Sunday 3 March 2019

Movie Review: Fear (1996)

A thriller with romance, psychological tension and some straight-out horror, Fear struggles to click in any capacity.

In the Seattle area, 16 year old Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) lives with her dad Steven (William Petersen), step mom Laura (Amy Brenneman) and younger brother. One day Nicole and her best friend Margo (Alyssa Milano) skip school and go looking for adventure at the rough local bar, and find new friends in the form of David (Mark Wahlberg) and his buddy Logan (Tracy Fraim).

Nicole and David quickly get serious, and although he is not in school he seems like the ideal sensitive and caring boyfriend. But after they get sexually intimate, David displays tendencies for uncontrolled violence. Steven suspects David is bad news and warns Nicole to stay away from him, but Nicole believes she may be in love, and the potentially unstable and manipulative boyfriend burrows deeper into the family's life.

A derivation of Fatal Attraction reoriented towards teenagers, Fear has neither the quality nor the polish to deliver effective entertainment. It remains best known as an early career outing for both Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg.

The film suffers from severe tonal shifts and jarring character transitions. While an undercurrent of typical father-daughter tension between pouty teenager Nicole and guilt-ridden dad Steven dominates the early proceedings, David as the main antagonist spends most of the first half of the film acting like the world's best boyfriend. His subsequent oscillation between raving maniac and apologetic nice guy fools no one, while his promising backstory involving a tough upbringing and hanging out with a group of thugs is severely underwritten.

Director James Foley, working from a Christopher Crowe script, jerks his film along with the characters. Fear spends far too long nurturing an idyllic young romance with a sensitive sexual awakening before jolting into violence and rushing into a horror climax featuring home invasions, shootings and animal cruelty imported from a whole other movie.

The acting is wooden, William Petersen a particularly plastic culprit, and most of the dialogue is at the sophomoric level. Witherspoon and Wahlberg are learning their trade, and their performances do not rise much above the material.

Ironically Fear works best during the romance scenes, with David doing everything right to ensure Nicole falls under his spell. Young love can be two-faced, but here it's a neck-snapper.

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