Saturday, September 8, 2012

In short: Fear X (2003)

This is the movie that drove Nicolas Winding Refn's production company into bankruptcy in the director's first attempt to get a foothold in English language cinema without betraying his aesthetic interests.

And really, it's not much of a surprise Fear X flopped pretty hard, for where the film's basic plot description ("lost man played by John Turturro attempts to understand the murder of his wife by finding her murderer") suggests your run-of-the-mill vengeance thriller, the actual film is working hard to subvert the vengeance thriller with the power of the Weird and the metaphorical. Refn uses a rigorously composed visual style that hints at the surreal despite - or perhaps even because of - its rigidity. That style turns the quotidian into the unreal by the sheer power of hyperstylization, pretty clearly not caring one bit for mainstream interpretations of how "suspense" or "excitement" are built in a thriller. That doesn't mean that Fear X isn't suspenseful or exciting, for these seemingly lost elements reappear once a viewer has accepted the non-generic way the film is built, and just goes with it.

After a point (ironically shortly after the film pretends to become clearer and more "realistic"), it becomes utterly unclear what part of the film is a dream, or a hallucination, and what part "real" (as much as anything in a film ever can be real, of course); questions of truth and reality are, as they often seem to be in Refn's movies, completely dependent on one's interpretation.

To - depending on one's position on this sort of thing - either add insult to injury or cheese to your wine, Refn's film refuses the easy way out of an ending that explains anything at all. In fact, the ending Fear X delivers so steadfastly refuses to even show the audience an important part of what is or isn't happening (though there are enough hints to build one's own ending if one is so inclined) I can easily imagine a nice percentage of the film's audience actually hating the director for it. I for my part rather want to applaud him.

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