Jeremy Lovering, débutante director of new British frightener In Fear (2013), recognises the innate, petrifying nature of the woodland all too well and squanders little time in following protagonists Lucy (Alice Englert) and Tom (Iain De Caestecker) into its shadowy depths for 85 white-knuckle minutes. Heading to a music festival where they plan to meet up with friends, Tom convinces his companion to spend the night in a remote hotel. The prospect of them going down in the woods today, though, soon disappears as they lose their way amid a labyrinth of trees. Driving round in circles as darkness falls, Lucy begins to panic.
Why is it that the couples’ mobile phones have no signal? Why are all the signposts pointing in different directions? And what exactly did happen to Tom at the pub where they stopped earlier? Traditionally, the pair’s slow meandering through the story would involve a string of stop-start shocks: loud noises; jumps; false alarms. Yet Lovering avoids most of the horror clichés, instead using the isolated location to constantly drive up the suspense. Cinematographer David Katznelson (who shot the stunning Arctic landscapes for Sarah Gavron doc Village at the End of the World) crawls underneath the silhouetted branches, accompanied by unsettling music, as the claustrophobia sets in around our two young leads.
Trapped in the vehicle, emerging British star Englert amazes once again as the worried Lucy, while De Caestecker’s crumbling calm makes the character of Tom equally unnerving. Together, their chemistry and Lovering’s confident direction creates an on-rails journey of low-key horror that leaves you gripping your armrest – a triumph of atmosphere over old tricks. His carefully crafted engine doesn’t pause or falter: it simply accelerates. That is until the final fifteen minutes. In introducing a third member to the party, In Fear’s attempt to answer its mystery after such a skilled build-up is, perhaps unavoidably, a tad unsatisfying.
Things continue to escalate within the confines of the car, but do skid slightly out of control come the grand finale. The script also doesn’t quite seem to know when to stop, leaving Lucy navigating multiple confrontations in the cold light of day in a machine that’s quickly losing momentum. There’s no getting around it – the forest is a scary place. Lovering’s In Fear is a smart, spooky horror that wastes no time in disappearing into its shadowy, wooded depths, but ultimately ends up getting lost itself in all the darkness and gloom.