point of reference–if you thought Scream was heavy with plot devices from other movies, welcome to the film that uses Scream itself as a meta-reference in a maze of many. Our main character–it’d be a stretch to call him either “hero” or “protagonist”–is a horror movie fan, so not only does he interpret what happens based on movies he’s seen and loved, but his opponents also deliberately set things up that way. It’s not as insufferable as it sounds, though viewers who don’t get the in-jokes may scratch their heads a bit.
Joe (Lucas Neff) is a jobless slacker who has somehow managed to marry upwards, and spends the day lounging in the pool at his wife’s family’s large and luxurious house. Bored by even this turn of events, he seeks thrills at horror attractions, semi-reluctant wife (Caitlin Stasey) in tow. It’s at one of these that he encounters Tom (Patrick Renna, a.k.a. Ham from The Sandlot all grown up), whom we know to distrust since we saw him be an accomplice to a creepy pre-credits stalk-and-slash sequence featuring Abigail Breslin. Tom has a business card for a company that promises something truly scary, and sure enough, Joe, who has a drug and judgment problem, eventually calls the number. The voice on the other end appears to rebuff him, but in short order strange things start happening in the neighborhood, as it becomes clear that some sort of game is afoot.
With the prevalence of “extreme” haunted houses nowadays, from the more mainstream Blackout (in which you consent to be manhandled and have things put in your mouth) to even crazier haunts that deliver electric shocks or make you walk through naked, it’s only a matter of time before something like Fear, Inc., the company, actually happens, though a waiver would have to be signed upfront in real life. We’re told in the movie that the company is probably operating illegally, and genuinely hurts people…but of course, those rumors might just be part of the experience.
Because The Game [SPOILERS for a 19 year-old movie] ultimately turned out to all be just what its title implied, even with several reversals and double-bluffs, Fear, Inc. has the savvy viewer looking for clues off the bat that might tip us off the whole thing is fake. Here’s the problem: it’s a low-budget horror movie and as such, is fake on that level. So when the gore looks positively unreal, the viewer must wonder: am I simply not suspending disbelief as I would in a similar film, or does the stuff look shaky to the characters as well, thereby tipping them off as to the veracity of the stunt? Joe at one point praises what he thinks are cool prosthetics, and we are apparently supposed to believe are real wounds; they look like neither.
Director Vincent Masciale clearly scored one great location (the fancy house), and uses it to its maximum potential, which is the dream of all budding auteurs. Yet he fails to make it look all that interesting. The best visual flair comes in the masks the Fear, Inc. stalkers wear, which resemble classical bronze busts, while the rest of the cast look like actors in costumes, never quite convincing the eye that they’re regular folks who chose to put on the clothes they did that morning. What kept me watching anyway was Luke Barnett’s script, which ably keeps you wondering what will happen next, even if Joe is a clueless dork who deserves to get hurt rather than somebody whose life we actually fear for. Barnett gets us to care enough that Joe’s stupidity will harm innocent people around him, which is quite the trick.
2.5 burritos for Fear, Inc.
But are they real burritos?
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you can catch Fear, Inc. tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 19th) at Screamfest, 7 p.m., at the Chinese Theater.
Image: Electric Entertainment
Luke Y. Thompson is Nerdist’s weekend editor and finds Twitter especially scary. But he’s there anyway.