The horrific potential of the countryside isn’t exactly underexplored in British horror. However, this debut feature from TV veteran Jeremy Lovering (Sherlock) has a familiar premise, but uses it to create a good deal of tension and, indeed, fear.
Two weeks after their first date, Lucy (Beautiful Creatures‘ Alice Englert) and Tom (The Fades‘ Iain de Caestecker) head to Ireland for a music festival. Tom’s booked a room in an isolated hotel for the night, but following the signs takes them round in a circle. As night closes in, the two realise that they’re being watched.
There’s a lot to be said for telling a familiar story well.
Thanks to Lovering’s direction and Englert and De Caestecker’s performances, things get very tense very quickly, and that mood is sustained for the bulk of the running time. The cinematography is excellent, showing the beautiful expanse of the countryside before contracting for increasingly tight close-ups of Lucy and Tom as the roads become narrower and night falls.
The atmosphere is helped by a wonderfully moody soundtrack and some effective early jump scares. As the film progresses, Lovering relies less and less on sudden loud noises and allows the horrific element to simply drift into frame. The tension comes from whether Tom and Lucy will see it in time.
Lovering didn’t give the actors a script in order to make their reactions to the film’s events more real, but what’s more interesting is their interaction with each other.
Tom and Lucy’s limited time together creates a great deal of tension as they try to grasp who or what is responsible for their situation and discover where their priorities lie. Both admit to avoiding a potentially dangerous situation in the pub where the film begins, but which of them is hiding more than they’re letting on? Perhaps more importantly, how committed are you to ensuring the safety of someone you’ve only recently fallen for when your own life might be at stake?
De Caestcker and Englert are both excellent. Tom is likeably mouthy but clearly nervous about being assertive, while Lucy’s quiet reserve quickly becomes very rational fear.
The almost unbearably tense first half is somewhat deflated by the arrival of a third character that immediately brings up comparisons with a 1986 cult classic.
This appearance and subsequent explanation are disappointing in their inevitability but, thankfully, not in their execution. It becomes clear where the film is going at this point, and it’s not a little contrived, but the performances and the cinematography aren’t diminished and it’s how Lucy and Tom react to their circumstances that’s important, rather than the circumstances themselves.
In Fear’s conclusion might not match its opening but it’s consistently gripping and highly atmospheric. It’s superbly shot, there are two excellent lead peformances and it has a bleak sensibility that ensures it will stay with you. This might not be breaking any new ground but it is a very good horror character study.
In Fear is playing at Sundance UK on 27 and 28 April. It will be released in UK cinemas on 30 August.