Meet Joe Foster (Lucas Neff). He’s a thirty-something slacker who is, by all accounts, a seasoned horror fan. His idea of a date night with his long-suffering girlfriend Lindsey (Caitlin Stasey) is to go to a local haunted house. Numb to all of the actors and their efforts to startle, a mysterious man named Tom (Patrick Renna) approaches them between scares. The stranger hands Joe a card to a company called Fear, Inc. and promises that if he wants a real scare, this is the company to call.
Halloween approaches and the couple have friends Ben (Chris Marquette) and Ashleigh (Stephanie Drake) over for the weekend to celebrate Joe’s birthday. Things are careen into a typical weekend of housebound debauchery of drugs and alcohol. All of this is safe, good fun, except that, in a drunken stupor Joe’s gnawing curiosity gets the best of him and he calls Fear, Inc. to see about tickets. A disguised voice tersely barks at Joe that they are sold out and hangs up on Joe seemingly dashing his dreams of a next-level scare. Of course we know weird things are about to happen and they do in spades.
The next night Joe soon confesses to calling Fear, Inc. and as a sudden group of hooded, masked figures surround the house he begs his unwitting friends to play along. The stage is set for a scary, suspenseful, comedic homage to every major horror film in recent memory. The four face scene after scene of hair raising scenarios that blur the line between what is real and what is staged. Is what they are experiencing an elaborate performance piece by Fear, Inc. or is there something far more deadly happening?
Screenwriter, and Funny or Die vet Luke Barnett rides a razor’s edge between straight horror and outright comedy that is a hard thing to do. Unlike many horror comedies that have preceded this, there is a subtle, key difference in that the characters don’t become self-reverential. They react to their situations, never using their flippant remarks as commentary ala Scream. While an original way to approach the laughs, it is here that the film’s humor fails admirably. The mix is a little off, giving the scares and tension far more prominence. Despite the imbalance, there are countless bits of dialogue that are priceless, punctuating the tense situations with a jab of humor. Trapped in a room hiding, Joe has a heart to heart moment with his girlfriend to convince her to play along. She recoils asking, “Are you getting hard?” Embarrassed Joe yells,”The mood, the lighting, the murder, it just felt right okay?”
Director Vincent Masciale gleefully toys with our perceptions and expectations, with a maniacal drive. The movie, feet firmly planted in horror, continually has us guessing to what might be real or staged as part of the illusion. Framed, paced, and shot with the clean precision of a 90’s horror classic, Fear, Inc. pushes harder on the horror to play with audience expectation.
The film also features uniformly strong performances. Neff’s portrayal of extremely lucky horror slacker Joe is as sympathetic as it is pathetic. Stacie’s supportive girlfriend still has us believing she would put up with Joe despite his hijinks. The chemistry between the four leads is infectious and believable with Marquette and scene stealer, Drake delivering some of the laugh out loud lines that would otherwise be lost. The cast is also sprinkled with cameos by the best character actors around including Maria Olsen, Naomi Grossman, Leslie Jordan, Richard Riehle, Eric Lange and oscar nominee Abigail Breslin in a fabulous hook of an opening.
The question is posed, ‘how far is too far?’ With the advent of more and more extreme and immersive horror experiences, how far should they go? Fear, Inc. addresses this question borrowing heavily from classic films like The Game, and April fools day in mercilessly tricking the audience. As the charade repetedly folds in on itself things become muddled to an absurd degree, flip flopping on it’s stance, chucking any real consequence out the window leaving the audience to just sit back and watch where this metaphorical coin toss will land. The joy here isn’t the destination, it’s the ride, and what a ride it is.
FEAR, INC. will hit VOD all digital platforms October 21st from Electric Entertainment.