Film Review: Fear(s) of the Dark

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In addition to horror films like "Saw V" that always open in time for Halloween, there is a relatively new genre of spooky animated films (think Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" or "The Nightmare Before Christmas") that are designed to tap a slightly less bloodthirsty audience. "Fear(s) of the Dark," a stylish French anthology film, represents an inventive foray into the darker realms of animation. Half a dozen directors from America and Europe contribute stories to this tasty potpourri.

The film opens with what looks like an 18th century lord leading a pack of vicious dogs through the countryside; the screams of their victims can be heard in the distance. These dogs, emblematic of unstoppable evil, recur throughout the film as a kind of motif. But the film goes on to tell several discrete stories, many of them framed as troubled dreams. The longest is a kinky love story about a lonely student threatened by a preying mantis and a woman who takes control of his life. The voice of the student is provided by the late Guillaume Depardieu, who died recently, adding another unexpectedly macabre dimension to an already chilling tale.

Most of the animation is in sinuous black and white, with just a few splashes of red, appropriate to a horror film. There also are several distinct styles of animation. Charles Burns, who designed the episode with Depardieu, works in a style reminiscent of American comic books and graphic novels. Marie Caillou is influenced by Japanese lithographs in her tale of a child suffering from increasingly grotesque nightmares. Images in another vignette are reminiscent of Seurat landscapes. The animation is consistently striking, and the eerie music by several artists also is a major asset.

The only drawback of the film is that it doesn't have a strong visceral impact. While it's creepy at moments, it's never truly frightening. The picture is best enjoyed as visual spectacle; it never achieves terrifying intensity.

Production: Prima Linea Prods.
Cast: Guillaume Depardieu, Nicole Garcia, Aure Atika, Francois Creton, Louisa Pili.
Directors: Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire.
Screenwriters: Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre di Sciullo, Jerry Kramsky, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus, Romain Slocombe.
Executive producers: Valerie Schermann, Christophe Jankovic.
Art director: Etienne Robial.
Music: Rene Aubry, Boris Gronemberger, Laurent Perez Del Mar, George Van Dam.
Editor: Celine Kelepikis.
No MPAA rating, 83 minutes.
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