Ooh, those menacingly plucking strings of music over the opening credits got my attention (as did the monster screams in the background), though the repeatedly strobe-like flashes of the credit text probably isn’t best if your eyes are a bit tired. Peur(s) du noir (or, Fear(s) of the Dark), is a black-and-white animated anthology horror. Each directed by one artist (or graphic artist), the stories tell singular stories about snippets of fear.
There are six segments in total; four are standalone stories – one about a boy who studies insects; another about a young girl and a Samurai spirit; the third is about a boy who crosses paths with a monster, and the fourth about a man who takes refuge from a blizzard in an abandoned cabin. The other two creep in alongside the other stories as segment bookends – one is about a man who sics his vicious dogs on people, and the other is a series of graphics with a woman narrating her personal fears.
The first segment (about a boy who’s fascinated with bugs) is compelling and relatable, but the animation and story on the other two were a little too dull. The bookend piece about the man and his dogs was quite ghoulish (particularly the ending), maybe more owing to the Lon Chaney-like gargoyle appearance of the man, and the sequences were short and sinister enough. What let it down a fair bit for me was the narrated segment. I get that it set the tone that this wasn’t going to be some animated French version of V/H/S or The ABCs of Death, but the designs were too dull when paired with the narration, which came off as suffocatingly pretentious.
Anthologies can be a bit of a broken beast. People often judge them as a complete, Love Actually-esque film, as if they’re supposed to intersect and provide a neatly-connected story. But the “bookend” segments make it clear that this is a series of parts that aren’t necessarily meant to fit together other than drumming up a fairly unified tone. It does make for some disjointed viewing, especially as the stories are so different; they start out Creepypasta-ish with shock over substance, but then shift towards more traditional chills.
Which is why, for me, the final segment (the man in the cabin, by Richard McGuire), is my personal favourite. It makes effective use of the advertised black-and-white (the Samurai segment was more grayscale); the colours are stark and the animation is clean and simple. McGuire mucks about brilliantly with light and dark – because the cabin is deserted and the man only has a gaslight lamp, all we see is what’s in the light; maybe a bit of shadow. If it had been a live-action film, we would have seen everything in that house – even in the dark. Outlines of the floor, fireplace, chairs, doors, etc. But we only ever see what’s illuminated by that tiny circle of light. There’s also no dialogue, and the music is used sparingly. I was a bit disappointed with how abruptly it ended, and when I found out that my reading of the story was wrong – I thought the man was returning to an old home, rather than happening upon a stranger’s – but even on its own, it’s a strikingly innovative segment. Absolutely worth watching for that one alone.
I watched this one on Netflix UK, and the running time of 80-odd minutes is a tad misleading, as there are over 6 minutes of credits. I didn’t see anything afterwards, but just more of the flashy-flashy Men in Black-type design they inflicted on us for the opening titles.