I think I'm going to stop reading the text on Netflix envelopes (the only exposure to a film I actually do allow myself before seeing it). In this case, we get the plot hook "they find themselves tormented by a shadowy force that exists inside their car," which led me to believe this was going to have a supernatural angle. I thought, perhaps this would be something in the vein of a Stephen King work, where the car itself is a conduit for evil (Christine, From a Buick 8). So, I spent the bulk of the film trying to figure out how they were setting up this "evil inside the car" business, only to find that, unless they are figuratively implying this entity, there is no supernatural "force" that haunts the car. There is, however, a nice disorienting, atmospheric element of the movie that brought back fond memories of watching Dead End.
The opening of the film features beautiful shots of the "Irish" countryside (in the film, they are traveling in Ireland, but IMDB shows that it was shot in England), which recalled Greg McLean's striking photography in the Australian flick Wolf Creek. In both movies, the visuals work well to firmly establish a sense of being cut off from the world, isolation, helplessness. Like the two principal characters, Tom and Lucy, I immediately felt a sense of dread and anxiety. In addition, the couple begins their trip with a rift at a local pub that we only hear about second-hand, leaving us to wonder what exactly happened and who exactly is ticked off. By the time the movie was into the second act, where they are trying to find the elusive Killarney House Hotel, I was thoroughly on edge.
Further adding to the sense of unease were the closeups of the characters' faces--a wise choice, since there are really only 3 characters total, 2 of whom carry the film on their shoulders. Almost the entire film takes place in and around the couple's car, driving round and round, trying to find the hotel. The location and the choice of camera angles and spatial arrangement effected strong feelings of claustrophobia. The already little car seemed to just wedge through tight, ravine-like roads, none of which were marked. Eventually, we begin to catch on that the signs for the hotel have been tampered with, and, honestly, I felt like the film tried to make it some sort of epiphany that people had messed with them (I thought it was pretty obvious, though I was still trying to figure out where the supernatural elements weighed in). Still, it was yet another effective device that kept the actions on the screen shrouded in mystery and the audience on edge.
Unfortunately, the effect of the driving round and round begins to diminish. Unlike the aforementioned Dead End, where there is tons of black humour and exposition and plot-thickening events, In Fear drives round and round for a while without really adding anything other than a sense of unease--which can only last so long before you, like me, start to get heavy-lidded and weak-necked. But then, about halfway through, we get our first real scare, and, due to the preceding monotony no doubt, it is highly effective. I literally jumped in my seat. In fact, everything happened so quickly, I backed the movie up and watched the scene again. This little gimmick also finally brought closure to the questions I had due to the misinformation on the disc envelope.
As the movie's third act unfolded, there was very little to like. Whereas I found myself mired in anticipation and discomfort throughout the first half, I felt I was watching yet another horror flick I've seen a thousand times for the entire second half--save for one wise choice that I won't spoil here (ask me in the comments, if you care to). I predict that most will find the movie's ambling about unbearable and write it off within the first 20 minutes, but for those who are patient I think you'll find it at least somewhat entertaining. I, for one, am always interested to see filmmakers work within tight constraints (micro budget, small cast, minimal settings, etc.), and I think the film was pretty effective given its limitations. In Fear is probably not a contender for the 2014 Top 10 Releases, but it should be given attention for those who enjoy minimalist, atmospheric psychological thrillers.