Fear(s) of the Dark is an omnibus of short animations commissioned and assembled by France’s Prima Linea Productions but composed by artists from around the globe. The subject--as one could reasonably guess from the title--is fear. These quick-and-dirty shorts run though a gamut of common human phobias: insects, needles, dogs, fire, tight spaces. Though they vary widely in subject and style, all are rendered in a stark, black-and-white palette. This gives Fear(s) of the Dark a bold and distinctive look.
As with all anthology-style films, there are ups and downs among the various selections. Among the credited writers/creators are Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre Di Sciullo, Jerry Kramski, Richard McGuire, Michael Pirus and Romain Slocombe. It’s a impressive collection of illustrators/designers/comic book artists. About the only notable name for American audiences, though, is Charles Burns--who’s known for his dark graphic novels like the Harvey Award-winning series Black Hole. Burns’ computer-animated piece is one of the standouts here. His high-contrast black-and-white artwork fits this project like a glove, while his mixture of everyday banality and extreme body horror are on full display in a surreal tale about a bug collector and his deteriorating relationship with a black widowish woman.
The rest of the lot are even more abstract in nature. Di Sciullo’s piece takes the prize in this category. It features random geometric designs and a woman rambling about her “fears” in a pseudo-philosophical voice-over that only sounds correct in French. (Example: “I’m afraid of being irredeemably bourgeois.”) Sorry, no English dub here. Given that most of the shorts are silent or feature minimal narration, it seems lazy (or overly cost-conscious) to have not scared up a new voicecast. Oh, well. C’est la vie.
Three of the shorts (Di Sciullo’s, Marie Caillou’s and Blutch’s) are broken up into chapters and scattered through the brief (80-minute) film. This successfully delays the resolution of several stories but adds little to the overall impact. Caillou’s segmented story about a bullied Japanese schoolgirl possessed by the spirit of a beheaded samurai features some fine freaky-cute imagery but feels like it’s got a chapter missing.
McGuire (a children’s book author who’s contributed a few New Yorker covers) takes the most advantage of the film’s black-and-white dictum, conjuring some chilling expanses of inky nothingness and blinding brightness. The story is really just a catalogue of random paranoias, but it looks awesome. This wordless short also showcases the film’s superior sound design.
In the final tally, Fear(s) of the Dark is more interesting in theory than practice. Apparently the French like their horror more existential, and Fear(s) of the Dark certainly obliges them. Less of a horror movie and more of an experiment in style, this animated anthology of colorless nightmares is probably a more attractive prospect to art students than to those looking for an all-out fright fest.