Typically, horror movies reflect the fears of society, but occasionally they express the peculiar anxieties of the people who make movies. Seriously, who else would be worried about obsessive fans whose fandom crosses over to the dark side of stalkerdom? It happened to Lauren Bacall in The Fan (1981), Morgan Fairchild in The Seduction, Wesley Snipes in The Fan (1996) and now it happens to the ridiculously bland object of John Travolta’s adulation in Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst’s The Fanatic, which opens this Friday in New York.
Moose means well and he fans hard, but he is definitely on the spectrum, so he is often misunderstood. For reasons we cannot fathom, he is a big fan of Hunter Dunbar, who made his name as the star of action-driven horror movies. Unfortunately, Dumb-bar bolts from a signing event to deal with some personal issues just as Moose was about to have his turn. Of course, the socially clumsy Moose follows Dunbar out into the street, where he makes a terrible impression. Wanting to try again, the poor fan turns up at Dunbar’s home, thanks to some of the tricks of the trade he learned from Leah, a paparazzi friend. Dunbar reacts even worse than we might expect—and so the cycle of misunderstanding keeps repeating, making conflict inevitable.
In all honesty, The Fanatic is pretty mediocre in nearly every way, but Travolta really goes all in as the Moose. He even has a meltdown worthy of Nic Cage—and we mean that as a compliment. It is frankly a pretty brave performance for someone like Travolta, who is probably more used to identifying with Dunbar’s position. Regardless, he makes Moose acutely human and ultimately quite tragic.
On the other hand, it is impossible to understand why anyone would be a fan of the charisma-less Dunbar or Devon Sawa, who plays him almost entirely without any redeeming attributes. As a result, the weird upshot of The Fanatic is that it makes us sympathize with stalkers. In fact, Leah the paparazzi (nicely portrayed by Ana Golja) is probably the film’s most intriguing character, even though it leaves us wondering how she ever connected with Moose in the first place.
Durst and co-screenwriter Dave Bekerman rely on a lot of stupid decision-making to advance the plot, which is definitely problematic. However, cinematographer Conrad W. Hall gives it an impressively stylish Hollywood Boulevard-by-night look and vibe. It is nice to know Travolta can still crank it up when he wants to, but his efforts mostly go for naught here. Not recommended, The Fanatic opens this Friday (8/30) in New York, at the Cinema Village.