Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Nothing Left to Fear (2013)

Warning: structural spoilers ahead

Pastor Dan (James Tupper), his wife Wendy (Anne Heche), and their children Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes continuing the tradition of people nearing their 30s playing teenagers, which certainly makes for better acting but also leads to a curious gap between the visible adultness of the actor and the not quite as adult behaviour of the character), Mary (Jennifer Stone), and Christopher (Carter Cabassa) are moving into a small Midwestern town so that Dan can take over the job of the place's old pastor, Kingsman (Clancy Brown).

While their parents are taking to the country like ducks to water, the teenage (cough) girls aren't too happy having to leave the city, idyllic as their new home may be. Rebecca can at least console herself with a blossoming romance to local boy Noah (Ethan Peck). Something, however, is off with the town and its inhabitants, and it's not just Noah's at times curiously elusive behaviour, or Rebecca's equally strange nightmares. The audience realizes quite early what the characters will only find out when it might be too late - that they have been invited into town for a rather different role than taking over a parish.

Anthony Leonardi III's Nothing Left to Fear is a bit of a slow-burner, taking its time to build up a mood of slowly increasing wrongness, insinuating much before starting to show anything, and introducing its audience to the cast with perhaps more care than the not very complicated characters need. Mostly though, the film's early slowness looks like concentration to me, the carefully built base the film needs to increase audience expectations of the horrors to come. At least for the film's first two thirds, this approach pays off well through a feeling of true suspense.

Once the horrible creature crawls out of its hole, the film suffers a bit from a rather too conventional threat and escape structure that makes its ideas of big-lettered EVIL feel less overwhelming than its philosophical underpinnings suggest. The "creature's" design also follows the visual style of contemporary US supernatural horror (think Insidious) a bit too much for my tastes. It's certainly effective enough, but feels a bit too familiar for what it is supposed to be, particularly after having been built up so well while off-screen.

Despite this weakness, Nothing Left to Fear does get around to packing a bit of a punch in the end, breaking one of the bigger taboos in horror movies (at least horror movies with mainstream actresses like Anne Heche in them) before turning what would feel like one of those annoying kicker endings into something that fits the film's ideas about ritual cycles well and is just rather horrible.

Like Cabin in the Woods - of which it reminds me more than just a little in its willingness to go for cosmological consistence rather than affirmation of its audience's hopes in the end -  Nothing Left to Fear is a film rather easily read as allegory on politics or religion. Where Cabin in the Woods sees its system of unfair and cruel sacrifice breaking down in the end to ironically dire consequences (I can't help but read this as "if the price for saving the world is this high, the world might deserve what it gets"), Nothing Left to Fear's system is still holding. The film even shows the final victim of its system of oppression becoming complicit in it, which is probably a pretty realistic outcome, and most certainly one befitting a horror film.

Obviously, I really rather enjoyed Nothing Left to Fear, what with its emphasis on mood, its story about what amounts to a rural cult a bit like a very faint American echo of The Wicker Man, its cosmology that contains supernatural evil only held back by ways just as bad as the cosmic evil itself, if on a smaller scale, and its willingness to see things through to the worst possible ending. Clearly, everyone will agree with me there, and there will be no IMDB reviews titled "Boring!".

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