A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING Review

Writing can be a stressful activity as much as it can be a relieving one. For Simon Pegg's Jack it becomes more of the latter due to the subject he has chosen to document. His life has become one big panic attack after thoughts of death and his analyzing of serial killers has taken over his very precious, very fragile-seeming mind. Jack is not inherently a likable guy, he's moody and particular and takes those trying to help him for granted while he thinks of himself on a higher level than most other human beings. He is suspicious of everyone and everything that comes along and can't help but elaborate on the simplest of occurrences turning them into grand gestures of stalking and murder. His imagination, from which he makes a living, has essentially got the better of him and he doesn't know what to do with himself any longer. While Simon Pegg has always been a talented comedic actor and writer he is at the mercy of English writers and directors Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell here. The screenplay, from Mills alone, is astoundingly specific and makes much of the small ticks of Jack's character that resonate throughout the film from his characterization alone. What we don't get though is a fully encompassing experience from the film. It feels more like a Cliffs Notes version of what is going on inside the mind of Jack rather than the introspective, in-depth look we seem to be promised in the first half of the film. While Mills is able to create this fantastical tone that hearkens back to classic horror films based around the Victorian era that necessitate the desired nature of the world Pegg's character is trying to immerse himself in we instead end up feeling the affects left to audiences. We never believe Jack as a creator, as an inventor of worlds, though we are forced to believe in his storytelling tendencies as he's concocted his entire atmosphere to mirror everything he has seen before in the genre he is trying to imitate. And in many ways, that is what A Fantastic Fear of Everything ends up feeling like, a homage to the films Mills and his co-director loved as they grew up. It is clear there are plenty visual references here and the style they imply to the film is not to be disregarded as it is one of the best things about the experience, but we go from feeling interested and truly invested in this kind of character study about the dissension into insanity to a film that in its second half is wandering aimlessly towards a less than satisfying conclusion.

We get a picture early on of what Jack might have been like prior to the onset of his madness and we see an author struggling with his identity, struggling to break away from the early success that has defined him and placed him in a square box creatively. He has come to be known for his work as a children's author but as he meets with his lit agent (Clare Higgins) he divulges the idea he has been working on for his next project which he has titled, Decades of Death. It will be what sounds like multiple scripts for a mini-series like event that will document some of the most terrifying killers in that Victorian age, but it is clear the research it has taken to come to understand and be properly informed about the world on which he will deliver on this project has taken its toll on Jack. When his agent later sets up an impromptu meeting with a producer interested in his script and story ideas Jack's world is completely turned upside down with the prospect of having to dress up and meet this unknown man who he somehow deduces is related to one of the most notorious killers in the history of that era. It is outlandish, but it is supposed to be and the key highlight of the film from a performance piece perspective is that Pegg gets to spend a lot of time by himself just giving it his all. There is so much going on with Pegg's performance we are distracted by that aforementioned fact that Jack isn't a completely likable guy. Once the conflict of having to leave his dirty and dingy apartment is brought to true realization we watch as the layers of his character begin to be pulled back and why some of the images we've seen prior come to serve a purpose, which is all fine and good, but when Jack finally works up the courage to go outside and down to the laundromat (which are the main source of his fears) the film shifts into what feels like a completely different realm. The tone is mixed, the story is less cohesive and it simply doesn't end up being as funny as I imagine it might have if we'd stuck with Pegg alone in his apartment and watched him play out his own death with an imagination that would have both been entertaining and fulfilling because of the fact we ultimately don't like this guy very much.  

Jack (Simon Pegg) is embarrassed when encountered by Sangeet (Amara Karan).
There was a point in watching the film (which was originally released in the UK in 2012 but is now getting a VOD and limited theatrical run this weekend Stateside) where I began to wonder what the point of investigating this odd man and his issues was? Sure, it is an interesting idea to create an adventure out of the complications that come along with going to the laundromat and having to wash your most personal of attire in front of total strangers and sure it is an interesting idea to see how far one mans isolation and inevitable confrontation with his fear might turn out when approached comically and with a performer like Pegg, but there isn't enough fleshed out here to warrant a feature but rather what feels like small kernels of interesting ideas that weren't given enough time to pop. The unfortunate bit about this though is that it began with such energy, with such promise both in the execution and the design as well as Pegg's performance and taken as just a half hour short film where Pegg's Jack hops around his cave-like dwelling jumping and screaming at threats he is only making up in his mind this could have been the introspective piece it so badly wanted to be. Forcing the audience to watch as our protagonists inability to act like an average part of society gets him into more trouble than he would were he able to adapt to the way things are casually done though distracts from the charm and wit of the base idea this story no doubt came from. Once we are introduced to an innocent bystander (Amara Karan) who seems to only exist as a way to completely tie the bow on top at the end as well as an "out of nowhere" third party character that turns the film into another genre completely I'd almost lost interest in what happened to Jack or if he might ever conquer his fear or not. The film does well to transition from these outlandish bits of humorous scenarios to how they assist in peeling back the layers of Jack has to show, but that still pertains to the evolution of Pegg's character and only re-enforces why the focus should have remained on him rather than resorting to typical thriller archetypes to round out the last half of the film. I don't mind watching anything Pegg decides is worthy of his time and will always laugh at a white guy strolling confidently to Ice Cube, but lets hope Pegg has a better eye for material now that his successful run with Edgar Wright has come to an end.