A Fantastic Fear of Everything is a swirling kaleidascope of creative color, writing, and acting forming glorious malicious shapes in Jack’s (Simon Pegg) paranoid writers mind. A twisted imagination of contrived logic and deep rooted fears fling Jack rebounding in his twisty turvy Hackney flat. Shades of Tim Burton at his best, sadly gives way to a stuttering second half that discards a credible character build up only to squander the films potential with sudden collisions of loose threads and a simple minded ending.
Jack’s writing his opus “Decades of Death” it’s a far cry from his successful Harold the Hedgehog children’s book. Decades of Death runs the gamut of Victorian era serial killers. Strewn over the walls is Jack’s obsessive conglomeration of photos and notes of serial killers methods, history and compulsions.
So immersed in his research Jack becomes lost in a realm of death and murder. His flat takes on a eerie labyrinth air as shadowy hulks swim across hallways. A journey into Jack’s tangible fears of being murdered, treacherous phone calls, and buying toilet paper or betrayed by his agent (Clare Higgins) is beautifully crafted and played by Simon in an almost one man tour de force, with nary a false note.
Even moments of the macabre etched out in animation, blend seamlessly with Jack’s mental anguish determined to finding patterns in his life signaling his murder. Harold the Hedgehog haunts Jack’s writing past. Harvey Humphries, potential murdering head of scripts, Hanoi Handshake the serial killer hunting in his neighbourhood, and Police helicopters plague Jack as he desperately tries to stay ahead of being slain in his Hackney flat. That’s a lot of H’s for one movie, and I am still waiting for the ending to tie them all up.
Simon brings such agile angst and earnest wile to Jack that he is almost unrecognizable during Fantastic’s first half. Spry and clad in browning Y briefs, a flapping silk robe and a knife super glued to his hand Jack tortures himself through the most simple happenstance from his agents phone calls to bewildering rings at his door bell. If you’ve been yearning for some half naked Simon Pegg, then Fantastic will not dissappoint.
Based on the novella Paranoia in the Launderette by Bruce Robinson, writer and director of Withnail and I. You can fully understand where this film gets it dark humor, blend of obsession and fixation on death from.
The director and cinematography renders Jack one man show in magnificent light and shadow. Wide painterly frames color Jacks emotional drama in such convincing light of depth and meaning that the eye is captured with near rapture and convinced of a deeper realm behind Jack’s fear.
Simon truly lifts Jacks character beyond the usual mere canned comedic roles with glimpses of mischief and pain in Jacks eyes. Pushing Fantastic Fear into a drama or potential real horror. One can certainly see Simon skills widen aided by director Crispian Mills, than when Simon himself helms the writing and directing.
Are they real? These potential threats of murder? Is Jack being betrayed. about to be murdered? Or is he losing his mind? A brilliant visual blend coaxes the mind and eyes along Jack’s perceptions or hallucinations?
Moments of the surreal bring real doubts to what is possible. When Jack loads his infamous Rap mix tape to save the day and ward off evil spirits. He convulses with sublime skill like a Hindu mystic journeying into a rap singalong of near mythic proportions. Fantastic Fear has many musical epiphanies and hallucinations blending the realms of possibilities creating genre breaking scenes. It entices the viewer in and offers glimpses of real comedic drama not easily found elsewhere.
Jack rises to confront the challenge of meeting a Hollywood miscreant, his agent promises is interested in Decades of Death. Jack knows he mustn’t miss this opportunity despite his lack of proper attire.
His clothes are a festering pile hidden in a plastic bag and Jack’s morbid fear of Launderettes forces him to use simpler means. Water, rinse then into the oven.
Sadly the films embrace begins to fade when obvious ploys take over the scripts delicate shades of grey. Putting wet clothes into the fiery oven will of course burn them. It’s a cliche and so the descent from entertaining genre mixing scenes to treadmill paint by numbers plot points start to wrap a tidy ribbon.
Aside from a last few glimpses of credibility and charming camera work. Fantastic Fear drags out it’s connect the dots script pages, telegraphed by Jack’s earnest Psychologist. Jack faces his fears at the local Launderette where meets his prophesied serial killer, unravels his past and meets the love of his life.
Tidy enough? Did everyone get tired of being brilliant. Did craft services run out of Tequila? Or is it just Jack waking up from his foggy realm of delusion and mistakes. He sees his half burned head, the super glued knife in his coat pocket makes for fun handshakes but well if it’s not on the page then it isn’t on the screen. The second half of Fantastic Fear of Everything needed a serious rewrite to save the first half which was a totally different film despite it’s relevant connected threads.
A pricey lesson of tone changes late in a script can slaughter and discard the viewer. No, no, noo. The macabre Brazil like tone side steps into a brightly lit Romedy with a happy ending?
Despite a charming Hedgehog stop motion animation story to while away the time waiting for Jack to reappear happy and whole, selling his new children’s book at the local brick and mortar store. Hurray, Jack is successful and gets the girl while running away from Hollywood. It’s a Disney drug mules paradise ending that threatens a coma.
The Fantastic Fear of Everything deserves a viewing because there are some wondrous bits of collaboration every film strives for and when it happens, it can only be likened to magic. And when it doesn’t then you can see what is wrong with most films and what is happening to modern cinema. The contrast is severe, but worth investigation.
The first 30 minutes are a must see for film lovers. It’s a strange forlorn evolution afterwards even though tidbits have been set up properly. Jack’s past and his nightmares of floating eyes and launderettes with ominous washers foretell of whats to come. Yet when it arrives it fails to satisfy or continue at the same level of charm and wit initially presented.
I would love to see Simon Pegg take a leap ahead to create what Tim Burton left behind. The artistic surreallism raised to inspiring levels but without Burton’s heavier hand, Simon could bring a fresh inspiration so badly needed in modern film work, leave the usual comedic affected cliches behind and dare to become the Richard Burton of Dramedy.