We all do from time to time, right? I suppose I could make a short list of people with completely flawless careers… uh… Abraham Lincoln and Santa Claus have done pretty well for themselves. While not a super-fan, I like Simon Pegg as much as the next guy. I mean, I was probably fifteen or sixteen the first time I saw Hot Fuzz, so how could I not? Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, while not perfect, also bring out the laughs. He’s a beacon of light in the Star Trek films. Unlike some of the other writers for this blog, though, I found Paul aggressively unfunny. By and large, though, Pegg packs in the comedic punches with regularity and a consistent sense of humor, or humour, if you will. Sometimes our best efforts just don’t cut it.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)
The Plot: Jack (Pegg) has a titular fear of everything, it would seem, an unfortunate byproduct of his professional devotion to research as he immerses himself in a world of murder and savagery while researching for a tell-all book about Victorian serial killers. At least, that seems to be the plot for the first half of the film. Later his fear of everything focuses down into a very particular fear of launderettes, and we get an in-depth and surprisingly uninteresting glimpse into the childhood trauma that produced his paranoia.
This movie should have existed as a graphic novella instead of a full-length movie. The visual style and art direction are both strong, but aside from Simon Pegg’s comedic timing, nothing is really gained from it being a film. Let us also consider the fact that approximately eighty-five percent of the runtime is drenched in a voiceover narration. Narration of that level suits a book, or a comic, just fine, but in film we tend to opt for a “show don’t tell” rule, and especially a “don’t tell if you’re already showing us.” This is a pretty basic rule of writing. If I see a character pouring himself a cup of coffee, I don’t need him to look at the camera and say, “I am pouring coffee for myself. Into a cup. I intend to drink it.” I can work that out visually. I think Pegg speaks more lines of voiceover than of dialogue, and since he’s the main character and perfectly capable of speaking, there’s no excuse for that. For the first few minutes, this serves a delicate purpose, since he’s mostly alone in his apartment, and since he keeps cutting back and forth between voiceover and talking to an empty room, it helps to establish his madness while simultaneous setting him up as a likable figure. It all goes downhill after about minute fifteen.
As I mentioned in the plot synopsis, after putting in a phone call to his shrink, Jack realizes that he isn’t afraid of being murdered, even though he’s told us through voiceover about a dozen times that his one serious fear is a fear of murder; no, what he really fears is launderettes, because (as we find out later) his mother abandoned him in one at the age of five. Okay… so he goes on a quest to face his fear of launderettes. It goes poorly, and he has a brush-in with a wannabe serial killer. The whole Victorian motif gets left at the wayside and the aesthetic of death that was so nicely cultivated in the first few scenes never comes into its own. Clearly, someone thought it would be a good idea to abandon everything that worked about the film in favor of a lazy simplification of complex themes, adapting a reductionist Freudian viewpoint. Ask yourself: have you ever seen any movie at any point about a serial killer or a monster or something nasty like that that explains away all the mystery and horror in the most benign way imaginable, but still somehow pulls off a satisfying conclusion? I can answer that for you: NO. Case in point, Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake.
You know what makes a scary, or at least thought-provoking movie? Uncertainty. Ambiguity. Unanswered questions. This is obviously not applicable to all films of all genres; I’m not saying that. Sometimes, though, wrapping everything up in a nice little package with a colorful ribbon tied in a bow with the ends curled like a pig’s tail is not the way to go. Resolution is an important force in all narrative forms. Duh. Most of us humans prefer things to follow a basic formula, though, in which resolution comes at the end, not at the half way mark. That’s sloppy, unforgivable writing. Does it come at all as a surprise that this is a first screenplay? Not in the slightest.