Fear Itself

We all experience fear and are often frightened of different things; unconsciously allowing it to shape how we go about our lives. Fear Itself, a visual essay by Charlie Lyne, attempts to aid one narrator’s journey into her own subconscious, as she tries to decipher what makes her afraid and why, by illustrating it through scenes from horror films across the decades.

The narrator, actress Amy E. Watson, recounts an accident she had and the resulting insomnia. She soothes her lack of sleep by the surfing the internet and watching horror movies. It is here that she starts to wonder how these films manipulate fear from us, taking advantage of “who we are and how we work”. Films like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Altered States, Repulsion, Suspiria and a slew of other titles visually describe her exploration of fear. Along with these musings are her memories of the loss of a sister, and her reaction to life after the traumas of both the accident and death.

What is reality, what is based in fear, and how we face them are the many questions she brings up. Unfortunately, these ruminations punctuated by scenes from well-known and not-so-well-known horror films come off as a series of late night ramblings stopping just shy of making any sense. I’m not sure what I was expecting, since this film is considered a documentary. Perhaps something more garden variety, like horror fans talking about how their favourite horror films have shaped their lives.

Perhaps I, as a horror fan myself, became egocentric as I tried to listen to Watson’s voice while viewing the clips, expecting to find something relatable as she spoke. Aside from the anxiety and grief she alluded to, without an ounce of emotion in her voice, I wasn’t sure the clips had much relevance to what she was saying unless she referred to one directly. In fact, at times, I was far more interested in the clips then what she was saying, trying to jog my memory of their titles and making a mental note to look up ones I hadn’t seen. It was also difficult to listen to the tone of the Watson’s voice simply because of the volume of the sleepy, monotonous drawl she affected throughout the film. I’m not sure if this was intentional to mimic her insomnia-induced reflections, or if that was just her voice. Either way, it wasn’t conducive to one’s attention span.

The editing and scoring were the only things worth noting as the film clips seamlessly flowed into one another and cut away just before a climatic occurrence. It’s a shame Lyne didn’t apply his personal website essay about the film instead. It was much more interesting. Fear Itself is a confusing look at how we can experience fear in a dream-like, surreal way. It’s not for those who want clarity, but for those who want to merely immerse themself into the swirling darkness of the unknown.

Wednesday, May 4, 9:45 PM, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.