Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Fear, Inc.

If you make a Xerox of a Xerox, the sharpness starts to blur. The same thing is true of hipster hat-tips. Horror fans loved the original Scream film because it signaled to fans that it shared their genre enthusiasms through references to cult classics. However, by using Scream as its touchstone, this film essentially refers to the references. What does that really boil down to? In this case, an abrasively obnoxious protag, who unfortunately is not the first to die in Vincent Masciale’s Fear, Inc., which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Joe Foster is a lazy stoner who leeches off his attractive, well-heeled, gainfully employed girlfriend Lindsey Gains. It is impossible to understand why she would put up with him, except as some sort of wish-fulfillment for screenwriter Luke Barnett. Horror movies and rolling fatties are about the only things Foster knows, but he is quite the expert in both.

Naturally, he is more than intrigued when he hears about Fear, Inc., a shadowy company specializing in immersive horror experiences, even though they have a reputation for taking gigs way too far.  You could ask his best bud’s boss about that, had she not been killed in the prologue. Does that remind you of any other films?

Regardless, Foster’s Fear, Inc. experience seems to be starting up while that ever-patient pal and his wife are staying as houseguests. Foster just can’t tell for sure, because gruff customer service rep told him they were booked solid. Thus begins a maddening cycle of derivative reversals, all which all down to: “this is all just a game, but not this part here, except actually it was too, etc., etc.

Basically, during the entire film, viewers are just waiting for the next changeroo, while Foster’s man-child behavior turns our stomachs. Even the timing for Fear, Inc. is problematic, considering it premiered at Tribeca well after Rich Fox’s purported documentary The Blackout Experiments divided Sundance. While Fox’s film has its issues, the supposedly real life people who develop a psychological dependency on the services of a similar (but not homicidal) outfit are more compelling and the abuse they willing take (both physical and emotional) is far more disturbing.

It is impossible to overstate just how annoying the lead character is. It is one thing to create an extreme persona, but as Foster, Lucas Neff is like fingernails on the blackboard. His relationship with Caitlin Stasey’s desirable and down-to-earth Gains strains believability well past the breaking point. Is it also never clear how Fear, Inc. maintains it operations, since they hung up on Foster before he could properly book his services. If a shadowy cabal wants to be evil that is all well and fine, but screenwriters have to establish a clear plan to monetize their villainy.

Fear, Inc. is not half as clever as it thinks it is, which gets to be a big problem. Frankly, most viewers will be at least four steps ahead the characters right from the start, even while some will appreciate its knowingly ironic Kevin Williamson attitude. Not recommended (yet still more watchable than several of this year’s Midnight selections), Fear, Inc. screens again tonight (4/23) and tomorrow night (10/24), during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.