Tom (De Caestecker) and Lucy (Englert), an English couple, travel to a festival in rural Ireland. Tom has booked a night in a hotel, but they get lost in country lanes. Lucy glimpses a masked man, and the couple are terrorised by persons unknown...
Writer-director Jeremy Lovering’s horror movie is so basic in concept it could have been a short or a film-school graduation exercise. Only being genuinely scary excuses round-and-round-the-garden plotting. Leads Tom and Lucy, well-played by Alice Englert and Iain De Caestecker, are on screen almost all the time and only get each other to spark off until Allen Leech shows up as a wounded local in the third act to add humour and perhaps more menace. The characters, who have only been together two weeks, are stuck in their car as evening turns to night, following signposts which maliciously send them back to where they started in the middle of a maze of narrow, unlit country lanes. Uneasy with the situation and each other, they wonder whether they’re the victims of a prank, just imagining things or at the mercy of malign, perhaps supernatural, persecutors.
Though Cornwall substitutes for Ireland, In Fear has a feel for the less picturesque aspect of the countryside (“I have to admit, it looked better on the website,” is a significant line) and the way tiny crises on holiday can fracture relationships. These people irritate each other, a risky strategy which can alienate audiences, but every stupid thing they do or say as things get worse is horridly believable. Lovering has plainly studied what makes a great horror film work: he doesn’t just borrow images from Wolf Creek or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but takes stylistic cues, layering a soundtrack of creaky, wheezy nighttime noises to amp up the tension, and favouring ultra-tight close-ups that get uncomfortably close to the twitchy eyes of the terrified protagonists.
It is calculated in its button-pushing, missing out on the awe or transgression that accompanies scariness in more envelope-stretching horrors. In the end, it’s an anecdote rather than a story, even if the last reel holds some well set-up nasty surprises and a pay-off that’s audacious or pretentious, depending on your tolerance for 1970s arty exploitation tricks.
It may be contrived and nothing new plot-wise, but In Fear has atmosphere and enough proper scares to deliver on the promise of its title.