Fear(s) Of The Dark

"Good"

Fear(s) Of The Dark Review


Animation anthologies generally have a tough time of it in theaters, usually ending up as grab-bag vehicles of grotesquerie and humor that play only the festival circuit and the occasional arthouse. It's a strange situation that short subject animation should have become so fringe, given the central place that five-minute cartoons hold in the childhood of nearly every red-blooded American. Maybe in the end it's because most anthologies of this kind never have much of an organizing principle beyond gathering the best work from the past year. If it hadn't been subtitled, the horrific tales contained in Fear(s) of the Dark might have been what it took to take the genre mainstream.

There are six stories strung together here with not much accounting for differences in tonality, though they all share a particular sense of low and thrumming dread. The one most recognizable to an American audience is the first segment, drawn by Charles Burns, one of the most solid pillars of the domestic graphic novel world. Also the most plot-driven of the film's stories, Burns' is a Twilight Zone-esque account of a lonely young student's infatuation first with bugs and then with the flirtatious woman in the library. The two prove not to mix well in a body-invasion scenario straight out of the Cronenberg playbook. Burns' lush black-and-white artwork has a dramatic starkness that gives it the feel of a lost 1950s B-movie, all mashed up with the adolescent alienation and violent sexuality that's permeated his graphic novels like Black Hole.

Once Burns' film is done, it becomes quickly clear that there won't be much of a unifying theme in Fear(s) of the Dark beyond, well, nightmares. That much is proved by the twin interstitial pieces, only one of which makes much of an impact. Artist Blutch introduces a recurring story about a deathly-looking 18th century nobleman and a quartet of ravening dogs whom he lets off the leash one by one to run down the innocents (a child, a gypsy dancer) he comes across. Blutch's art has a wavy charcoal quality to it that proves truly unsettling, but by the end there is just too little to his piece to make it memorable beyond the occasional jolt. More unnerving by far is Pierre di Sciullo's series of simple abstractions (lines dashing across a rectangle, circles melding into each other) that run while a woman recites an apocalyptic list of worries. Although at first it seems just a random assemblage of bourgeois neuroses (she worries she is becoming too conservative in her old age), it soon becomes a litany of angst for the modern era: "I am scared of mankind. They say man is a wolf for man."

While di Sciullo's interstitials are like a geometric scream, Marie Caillou's longer segment is much more traditional in scope. Using a cut-paper aesthetic that borders on the cheap, it follows in flashback pattern a young Japanese girl who gets bullied by students at her new school and then is tormented by the town's local ghost, a beheaded samurai; leading to a cathartic bloodletting. The whole thing could in itself be little more than a dream (we keep cutting back to the girl on a hospital bed as a doctor injects her, saying she has to remember everything before it can be finished), which deprives the girl's horrific experiences of some needed grit.

Just as Burns' piece opens the film with a bang, Richard McGuire's haunted-house scenario brings it to a resounding close. Without using a single word, McGuire tells a story of a man who stumbles across an abandoned house and, trying to escape the wintry storm outside, breaks in, only to discover that he might have been better off out in the blizzard. The teasing revelations of the house's violent past and its present malevolent spirit are straight out of the haunted-house canon, but they are deftly deployed. Also, McGuire's art is nothing less than spectacular, using great fields of black and white that tell more with negative space than anything else. The abstract tone and artful use of sound makes for a truly spooky experience that comes closer than just about anything else in the film to truly give one nightmares.

Though Burns's bugs will do the trick as well.

Aka Peur(s) du noir.

Also scary: The mailbox.



Fear(s) Of The Dark

Facts and Figures

Run time: 86 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 9th March 2004

Distributed by: Universal Studios Home Video

Production compaines: Prima Linéa Productions, Cofinova 3, La Parti Productions, SCOPE Invest

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

IMDB: 5.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Blutch, , Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire

Producer: Valérie Schermann, Christophe Jankovic

Starring: Gil Alma as (voice), as Laura (voice), François Creton as The teacher (voice), as Eric (voice), Sarah-Laure Estragnat as (voice), Nicolas Feroumont as (voice), as Narrator (voice), Arthur H. as Narrator (voice), Christian Hecq as The doctor / The samurai (voice), Christian Hincker as (voice), Lino Hincker as (voice), Melaura Honnay as (voice), Amélie Lerma as (voice), Florence Maury as (voice), Adriana Piasek-Wanski as (voice), Louisa Pili as Sumako (voice), Amaury Smets as (voice), Brigitte Sy as (voice), Laurent Van den Rest as (voice), Charlotte Vermeil as (voice), Andreas Vuillet as (voice)

Also starring:

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