At the outset of director/co-writer Deon Taylor’s wonderfully nasty, appropriately grisly and self-aware psychological horror tale “Fear,” we see a video clip of Chicago’s Rick Kogan playing a TV book show host named Rick Kogan, interviewing an author named Rom Jennings, played by Chicago’s own Joseph Sikora (Tommy Egan from “Power”). When Kogan asks Rom about his next book, Rom responds, “I can’t really tell you too much about it, but what I can say is it does squarely focus on the mythos and mythology surrounding fear and the concept of fear.”
A short while later, Rom and his closest circle of friends have gathered at the obligatory Spooky Old Inn Nestled Deep in the Mountains, and they sit around the campfire, sharing their most personal fears in order to let go of those fears. “Fear will not rule us here, not tonight,” says one member of the group, after which we hear the litany of fears, from being unable to catch a breath to getting trapped in a confined space to drowning to the sight of blood — and you gotta love a horror movie that basically tells you from the get-go how most of these characters might meet their ultimate demise.
There’s nothing subtle or deeply original about “Fear,” though it does feature some impressive albeit low-budget special effects, first-rate production design and strong performances from the cast; it knows we’ve seen a dozen other movies about a group of friends who meet up in the country for what they hope will be an idyllic weekend, only to see things quickly go from mildly disturbing to truly weird to deeply concerning to horrifying bloody.
There’s an almost comfort-viewing level to our familiarity with the story, and we appreciate that Taylor leans into the material and embraces the horror-movie clichés.
Sikora’s Rom has arranged so that he and his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Annie Ilonzeh, “Chicago Fire”) will be joined by their best friends as the only guests for the weekend at the historic Strawberry Lodge in the mountains of Northern California, ostensibly to celebrate Bianca’s birthday — but Rom has a couple of ulterior motives. For one, he plans to finally propose to Bianca. Second and more problematic, Rom is aware of the long history of mysterious and perhaps even supernatural occurrences at the Strawberry Lodge — and what better place to do some deep-dive research for his new book on fear?
After being welcomed by the creepy Mrs. Weinrich (Michelle McCormick), who says it’s a tradition to take a photo of each new group of guests and post it on the wall (“That way, you never leave”), one guest mumbles, “I feel like we’re in ‘Get Out’ right now,” and spoiler alert, let’s just say he should have listened to his instincts.
Soon after Mrs. Weinrich speeds off, the horror movie tropes kick in, from disturbing paintings on the wall to haunting music suddenly playing on an old Victrola to doors slamming to the guests experiencing horrifying nightmares that might not be nightmares. Making matters worse, the group gets a report of a possible airborne virus sweeping through the land, meaning they can’t leave the inn, even though it appears one of them might be infected!
It’s the perfect storm for the group to start turning on one another, even as the supernatural elements boil and bubble to the surface, and the blood starts to spill.
Way to pick a vacation destination, Rom. What, the Overlook Hotel was booked?