Children’s author Jack (Pegg) wants to break out of writing pre-teen literature. So he’s begun researching a grown-up book about serial killers. The downside of this is that he is now convinced the world is out to get him.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything is a jumble of vivid imagination, terrific surrealist comedy, self-indulgent pootling through directionless thoughts, cute animated interludes, lots of washing machine instructions and, in the end, a lack of any real plot. The idea is this: What if you were scared of the entire world?
Simon Pegg is Jack, a children’s writer who thinks himself suited to something higher than relaying animal-based adventures to toddlers, but in researching a darker project about serial killers he’s convinced himself that the entire world is out to murder him. So he runs around his flat in Y-fronts that look like a bacterial Rorschach test, waving a knife at shadows and for some reason never turning on the lights.
Pegg is perfect for this sort of thing. He’s a fantastic reactor, able to get big laughs out of being bewildered by just about anything. He has more expressions for shock than some actors have for the full gamut of emotions. Pegg’s manic energy enjoyably powers the first 30 minutes, one man’s amusing argument with himself about his own level of madness. It plays like a very good sitcom episode, but it is not enough to sustain a movie.
So Jack must leave the house. It’s at this point that Mills seems confused by where to go. It’s relatively simple to keep neuroses swirling in the claustrophobic confines of a dingy flat, but once outside in the big world it’s harder to keep them from spinning off. There’s been no real suggestion that anyone is actually trying to threaten Jack, so there’s no peril in his journey. It’s just a man nervously going for a walk. The movie flails, looking for an ending to head for, settling on a conclusion that only bluntly fits with the first half. It’s a disappointingly unimaginative end to a film that lacks control but has so far never been shy of ambition or a desire to go down the road less travelled.
It’s always trying to do something unusual. It has a great lead in Pegg. What it doesn’t have is an ending or a clear reason what it wants to be.
Reviewed by Olly Richards