Fear Inc. introduces an idea that’ll have most horror fans licking their lips, but ultimately fails to stick multiple landings. Director Vincent Masciale attempts to out-meta heavyweights such as Cabin In The Woods, but his self-serving plea to genre lovers comes across as more desperate than inspirational.
Characters talk in dialogue from past genre classics, making Luke Barnett’s screenplay seem poser-ish by incessantly focusing on past classics instead of investing in a righteous fake company. Fun horror appreciation (a Mimesis inspiration) unravels as “reveals” keep on whiffing, until you’re sick and tired of hitting the restart button. Not everyone can be Shyamalan right out the gate, and – unfortunately – when tricks aren’t also treats, everything falls apart.
Lucas Neff stars as Joe Foster, a horror movie buff who has become bored with the predictability of life. Girlfriend Lindsey (Caitlin Stasey) hopes to motivate her slacker lover, but Joe’s obsession with fear clouds his judgement. After a chance encounter, Joe discovers a “custom scare company” called Fear Inc., who he contacts despite friend Ben’s (Chris Marquette) disapproval.
A voice answers, but says tickets are sold out. Joe drunkenly shrugs, and goes on with his life. Then a man breaks into Lindsey’s house, with a bloody warning that suggests Fear Inc. has begun playing its twisted game. Joe is excited at first, until his girlfriend and visitors are threatened (and worse). Unfortunately, there’s no stopping Fear Inc. – nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
In theory, Fear Inc. conceptualizes a feeling that most hardcore horror fans share. Once you dive deep enough into every scare cinema has to offer, noticeable conventions make it harder and harder to get one over on learned viewers. Good horror is easy for devoted horror fans to peg, because only the best of the best can shake someone so used to typical jolts and jumps.
By virtue, the idea of hiring a company to customize your own next-level torment is – admittedly – exciting. How can you separate stage theatrics from true psychotics when you’re paying, yet know nothing about people crazy enough to invest in fear? This works, and Masciale is able to mine Barnett’s sick playground for a few golden genre nuggets.
Then again, it’s Masciale and Barnett’s inability to structure “twists” that sullies an otherwise wicked original blueprint. Fear Inc. submerges Joe in his own horror film – his “customization” comes from horror obsession – with neither Lindsey, Ben or Ben’s wife (played by Stephanie Drake) showing any involvement. Patrick Renna (you know, the catcher from The Sandlot) acts as the company’s face, then masked slasher killers take over once night falls. Joe assumes blood and guts are cheap prosthetics, but begins to distrust his assumption when digging through Ben’s insides during the Saw inspired section of his game.
It’s after this marker that Fear Inc. goes off the rails, as Barnett scripts a clunky, flip-flopping story with too many endings. It’s not enough that Fear Inc. have been investigating Joe for weeks, or that Lindsey might play a part – Joe is continually teased and tested by realities that aren’t true, which becomes tiresome after the third or forth facade is lifted. You can’t fool an audience unless you’ve earned it, and none of the light-hearted comedics or continual horror references allow Masciale’s team to pull the rug from under invested watchers. Each shift jars tone, re-appropriates previous material, and takes away from building blocks that need to be re-stacked after each shuffle.
Neff’s performance is always better when he’s able to joke around, which is 80% of the film given how Joe is usually drunk, high or coked-up. When he assumes Fear Inc. is harmless, his nerdy love of Friday The 13th homages isn’t without macabre charm. Caitlin Stasey offers a strong woman to push back against Joe’s stupidity, and their visiting friends (Stephanie Drake/Chris Marquette) find comfort in living the party life for a weekend. Funny enough, Masciale does a better job establishing party vibes than he does executing tense horror – which, as expected, plays a large part in Fear Inc. (fear being in the title and all).
Would I watch a sequel to Fear Inc.? Absolutely. There’s such a richness to Vincent Masciale and Luke Barnett’s demented company that’s worth exploring. Of course, none of that is addressed as a dumb slacker runs around his own nightmare for a good scare. Only worse than the wasted potential is not one, not two, but THREE different reveals that keep no one guessing. Wanting to bend minds is fine and all, but you’d better hope each unveiling works. If not, you’re just jerking viewers around at every turn. Exactly the frustration I felt.
Fear Inc. wastes a devious idea on a slew of reveals that bring momentum to a crushing halt.