There are films that awe you with special effects, films that make you laugh and cry, and films that make you think. And then there are films, like Crispian Mills’ new film A Fantastic Fear of Everything, that will make you sit rocking back and forth in the shower, crying and hugging your knees.
It’s the story of Jack (Simon Pegg), a children’s author whose research into Victorian serial killers has left him a filthy, paranoid mess living in a hovel in Hackney. A potential meeting with a Hollywood bigshot who’s interested in his work, however, forces him to bundle up his dirty clothes, grab his carving knife and face his ultimate demon; the laundrette.
It’s a brilliantly twisted affair, like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas crossed with a Hammer Horror. There are more Dutch angles than you can shake a stick at, a recurring motif of eyeballs is used to great effect, and there’s an animated sequence involving stop-motion hedgehogs that makes Terry Gilliam seem incredibly well-adjusted. There’s also a great range of music, from gangsta rap to Iron Butterfly, and one of the funniest uses of “The Blue Danube” that I’ve ever seen.
Simon Pegg puts in a very able performance as Jack, worlds away from the cricket bat-wielding zombie killer we know and love, and creates a character that’s pitiable and hilarious at the same time; his cowering is almost cartoonish, and he sure knows how to bust a few moves. The supporting actors, meanwhile, aren’t exactly bad, but none of them are featured in the story long enough to be properly discovered: this could almost have worked as a one-man show.
The main flaw here, however, is the tone, which seems almost as jumpy as the protagonist. It starts as a comedy (a pretty black one, but a comedy nonetheless) with Pegg setting up Jack’s predicament as pretty ridiculous – writing a eulogy every time the phone rings, for example – but all the while there’s a hint that it wants to be something else as well. There are aspirations of a real horror movie in here, and parts of the final act could almost be described as heart-warming, if you were a complete psychopath. The problem is that by trying to be all of these things at once, it doesn’t really become any of them, and as a result it just becomes a bit unsettling.
If you’re looking for a film that’s a little different, or a chance to see Simon Pegg flex his acting muscles, then you could do a lot worse than A Fantastic Fear of Everything. Unfortunately, the jarring shifts in tone make this a much more uncomfortable watch than even the director intended. Fans of surreal humour should probably stick to Hunter S. Thompson.