Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
There are several places from which I could start this review. I could tie in something about how much I’m looking forward to Refn’s latest Gosling showcase ‘Only God Forgives’, I could talk about how the original screenplay for ‘Fear X’ was written by Hubert Selby Jr. or I could even talk about the paranoid thoughts that go through the mind of a Security Guard given my experience in the Industry.
I wondered, after spending eleven hours patrolling around a department store and also during the very same shift trawling through hours of CCTV footage to prove if a criminal mastermind had nicked a cardigan, whether it was sensible to watch a film about a Security Guide wandering around a shopping mall and then later trawling through several hours of taped CCTV footage.
The film touches upon an important aspect of life in Retail Security, which is mainly, just how uncomfortable it is. You’re standing there, watching everybody, and suspecting everyone, waiting for changes in behaviour, for a little clue or sudden tick. When you saunter past, at a pace that is slow enough to be deliberate, people make comments; they call you a “jobsworth”, or “pathetic”. You find, after a while that your senses become deadened, that the people who blur around you in a busy shopping environment each day don’t really matter. Because if you listened to every little they said, then you’d fall apart.
If nothing happens during the course of a shift, your mind wanders. You think about all kinds of shit. Sometimes these thoughts question the point of what exactly it is that you are doing? Why does this matter? How the hell am I getting paid for this when people around me, the toiling shop workers, are actually doing some “real” work and all I do is watch and wait? Then you remember, you have to be disciplined to do this. Most people wouldn’t last a week. I’ve seen rookie guards reach breaking point during their first shift. It truly is a mental game.
John Turturro plays Harry Caine, a Security Guard who works in a generic American shopping mall. His wife was shot dead in the mall car park, and Caine is completely obsessed with finding out who killed his wife, and then maybe this will give him the chance to look that person in the face and asking why?
‘Fear X’ is a film about a man searching for answers, and during his search, the more clues he finds, the more uncertain he becomes. In some ways the film is similar to ‘Memento’ or ‘The Machinist’. Turtorro is excellent; he gives an unwaveringly focussed performance, of a man who is determined to find the truth, but at the same time fearful of what he might uncover. The scenes at Harry’s home, where he spends his free time in front of a fuzzy screen, visited by visions of his wife, in between meticulously piecing together evidence, photo stills and profiles of suspects, are wonderfully gripping.
Up to Montana ‘Fear X’ is superb; when Caine gets to the Big Sky Country the story wobbles. I don’t have any quibble with the ending of the movie, although there is always an argument that might suggest the audience deserves a satisfactory outcome, or even any kind of outcome, even if the director artfully feels otherwise, but I think Refn really loses control on the approach to the end, clumsily trying to present the rage that has built up inside Caine’s head.
Despite carrying several of Refn’s trademarks, the Danish director is able to capture Middle America equally as good as heavyweights like the Coens. Caine’s hometown in Wisconsin is a place void of life, winter is harsh and the shopping malls are populated by people going through the motions. It’s all a bit drab. There is however a cinematic beauty to what Refn captures, even if it appears nothing much is going on.
Harry Caine pieces together the clues, assisted by a work colleague who operates the CCTV system and provides tapes that had been given back to the mall by the Police, who themselves are also still working on the case but none the wiser as to who might have fired the fatal shot. Analyzing the tapes through the night means that Caine is in no fit state to work. He wanders around in a daze, staring suspiciously at everyone, not because they might nick something, but because they may have shot his wife.
It is quite obvious that Harry is unravelling mentally, and when he decides to investigate what’s inside the house across the road, the place he sees his wife heading towards in a vision, ‘Fear X’ moves into the supernatural, as lights come on automatically (without a sensor, obviously) and a ghostly figure knocks on the door whilst Harry is snooping around inside. “Lynchian” is a word you might use to describe the second half of the film after Harry discovers seemingly vital clues on a discarded strip of camera film slide, and it is from this point where Refn drops the ball.
Flashy blood boiling red cutaways disturb the momentum and tiring dialogue spoil the film. Refn doesn’t need make Caine’s rage so obvious, because up to the scene when it appears in a burst of violence, it had been building up rather nicely. This is part of a bizarre series of scenes which mostly take place when in a hotel Harry is staying. An implied prostitute visits Harry’s room; the scene is uncomfortably awkward, but unnecessary. A devilish temptation that clumsily shows that Harry still only cares for one woman, unfortunately that woman is dead.
“Sometimes reality is the strangest fantasy of them all” was the tagline to Antonioni’s ‘Blow-Up’. Harry Caine’s eyes are not reliable and his mind is a muddle; in ‘Fear X’ we, the audience can only cruise through the ambiguity of it all.
Fear X on IMDB
Buy Fear X [DVD]