A low-concept, micro-budget British horror may not be the most enticing of premises, but thanks to two standout performances from rising stars Alice Englert (Ginger & Rosa) and Iain De Caestecker (most recently seen in Scott Graham’s feature debut Shell) Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear (2013) is a far more rewarding experience than its disconcerting production notes would suggest. With the majority of modern horrors praying on the fears and anxieties of modern life with a series of gore-heavy, bloodcurdling frights, In Fear takes a far more restrained, yet psychologically penetrating approach to unsettling its audience.
We join young lovers Tom (De Caestecker) and Lucy (Englert) in the passionate parturition of their two-week-old romance. They’re on their way to a music festival in Ireland; Tom has decided that a surprise night in a picturesque rural hotel beforehand might also make for an impressive romantic gesture. However, the pair soon become lost, with the escalating tension between the two of them reaching fever pitch when they discover that they’re not alone on the open roads. The encroaching darkness intensifies primal fears, and the pair soon find themselves locked in a sinister game of cat-and-mouse with no sign of escape.
Combining the psychological force and mental ensnarement of horror-chillers such as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997, 2007) and David Moreau/Xavier Palud’s Them (2006) with the adrenaline-pumping intensity of Steven Spielberg TV movie Duel (1971), Lovering’s In Fear is a refreshingly taut piece of British cinema that doesn’t look to shock or disgust, but is instead more intent on prowling around the margins of your subconscious comfort zone in search of your weak point. Sparse in location, yet oddly claustrophobic in milieu, Lovering uses his limited surroundings to create a labyrinth of unnerving unease, culminating in all the jolts and jumps we’ve come to expect from such a movie.
In Fear’s tight script was reputedly kept secret from both Englert and De Caestecker whilst filming in order to help capture a sense on sincerity from their performances, with neither actor knowing exactly what fate lay in store for their character. It’s unclear whether it was this improvised methodology, the genuine ability of the film’s two young leads, or a combination of both that brings these thinly-veiled characters to life, yet it remains uplifting to watch characters interact in an entirely natural way.
Sadly, despite two delectably eye-catching performances and a genuine atmosphere of panic and dread, Lovering’s debut feature remains a relatively flawed experiment in filmmaking, with individual stylistic flourishes jarring with the film’s overall tone. What’s more, the minimalist plot also strains somewhat under the laws of feasibility. A succinct and distressing tale, In Fear may be no great revelation in itself, yet beautifully highlights the promising talents both behind and in-front of the camera.