There is well-lighted parking and a conscientious security guard, but nobody feels safe in Lily’s apartment complex—with good reason. People have disappeared here before. Plus, there is the regular nightly scream—as in “the Scream.” It freaks her out, but it might just rekindle her passion for filmmaking, if she can resist the urge to curl up into a fetal ball of fear in Justin Decloux’s Impossible Fear (trailer here), which screens during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Scary Movies series.
Impossible is bound to be divisive, because Decloux withholds a great deal of context and background in the early scenes. Frankly, we are even more in the dark than Lily—and she seems pretty clueless. We can deduce her apartment is haunted and the uncanny business there is somehow related to the supernatural cult of hoodie-shrouded punks, who seem to appear after the nightly scream. It is indeed a scream in the night of unknown origin. After each shriek, a new clue mysteriously appears, some of which are cool and some are grotesque.
Just when she resolves to document this eerie phenomenon, Lily meets Hannah, a long-time “Scream-chaser.” It seems like Hannah is not intimidated by the Scream, the “Hoodies,” or the security guard who always turns up at the wrong time. She might even become something like a friend to the shy Lily, but just when they think they are close to solving the mystery, the new clues send them tumbling deeper down the rabbit hole.
Reportedly, Decloux was influenced by J-horror films, which makes sense. Although he does not use any identifiable tropes (like long-haired uncanny women), there is something about the vibe that feels akin to classic Japanese horror. Even at night-time, their environment is bright and chilly. There is just an over-riding sense that nobody is ever safe.
That feeling of tangible vulnerability is a major reason why Impossible is one of the creepiest, most unsettling horror films of the year. Decloux also has a knack for doling out small but tantalizing revelations that set the hook deeper, while still maintaining the overall mystery. Frankly, the audience will often be confused by what is unfolding, but it is always clear Decloux knows exactly what’s what. We have no idea what the rules are, yet we can tell he has strictly abided by them.
Haley Walker and Creedance Wright are both terrific as Lily and Hannah, but in very different ways. Walker’s Lily is so twitchy and standoffish, she makes it even more difficult for viewers to get their bearings. In contrast, Wright is refreshingly bold and maybe even a little nutty, but in a way that wears well. She is definitely a wild card, who further destabilizes the situation, but she is also acutely human.
Impossible has a harshly digital look, but that actually suits it quite well. It is a hyper-real film, in which every crazy incident looks weirdly believable, like the haunted high school hallway video on YouTube. The backstory created by Decloux and co-screenwriter Nate Wilson is so sinister and intriguing, it could easily sustain a sequel or a prequel. Very highly recommended, Impossible Horror screens Sunday night (8/19) at the Walter Reade, as part of Scary Movies XI.