Opening night of the recent Popcorn Frights Film Festival in Miami kicked off with a film that other than seeing it on the program and reading the short synopsis, I had heard little about. As usual I opted to not read up on it and go in knowing as little as possible. That film was the horror-comedy Fear, Inc. and as it turned out, it ended up being a great way to start the fest and the crowd seemed to think so too.
Fear, Inc. tells the story of Joe Foster (Lucas Neff), a likable yet lazy horror movie junkie, with a love for all things scary. Jobless Joe lives with his successful, loving and very patient girlfriend Lindsey (Caitlin Stasey). From the get go it is obvious Lindsey loves Joe despite his job related shortcomings, as evidenced by her willingness to spend date night out at a seedy haunted attraction (Joe’s choosing). A place that eventually leaves Joe lamenting the fact that nothing scares him anymore. Overhearing this, a stranger (Patrick Renna of Sandlot fame) hands the couple his business card saying his company can change that for them. To provide just a bit more set up to give context of the rest of the review without spoiling anything, the next day Joe’s best friend Ben (the always reliable Chris Marquette) and his wife Ashleigh (Stephanie Drake) come to visit to spend Halloween with Joe and Lindsey. As you may have guessed, Joe, against the pleas of everyone, decides to call Fear Inc. inadvertently getting more than he ever bargained for.
Now that set up should sound pretty straight forward, but where Fear, Inc. manages to separate itself from the dozens of horror films released each year is with it’s sense of humor. Credit to it’s writer/producer Luke Barnett, who succeeds where so many other horror comedy’s fail, making the humor in a horror film feel a part of the film and not shoehorned into it. The result is a film that for much of it’s first half could easily be a great comedy. The rapport between the four main characters, particularly Joe and Ben is spot on. The humor never feels forced because actor’s Neff and Marquette are naturally funny guys and it helps to endear you to their characters in a way that most horror films simply cannot. Stasey and Drake as their more mature female counterparts play off their significant others humor perfectly and also feel natural and at ease within the confines of the tone and story. It all felt like a very real friendship and that helps you truly care about the plight of the characters, instead of waiting/rooting for them to fall victim to the impending danger.
Now most comedy tinged horror films don’t generally hit the right marks for me because of two things, one the aforementioned pitch perfect comedy is difficult to achieve, secondly the fact that while trying to achieve the comedic tone, they often just come off as far too goofy with no real stakes for the characters. Somehow here Barnett and director Vincent Masciale manage a tone that keeps the horror feeling horrific and dangerous. It isn’t jarring when the movie takes it’s dark turn, it just works The violence is brutal and they don’t shy away from the blood and gore. So when something does happen, it’s much more disturbing because it is played mostly straight and you don’t want to see these characters get hurt since they feel like real people. Just for comparison’s sake I would say the last horror comedy that really worked for me is Tucker and Dale, and prior to that probably James Gunn’s Slither. Both of those to me are more comedy than horror, while Fear, Inc is by far more of a horror movie when all is said and done.
Since seeing this film, I have been saying how I feel like it could be a sleeper hit come October. It’s scheduled release date is October 21st which is a great date because it has enough time to breathe between it’s release and Halloween to build it’s word of mouth while capitalizing on the season. Fear, Inc. takes place on Halloween, making it an ideal watch for every horror fan’s favorite time of year. As previously mentioned the main character Joe is a horror buff, and the film is full of references, quotes and homages to classic horror films and moments that should endear it to those well versed in the genre. I won’t go into detail about them, but they are fun little touches that make the movie that much cooler. Fear, Inc. totally feels like the type of film that people on social media will want to seek out and post about watching, the more they see people doing so. It is just a fun film that delivers laughs and screams and makes for great October night viewing with friends.
I have to be honest, going into Fear, Inc. I had no clue it would be a horror-comedy, and for the first few minutes I was a little disappointed as I generally prefer serious horror films and was caught off guard by the initial tone, but once the humor started landing, I was quickly along for the ride, and in the end, it delivered what I had initially hoped for and more. Much credit to the cast for being so likable and taking the film to another level that it may not have achieved with a lesser cast. They really are the heart and soul of it all. Even at times when the main character Joe get’s extremely close to requiring your suspension of disbelief with his actions and behavior, you still end up rooting for him thanks to Lucas Neff’s performance.
Overall Fear, Inc’s mixed brand of horror and humor may not be for everybody, and many will not get some of the references, which deliver some of the films more important payoffs (those who do will love them though), but everybody should still check it out because I am excited to see people watch this and willing to bet most will find it to be just what the doctor ordered for their last lap of October viewing.