Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fear Me Not (2008)

Fear Me Not is a dark, haunting study of one man’s transformation from gentle father and husband to selfish sociopath. Don’t expect any brutal violence in this Danish film, though, because the change happens slowly and  subtlety, making Fear Me Not more of a drama than a thriller. Nevertheless, the slow, deliberate descent into contained madness is captivating and the entire film carries a heavy sense of dread with it that makes it worth a watch.

Middle-aged Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen) seems to have it all – a loving wife, a close relationship with his smart teen daughter, caring friends and a beautiful lakeside home. During a six-month leave-of-absence from work, though, Mikael realizes that he is not satisfied and that something is missing from his life. So, he jumps at the chance to join a clinical trial for a new anti-depressant that is being tested. After a few weeks of taking the pills he slowly begins to feel better and freer, jotting his feelings down in a private journal. Yet, the trial is canceled when test subjects, including Mikael, begin to exhibit violent, aggressive behavior and emotional detachment. Mikael secretly continues taking the pills, with sinister results.

Fear Me Not is the latest from director Kristian Levring, who is best known as being one of the founders of the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement. Levring co-wrote the film with Anders Thomas Jensen, another important name in the Dogme movement, but while this film maintains the natural look and feel of Dogme films, it is not considered a Dogme film. Yet, at the same time it looks so real and stark with a definitive “artsy” feel to it. It’s like Levring has captured the avant-guarde simplicity of Dogme and married it with traditional filmmaking techniques. I loved how there was no music in the film except for scenes where Mikael is listening to headphones, a very Dogme-like technique. The lack of external music creates a much more ominous feeling throughout the film. The dark, muted lighting and sharp angles in the film also helped create a menacing atmosphere.

As mentioned earlier, though Fear Me Not is definitely not a traditional horror film and lacks violence and a body count, it is still very creepy to watch the apparently normal Mikael go through a “Jekyll and Hyde” transformation. Though not for everyone, it is a great character study of a man who has followed the rules all his life and finally decides to rule his own life at the expense of his relationships with friends and family. His deteriorating psyche is focused more on the “id” and he does whatever he wants whenever he feels like it. Though in the beginning you side with Mikael’s character, there is one pivotal scene that definitely changes your perspective on him! After offering a ride to a young teen, Mikael decides to play a perverted game with her involving driving at high speeds on a narrow back road with no headlights on while he cooly forces the crying girl to strip. If that scene doesn’t send shivers up your spine, you’ve got to be as sick as Mikael!

Though Mikael does some pretty morally reprehensible things, you can’t help but kind of relate to the guy. I mean, who doesn’t wonder if there is a more fulfilling way to spend their life rather than having the obligatory desk job, wife, kids and house behind a white picket fence? Hundreds of thousands of people must feel trapped in their lives, wondering, “what else is out there?” or “what will truly make me happy?” For Mikael, happiness meant more freedom and being able to take back some control in his life that was controlled by society’s standards as opposed to what he wanted. I know that in certain aspects he is a character than many can relate to.

Making Mikael both sympathetic and scary is actor Ulrich Thomsen, who manages to walk a fine tension between the two. His performance is spellbinding and he portrays Mikael’s changes with a subtlety that will shock you. Equally fantastic performances are given by Paprika Steen as Mikael’s wife Sigrid and Emma Sehested Høeg as his daughter Selma as they uncover the true nature of Mikael’s darkening psyche.

Yet, despite the many positives of the film, it is definitely not for your average movie-viewer. The pacing here is very slow and there isn’t much action that happens on-screen, just hints of what Mikael is capable of. Most viewers will find the pacing tedious and wishing that something would happen…and when something at the end does, it is kind of anti-climatic. Still, if you can appreciate a slow, long burn while watching a man unravel (or scarier still, embracing his true dark nature) then you will want to check out Fear Me Not!

Fear Me Not will be available on IFC Festival Direct On Demand June 10, 2009.

Non-US format available from Amazon!

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