Film Review – A Fantastic Fear of Everything

★★★★☆

June 22, 2012 By Jonathan Deacon

After a gaggle of films with gags that failed to make audiences really guffaw, its good see Simon Pegg back to his best with A Fantastic Fear of Everything. He takes to the role of the highly strung and jittery Jack like a rabbit to headlights.

“There I am, absolutely sh***ing it!” that’s our introduction to Jack in his own words. Day and night for three weeks he’s been a shut-in who stalks around his flat in his last clean(ish) pair of saggy underpants with a carving knife in hand. He checks all his food and drink for syringe marks in case he’s been poisoned with arsenic. If he manages to get an hour’s sleep in amongst the nightmares and night terrors he feels pretty lucky. Going outside is a no-no, and answering the phone is a traumatic experience for Jack.

Now Jack was a sensitive soul chocked full of phobias and prone to paranoia to begin with, but he’d managed to keep them relatively under control when writing a series of successful children’s books about ‘Timmy the tortoise’. But a change in direction as an author and the resulting research into a new book about Victorian serial killers called ‘Decades of Death’ has pushed him over the edge and fear has come bubbling to the surface. He’s begun to see, hear and imagine serial killers and their victims in all corners of his flat: whether they’re creeping around behind him when he’s standing at the toilet in mid-flow or lying next to him amongst the bed sheets.

A call from his pushy and patronising literary agent Claire (Clare Higgins) forces the broke Jack to agree to leave the flat to meet with a Hollywood ‘Head of scripts’ who’s interested in the concept of ‘Decades of death’. The horrors of his flat suddenly seem tame in comparison when a lack of clean clothes means he has to visit… the laundrette. Scarred from previous visits the thought of displaying his “sensitive items” in public once again is his own personal hell. But his career depends on him facing his demons and going to his meeting in a clean shirt, trousers, socks and the all-important underpants. Will Jack’s oddball odyssey end with a spin cycle or things spinning out of control?

A Fantastic Fear of Everything is part comedy, part horror and part thriller. The three genres don’t always blend together well, but writer/co-director Crispian Mills and co-director Chris Hopewell have created a smooth cocktail with their debut film.

Based on Bruces Robinson’s (writer/director of Withnail & I) novella ‘Paranoia in the laundrette’ the screenwriter and co-director Crispian Mills saw enough potential in the story to make it into a feature. With the approval and support of Bruce Robinson he set about expanding Jack’s world and the result is the kind of quirky story punctuated with no-holds barred nonsense that is a British cinema tradition.

Substance over style is often a criticism laid at some films, but in this film the style is the key to unlocking the substance of the film. The co-directors allow the audience to discover, understand and empathise with Jack’s paranoid thought process and his peccadilloes by telling the story entirely in the first person. And they crank this up even more by having Jack narrate the film in hindsight and speak his inner monologue on screen.  As while the story only takes place in three fairly mundane physical locations (Jack’s dingy flat, the laundrette and the streets of Hackney between the two) the real action takes place within the murkier confines of Jack’s head. This is further achieved through various visual tools and techniques to help expand Jack’s universe including live action intertwining with different forms of animation in the same vein as a Michael Gondry film.

The co-directors also play to their strengths as a former frontman and music video director respectively by skilled use of the soundtrack to create tension, excitement and comedy. There is a wonderful moment when composer Richard Strauss’ classical piece ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) plays as a pair of Jack’s brown-grey underpants fly through the air of the laundrette over the heads of the other patrons in agonising super slow motion.

As the man with A Fantastic Fear of Everything there was a great deal of pressure on the star, who has to carry the entire film. After a few recent comedic crash landings, Simon Pegg finally proves he can fly solo without his preferred wingmen of Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. There’s nothing new from him as Jack, just him doing what he does best and a real sense that he really enjoyed making this film more than some of his recent turns. He revels in all the quirks and extremes of his scaredy-cat Jack – putting his trademark comic timing to great use, and avoiding the temptation to ham things up.

The co-directors also prove that they can step up too. As grandson of Sir John Mills, son of actress Hayley Mills and writer/producer/director Roy Boulting Crispian Mills shows that filmmaking is still the family business and Chris Hopewell shows he is ready to make the kind of jump from music videos to movies. It’s a strong and promising debut for both men, so we’ll have to watch this space to see if they collaborate again.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything is in selected cinemas nationwide and it’s the perfect antidote to the current bid budget movie multiplex domination so go and seek it out.

Film Review – A Fantastic Fear of Everything.

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Published in: on 22/06/2012 at 16:03  Leave a Comment  
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