Dir. Crispian Mills, UK, 2012, 100 mins
Review by Carol Allen
This is a really strange film, which doesn’t fit into any genre.
Pegg plays Jack, a former children’s author recovering from a nervous breakdown, who is trying to reinvent himself as a crime writer. But his obsessive research into the lives of Victorian serial killers is sending him back over the edge, as he becomes gripped by an irrational fear that someone is trying to kill him. When his agent (Claire Higgins) tells him that a big Hollywood executive wants to meet him to discuss his serial killer project, Jack’s fears spin totally out of control, particularly when they involve him being forced to visit a launderette, as he suffers from total paranoia about launderettes, having been abandoned by his mother in one as a small boy.
Because the film stars Simon Pegg, you’re likely to expect a comedy, but it’s only intermittently funny. It’s not however exactly a serious drama or a horror film either, though much of the first part of the film, where Jack in his apartment is falling to pieces from fear, is often disturbing and very effectively and spookily shot. Pegg does well in terms of carrying the whole of the first part of the film almost solo, while the character’s back story of abandonment, which we see in flashback, is really rather touching. A lot of the action is definitely surreal, particularly the scenes in the launderette and those involving Jack and Sangeet, (Karan), the young woman whom he meets there, when they fall into the hands of a would be serial killer, who also has a history of abandonment. And then there are the rather good animated sequences involving Brian the Hedgehog, Jack’s most successful character from his days as a children’s author, who comes back to haunt his creator.
The film sets an original tone from the very beginning with an opening title sequence of a panorama of theLondonskyline, which looks a bit like an illustration to a Roald Dahl story. The actual period in which the film is set is a bit perhaps deliberately unclear. Jack uses a typewriter, not a computer, his phone is really old fashioned and you can smoke in restaurants, so it’s not now. But the “serial killer” refers to his childhood in the eighties, so it’s later than then. It’s sort of out of time in a world of its own.
The surrealist aspects of the film may well come from the fact that it is partly based on Withnail and I writer Bruce Robinson’s short story Paranoia in the Launderette, while its rather daredevil, genre defying assurance perhaps comes from the background of the film’s co-writer/director Crispin Mills, former lead singer of Kula Shaker and son of Hayley Mills and Boulting brother Roy.
Fantastic Fear sometimes wanders into rather heavy handed pastiche of all the genres that it’s not, and Pegg fans will probably be disappointed, if they’re expecting something in the Shaun of the Dead ilk, which it certainly ain’t. I was though constantly intrigued, never bored and I enjoyed its somewhat nutty originality. It will be very interesting to see how Mills develops as a film maker.