This was a pleasant surprise, gleaned from the trailers preceding Sauna, which I reviewed last month.Fear[s] of the Dark is a French animation anthology, calling upon five International graphic artists to create tales of horror. The art on display here takes chiaroscuro to a stark extreme - the color palette is composed of black, whites and grays, with only the very occasional muted earth tone or shocking (literal) splash of red. Like the nighttime vistas the stories exploit, color is at a premium, and when it you finally see it, it may not be a relief.
The work is bookended by Americans: Charles Burns contributes one of his trademark tales of awakening sexuality and insect fear, and Richard McGuire provides a strong finish with a haunted house story made all the more visceral by unspooling sans dialogue. Two other stories are broken into episodes spinkled thoughout the movie: Marie Caillou's manga-inflected tale of a samurai ghost and yokai monsters, and Blutch's continuing metaphorical tale of a wraithful gentleman roaming what appears to be 18th century Europe, unleashing hungry dogs on people. Rounding out the five stories is Lorenzo Mattotti's tale of a village terrorized by a nameless beast that only strikes at night (and, enticingly, is based on a true story).
If there is one false note, it is the continual interjection of a woman talking about her fears (in French, of course) while geometric black and white shapes appear and merge like hard-edged Rorchach blots. The fears are strangely bourgeoise - "I'm afraid of being too nice", "I'm afraid of being politically correct", and ultimately tedious - though they can be considered as a sort of raspberry sorbet, cleansing the pallette between the more fantastic stories.
The animation is uniformly top-notch, and often dazzling. The Burns story looks like one of his graphic novels come to life; Blutch's and Mattotti's segments tales appear to be painfully rendered in pencil and charcoal. McGuire's has been compared to paper cut-outs.
Honestly, Fear[s] of the Dark has my highest possible recommendation for animation fans, and horror fans not afraid of straying away from bombastic gore and unsubtle scare effects.
There truly isn't much here to challenge the bit-rate of a DVD, but this disc honors the artwork beautifully. In its stateside theatrical release, the print was infamously hampered by white subtitles, which can be very bad news in a black and WHITE movie (Foreign films fans see this mistake over and over again). Fortunately, for the disc, the subtitles are now rendered in highly visible yellow.
The disc begins with previews for other haunted house movies like Left Bank and The Skeptic (with a truly surprising cast - Tom Arnold, Tim Daly and a pre-Star Trek/Avatar Zoe Saldana), Home Movies (ooh, killer kids), and the British political black comedy In The Loop.
Now for the actual Bonus Materials: We start with a video tour of an exhibit on the making of the movie at the Angouleme International Comics Festival, conducted by Etienne Robial, who supervised the production and created the Saul Bass-like opening credits. The only bad things about this segment are a) they didn't turn off the video monitors in the display, so Robial is undercut, like clockwork, by a woman's scream in one of the sequences, and b) one immediately wants a better look at the displays. Robial does a very good job of explaining how the displays relate to the production.
Problem B is solved by From the Drawing to the Film: Diaporama of Working Documents. Well, that sent me to the dictionary. It turns out a diaporama is "a photographic slideshow, sometimes with accompanying audio". Basically, it's the displays of that exhibit, with the video from the monitors, as well. Thank you!
In case you didn't get enough of them in the movie, there is an extended "my fears" segment by Pierre di Sciullo. There are also winning videos from a MySPace contest (you'll watch them once, then forget them), a French teaser, and the theatrical trailer that so drew me in.
Overall, a very nice package from IFC.
Dr. Freex, 1/17/2010