For human beings fear is innate; it’s an ancient survival instinct hard-wired into our lizard brains. We naturally fear the dark, heights, and imagery evocative of our natural predators. While afraid, our brains fire off unpleasant shock-waves throughout our bodies, making life unbearable until we are out of harm’s way. Generally speaking, we are safe when we are unafraid but being afraid is what keeps us safe.
No other genre can illicit visceral reactions from an audience like horror; people literally cower in their seats, tremble, put their hands over their eyes, and even scream. If fear is so unpleasant, why do horror movies even exist? Director Charlie Lyne’s documentary film, Fear Itself, is interested in exploring that very question.
Fear Itself is an odd cinematic mashup; it’s a horror anthology as well an exploration of the psychology of fear. Save for the brief shots that bookend the film, Fear Itself is comprised entirely of footage from horror movies. Lyne utilizes a wide spectrum of clips, pulling from films as recent as It Follows and going all the way back to Boris Karloff’s iconic turn in 1931’s Frankenstein. What binds the footage together is a disembodied female voice that narrates the film. This narration doesn’t always directly address what’s unfolding on screen. Though the monologues are often thematically related to what’s transpiring, they also veer off into the enigmatic, sounding more like a schizophrenic’s rambling thoughts.
Lyne employs a propulsive editing style, often building to a scene’s climax before jumping to another film. This technique constantly draws the audience in, like a fish on a lure. While Fear Itself doesn’t build to jump scares, it still leaves viewers on the edge of their seat.
Fear Itself is an intriguing concept; the film earns points for using the horror genre as a tool to explore the psychology of fear. Unfortunately, the movie’s execution leaves something to be desired. The film’s flimsy narrative and art house sensibilities will prove too subversive for anyone but horror aficionados.