Movie Review: Fear(s) of the Dark
ROUNDUP REVIEW: FEAR(S) OF THE DARK
Periodically, in the new French animated thingee "Fear(s) of the Dark," when a small Japanese schoolgirl isn't running from an umbrella with eyes and a rib cage, a chilly disembodied voice isn't rambling on about vague sociopolitical and aesthetic pretensions ("I'd rather be bad than mediocre"), and a burly French Canadian (I'm assuming, what with that mustache and all) isn't wordlessly contemplating being trapped in a large Victorian home - when "Fear(s) of the Dark" isn't being slightly insufferable, intellectualizing the visceral ba-da-boom out of every surreal threat - we're left with an old man and his pack of snarling dogs.
Dogs named Boo?
The film is an assemblage of horror shorts, animated by eight graphic designers and cartoonists, most of them unfamiliar to even the most devoted reader of comics (Charles Burns being the superstar here). Most play beginning to end, speedy and visually ravishing, their (generally) monochrome palettes pulsating and hypnotic. But occasionally this man and his pooches, from artist Christian Hincker, cut in like commercial breaks from hell, the animation all crumpled etchings - and haunting. They remind you that horror, stomach-sinking dread, can't be reasoned with. The man's eyebrows are all peaks, his cheeks all valleys.
He says nothing. He grins and moves through cobbled streets and across stark fields, an opaque wandering threat; the look is so murky and flickering it could be footage from a silent film. He spots a boy whose eyes are dark pits, and releases a hound. The boy runs off into the distance. We hear a scream. Fade to a new story, told in a new silky shade of black or ghostly white. Later, we return to these charcoal hell hounds, who visit, randomly, a dancer in a courtyard, then a group of men, too startled to protest.
"Fear(s) of the Dark," which is as inventive with its blacks and whites and overcast grays as "Fantasia" is with blooming color, works best when it works primal - which is not the same thing as working dumb. Its trouble is the trouble that greets every compilation film with a presiding theme - it's spotty and over-thought, abstract when it means to be insightful, herding too many ideas beneath too thin an umbrella. What rescues it, repeatedly, is a talent for the unsettling, unshakable image - I'm thinking of Lorenzo Mattotti's charcoal tale and its duck dragging itself through a marsh, an injured wing leaving a trail of ink.
That'd be blood. (In other words, leave the children at home.)
I'm thinking, too, of Burns' Cronenberg-ish ick-fest, and its fear of relationships and women - which is a lot of meaning for a horror short. But the hero (sort of), a young student, startled when a woman shows any interest at all, speaks of a sound heard all his childhood, a scratching beneath his bed. It's an elegant metaphor for a lurking repressed terror - which invariably turns literal and giant, with giant mandibles. Outside his window, trees resemble stringy muscles. Meanwhile, everything - every piece of the film - just kind of floats, the animation being computer-assisted but drawn by hand, therefore a resident of that zero-gravity zone occupied by arty affordable animation.
-- Christopher Borrelli
No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:20. In French with English subtitles.