Fear X (2003) Review

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Fear X

Time: 91 Minutes
Cast:
John Turturro as Harry
Deborah Kara Unger as Kate
Stephen McIntyre as Phil
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Harry Caine (John Turturro) is a mild-mannered mall cop whose pregnant wife is killed in the underground parking lot where he works. It seems it may have been a contract killing, and Harry becomes obsessed with finding out the details. His investigation eventually takes him to a Montana town, where reality becomes unhinged for him, and he remains disturbingly unfazed by the wintry conditions and eccentric characters. In the end, he’s not looking for revenge, just for the reason behind it all.

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I knew some things about Fear X going into it. First of all, it was the first English language movie from Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon director Nicolas Winding Refn, and its an experimental crime thriller starring John Turturro which flopped, causing Refn to direct two sequels to his debut film Pusher. I’ve also noticed it’s been referred to as Refn’s worst movie, so I went in cautiously optimistic. While I think it is quite possibly his worst movie, I still liked it.

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Fear X is a psychological thriller which initially appears to have a simple plot. It does have a conventional premise about someone looking for the person who killed his wife, however it is definitely not a mainstream movie. Refn takes this premise and applies his own storytelling style to it, subverting the tropes of the revenge thriller. In some ways, you could say that this is a revenge story without the revenge. I like this concept, you get a typical noir film which happens to mix surrealism and murder mystery together, and it is eerie and strange the way it is presented. In fact, many scenes of dialogue and style choices can be compared to David Lynch’s work. It is riveting, tense and unsettling throughout. The film is definitely slow and takes its time, and this will definitely turn some people off from the movie. The atmosphere isn’t strong enough to make this approach work as well as some of Refn’s other slow burners, but I liked the build up over the course of the movie. The other reason a lot of people won’t like this movie is the ambiguity, and in fact it might be too ambiguous for its own good. This is especially in the case of the ending, which really isn’t much of an ending. It leaves you feeling empty and lacks a conventional conclusion. I do admire the decision and it is bold to deliberately leave things without closure and the audience with more questions than before. I also get that it’s deliberately leaving itself to be heavily interpreted. However, I don’t think it quite sticks the landing, and I get people not liking the movie because of the ending.

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The acting from everyone is pretty good but really the highlight out of all of them is John Turturro in the lead role of the mall cop who’s trying to find his wife’s killer. Turturro is pretty much a perfect fit in the lead role. He and everyone else don’t have a whole lot to say, much of the acting comes from facial expressions and emoting. However, Turturro gives a really nuanced performance and was a solid casting choice for what Refn was going for.

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This is another film from Nicolas Winding Refn, and as expected his work on a technical level is great. I expect amazing visuals from his movies and Fear X is no exception. The use of colour is striking, the cinematography is immaculate and it’s shot with a style which would be more prominent in his later movies, especially when it comes to hallway scenes. The sound design is also amazing, complimenting the mood perfectly, helped by the haunting score from Brian Eno. All these elements come together to create an eerie and foreboding atmosphere throughout the entirety of the film.

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I do get why Fear X bombed to a degree, it was a departure from Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous movies, and it is one of his stranger films (which is saying a lot). However it does have some strengths, I liked Refn’s different take on a revenge thriller with all its ambiguity, John Turturro gave a great performance, and it is directed and shot beautifully. At the very least, it did help Refn figure out his filmmaking voice and style. I do think it is worth watching if you liked some of NWR’s other work, but it’s probably best you do so with a good idea of what kind of movie you’re in for.

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