Sunday, May 31, 2015

Netflix Picks: A Fantastic Fear of Everything

Posted By on Sun, May 31, 2015 at 7:30 AM

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For its fixation on Victorian murderers and paranoia, writer/director Crispian Mills and co-director Chris Hopewell's 2012 film A Fantastic Fear of Everything is quite positive. Nobody becomes a monster in the name of doing good. It's not about hitting bottom; it's about getting better. It's also about laughing at Simon Pegg playing an agoraphobic paranoid. The writing has as many holes as a block of Swiss cheese, mind, but it's a tasty cheese at least.

Jack Nife (Pegg) is a writer in London, and he's convinced someone is trying to kill him. He's just finished a screenplay on murderers of Victorian England, and between his research and the deeds of the roving Hanoi Handshake Killer, he's jumping at shadows. Fortunately, his agent, Clair De Grunwald (Clare Higgins), has set Nife up to meet an interested TV exec, Harvey Humphries (Kerry Shale with a mustache from Hell's own barbershop). But Nife hasn't left his apartment, washed his clothes, or slept without a kitchen knife in his hand in three weeks.

Everything goes wrong as Nife tries to clean his clothes and get to the meeting. To start, he superglues his knife to his hand and sets his underwear on fire. He is forced to return to the nearby laundromat, where he was abandoned as a child. Long story short, the police show up and Tase him, but one of the laundromat patrons, Sangeet (Amara Karan), intervenes, and Nife is not arrested. They even free the knife from his hand. With the catastrophe behind him, Nife feels liberated from his fears, both of killers and of the laundromat.

In the final act, Nife and Sangeet make their acquaintance with the actual Hanoi Handshake Killer (Alan Drake). What follows is a little Freudian/Jungian psychology, a Claymation fable, and an ending that just doesn't make sense with the rest of the movie.

The main reason to watch this movie is Pegg. He's out of the park, as usual, doing more with a mediocre script than many actors do with a funny one. He makes the paranoid oddball Nife seem human, even at his craziest and most useless. Pegg doesn't go as far as to make Nife heroic, but that wouldn't make sense with the character. He gives the story a big heart, which it needs.

As for the rest of the cast, the acting is fine — not great, not bad. Karan has some chemistry with Pegg, but Sangeet has the personality of stale bread. Nife's psychologist friend Dr. Friedkin (Paul Freeman) gets a few little details that flesh him out, but he's a bit part. For the whole two minutes he's on screen, Shale is terrifying but inexplicable, in a good way. Actually, the bit characters pop better than the named cast as a rule, barring Nife himself.

The writing's also uneven. When Nife gets out of the apartment in Act Two, Mills' plot generates more cruel cringing than laughter — still well done, just not my cup of tea. While Drake shows up early on, Mills' attempts at foreshadowing his role as villain fall flat. And with Nife's paranoia brought to a satisfying resolution, there's not enough to tie the third act to the rest of the movie. There are also multiple unexplained plot threads, like an ongoing police manhunt and Nife's failed marriage. Finally, all the sloppy Freudian and Jungian symbolism suggests that Mills really just wants to tell the audience he has an English degree.

Mills' movie background is in music, though, and soundtrack pops, especially when Nife deploys his hardcore rap mixtape. Plus, the settings have a good mix of creepy and grimy. Mills may not have the finesse to pull of the kind of wacky he's gunning for, but his dialogue has a few gems. Nife even has a good character arc if you ignore the third act. It's not good, per se, but it's funnier than Kevin James' entire career. And, again, Simon Pegg kills it.

Congratulations, you're one movie closer to justifying that $8.99 a month.

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