MRR Review: "A Fantastic Fear of Everything"

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Jack's a writer with a dark secret. But now his demons are taking over, unless one man finds the courage to fight back.
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Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: February 7, 2014 (U.S.A - limited)
Directed by: Crispian Mills, Chris Hopewell
Genre: Comedy

"A Fantastic Fear of Everything" attempts to pull off the tricky feat of blending horror and comedy. This particular genre hybrid can be tough, requiring filmmakers to laugh at their fears and find the darkness in humor. Fortunately, the movie's star is no stranger to this type of morbid comedy. Simon Pegg, with his ginger hair and expressive face, has made a name for himself as an antihero and underdog. Debut director Crispian Mills already has a reputation as a rocker, serving as the lead singer of Kula Shaker. Chris Hopewell, the co-director, has directed an impressive amount of music videos. Together, these three collaborators bring an instant coolness to this zany and uniquely British film about a tortured writer.

Just as the title promises, Jack (Pegg) is afraid of nearly everything a human being could ostensibly fear. He's even afraid of some things that nobody else would ever consider worrying about. For instance, he once wrote a children's book with a whimsical hedgehog as a protagonist. Now, Jack's hedgehog creation haunts him like a woodland critter version of Frankenstein's monster. In fact, Harold the Hedgehog may have had a hand in leading Jack to the downfall of his marriage. At least, Jack suspects that this is the case.

The hedgehog is not the only skeleton rattling around in Jack's haunted basement of a mind. Perhaps it's only natural that someone with such a morbid mindset would decide to turn to a life of crime and suspense writing. Jack's ambitions as a screenwriter have led him down a disturbing rabbit hole, obsessively researching Victorian murderers. For a man like Jack, filling his head with visions of death and dismemberment leads to a complete break from reality. He roams his home in a state of twitchy paranoia, often sans pants and carrying a knife.

If he could only move past his conviction that the entire world is out to get him, Jack would be having a pretty good year. Jack's agent, Clair (Clare Higgins), has performed a small miracle by capturing the attention of a BBC bigwig, Harvey Humphries (Kerry Shale). If Humphries approves of Jack's scripts, this could catapult the writer from a crackpot to a legitimate success.

However, meeting with the script developer is not an easy task as it requires Jack to make an insurmountable sacrifice as he must voyage into the outside world. For starters, he needs to visit a Laundromat to put together a presentable outfit for his meeting with Humphries. Predictably, Jack is afraid of the Laundromat. In fact, the Laundromat seems to hold the secret of Jack's neurotic personality. If his mentor Dr. Friedkin (Paul Freeman) has the right instincts, then Jack could be on his way to a breakthrough. On the other hand, he may just continue his breakdown, all the way to a bloody conclusion.

"A Fantastic Fear of Everything" has a certain quirky, understated sense of humor that sometimes clashes with the improbable and wild plot. Viewers end up occasionally confused about what's happening onscreen. Jack narrates the story, giving a taste of just how overblown and macabre his writing can be, but there's a danger to having such an unreliable protagonist. Jack is a writer with a propensity to embellish the truth. He is also mentally unstable. Either one of these qualities could throw the whole plot into question, but having both of these qualities at the same time makes "A Fantastic Fear of Everything" a little too disorienting at certain moments.

While Hopewell and Mills bring an earnest energy to the project, Pegg is a more seasoned actor than either of the newcomer directors. His performance really shines, giving existing fans of Pegg's comedic talents yet another role to love. While running around in underwear, his hair disheveled and unruly in mad scientist fashion, Pegg's physical comedy is on full display. Pegg wisely embraces his character's neuroses, bringing a shred of charming humanity to a seriously odd character. Though Jack may be pathologically frightened, Pegg doesn't show any fear at all as he tackles this unlikely role.

One of the black comedy's chief strengths lies in its carefully cultivated atmosphere of whimsy and dread. The movie takes place in London, and it's hard to imagine the story finding a fitting home anywhere else in the world. The movie joins a longstanding tradition of dry Anglophile humor while giving the whole concept an experimental twist. It's probably no mistake that the protagonist in "A Fantastic Fear of Everything" is interested in both children's stories and suspense. The comedy reads like a children's story for adults, with fantastical elements and off-kilter twists that tread a fine line between sinister and quirky. The result is fantastic.

Rating: 3 out of 5