This review may contain spoilers.
My other car is a casket”
That is what the bumper sticker says on the first victim’s car. You may imagine the rest of the cheekiness on your own. But wait, let me tell you something about this flick because I might as well.
Has anyone here watched The Game, 1997? The David Fincher film with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn? Just asking. I am also wondering if this film is some kind of an in-joke-laden homage to the genre by director Vincent Masciale, the same gentleman who has gone ahead and tried a hand at the impossible, OK, not impossible but pretty arduous, in terms of narrative and story-telling and also hoping that the viewers will laugh, and laugh hard since the synopsis to his upcoming film is one of its kind and it sure sounds as if a whole lot of genre-bending has been applied to the new film, Faith Based, a hybrid genre film, a longstanding element in the fictional process.
This was a feature debut from longtime editor Masciale and his partner in crime, cinematographer Luke Barnett, who is the screenwriter for Fear Inc.
Joe Foster (Lucas Neff) is a life-long horror devotee. He wants the ultimate in horror after he predicts all the jump scares at a local horror-house and spoils it for his girlfriend. This weird looking short dude (Patrick Renna), who we’ve seen before, just before the bumper sticker scene, comes over to the couple and gives them a card for “Custom Scares“. The name of the company behind it is the title of the film. Now, as soon as things seem to be getting serious, they get silly instead, amiable enough but also very absurd. The Tribeca midnight-section pick looks elaborate and is truly entertaining, riding the razor’s edge between hand-to-heart horror and comedy, a feat not anyone can accomplish, despite the false endings and leaps of faith that Masciale and Barnett expect the audience to encounter, with their quadruple-bluffing the reality effects, giving their film an edge that all filmmakers crave.
Here what could be a potential problem is trying to hold on to something, anything with certainty, since the film keeps employing false endings, testing the patience and also adding to plot fodder (just like how Fincher tricked us and almost gave poor Douglas a heart attack in The Game); and straining the audience consumption of material, which is not novel, but, as mentioned before, a nod to everything slasher and The Nineties. Just like the Nirvana song, Something in the Way, in the new Batman trailer.
Masciale and Barnett are not just attempting to outwit the audience, but also for them (the viewers) to feel that a potential franchise, the 90s horror-type, is at hand here. It can go both ways and luckily for this prescription pariah, it kept me guessing from the start and despite a blatant absence of actual wit (that and the cleverness come later), here, we have to rely on Foster’s pleasant riffing within a stock slacker-bro role very early in the film, and that’s it, for almost an hour where the derivative mischievousness is all, as the source of entertainment for the keen viewer, after which Barnett lets us in on a single fragile secret; a serious inclination that only highlights that the content is still pretty trivial, and now even the leavening of comic relief (not needed since there are no scares to be relieved from) is not enough since it’s become a matter of routine by now and Masciale better come up with some bunnies in the hat if he wants his picture to strike a chord with his audience. A chord that may not look like a chord but it is a chord, you will have to take the filmmakers’ word for it, or settle for the repetitive referencing of and an association to past ‘great‘ horror pictures, like maybe Scream, perhaps?
Joe Foster calls the company despite warnings from his childhood friend, Ben (Chris Marquette), who knows that something is just not right and the ceremonial, purported company has a reputation, which is nothing short of being dubious, if not straight away mysteriously dangerous. Further tales of trepidation are shared by other friends of Joe and his girlfriend, Jane Foster, I mean Lindsay (Caitlin Stasey) – that is way too much, intense preoccupation with the Marvel property, almost an entanglement with the characters, with The Boys (Netflix) Season 3 concluded and girl-power instated as promised before Endgame exploded into existence. All this but not before they’ve partied at his lavish as fuck house, with a goddam swimming pool and what have you.
Even though the hoarse voice at Fear Inc. tells Joe that they cannot accommodate him, the scares start. That part I liked very much and this Foster dude is a hoot with his stoner disposition and the echoing of Paul Rudd’s (Antman) character Josh from Clueless, 1995 (I’m ancient, a high-school pass out from ’95). They’re in the midst of a full-blown home invasion and this dude is getting ready to party some more, a few kills later, Foster still isn’t convinced, which is the opposite of how paranoid Douglas had become by the half-time mark in the film that Fincher made, but then there was Sean Penn in the film also and that is enough for any sort of tension. Anyway, the point is that this dude just doesn’t give a hoot and goes about with that goofy smile on his pleasant face as heads are being decapitated left, right and center.
So yeah, the scares begin and the movie tries very hard to keep the audience guessing, which I did; kept on guessing and getting it wrong, however, the narrative to pull off three twists at once, or even in three separate scenes is not as well-grounded, as the scenes require a certain conviction. I felt cheated. But that’s just me.
The full-blown nihilism towards the end of this meta-horror outing is also something that came as a pleasant surprise. So, there’s the “Jesus Saves” beginning and a Nietzsche-esque conclusion where all hope goes to the dogs.
And that is that. Joe Foster ain’t smiling no more. And Arthur Fleck would not have it any of that.
Fear Inc. is currently streaming on Vudu, Prime Video (Amazon), and Netflix.
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