When a trailer slams giant text across the screen from a review saying that their movie was ‘tailor-made for genre junkies’, it’s a red flag for me that it’s already unreasonably high praise. Welcome to setting your audience’s expectations too high.
Meh, whatever. Fear, Inc., another FrightFest 2016 entry I missed, is a home invasion thriller comedy that openly admits its influences. Horror geek Ben (Lucas Neff) is living a good life in Los Angeles on his bride-to-be’s (his real-life wife Caitlin Stasey)’s family dime. Noticing he’s having some bored fun, a schlocky haunted house employee slips him a business card for a company called Fear, Inc., an entertainment service purveying high-end, custom scares (yes, as one of the characters points out, is just like the movie The Game).
Ben phones the company to find out more, but is abruptly told they’re ‘sold out’ before being hung up on. Thinking nothing of it, he preps a small dinner gathering with his BFF (Chris Marquette) and his wife (Stephanie Drake). But then shit goes down, the power’s cut, and the group are in danger. Or are they? Or are they not? Or really, are they?
That’s the gist of this film, but it’s a fun, simple ride. It’s somewhat plausible: these kinds of companies could very well exist, and have the good intentions of being innovative and fun – but in a world in which we have the likes of Black Mirror, how horribly wrong does this have the potential to go? And if these experiences are so professionally done that that they’re mind-bendingly immersive, what are the pitfalls of putting yourself in a situation designed to make you question whether or not something is real?
Those are some deep questions for a horror comedy, and it’s almost a shame that it went the yuk-yuks route, particularly as most of the film’s early humour comes from Ben’s constant Scullying of the film’s tense moments. But once the uncertainty kicks in, so too does the tension of the possibility of a series of devastating outcomes. The mildly shit performances and constantly flip-flopping ending both let the film down a little, but the inventive gore, cast chemistry and even just the concept alone are all enough to make up for it.