The trailer for In Fear, Jeremy Lovering’s feature film debut, is grossly misleading. The tension is palpable, and the terror is real. Elegant, and subtle, it comes across as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. In truth, its premise would be better suited to a short film, as its feature length reality is a dull, flat, bore. In spite of solid performances from its three cast members, there’s little that can elevate this poorly drafted script.

In Fear

Tom (Iain De Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert), a newly acquainted not-quite couple, are taking a trip together to a local music festival. Along the way, Tom plans a stop at a presumably romantic hotel. In his poorly planned attempt to woo the fair Lucy, and seal the deal, as it were, they find themselves lost in the countryside. Night falls, and the way to safety seems to become progressively more elusive. Enter Max (Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech), another lost wanderer, who’s seemingly been attacked. However, as with the maze they seem to find themselves in, Max is not all that he seems.

The script is awful, leaving the characters feeling more akin to straw men or paper dolls than believable people. The opening voiceover serves as forceful and lazy character exposition. The only time we truly learn anything about our two leads, with whom we almost exclusively spend 100% of the film, is in its opening credit sequence.

We are provided with virtually no character motivation or definition. As a result of their non-existent back-story, there’s no investment in the characters. It’s a bad sign when I find myself thinking, “Well, I’m sure she can still make that concert” while Tom’s life is being threatened. There’s no compassion for these characters, and what happens to them is of little consequence to the audience. This in itself is a huge failing.

There’s no logic to any of the characters’ behaviour. Max straddles the borders of menacing lunacy and calculating malevolence, without picking a direction – a fault that is solely the writer’s. Similarly, the victims aren’t guilty enough. There’s no logical reason for them to find themselves in this situation, yet it’s still too perfectly constructed to have been a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time scenario. Again, Lovering straddles his options, never choosing one, allowing his creations to hover in poorly defined limbo.

Two specific examples that jump to mind of victims taking a wrong turn are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the aptly named Wrong Turn. In both instances, the victims find themselves inconveniently at the wrong place at the wrong time, accidentally falling into the hands of crazed lunatics with a lust for blood and mayhem. Their carnage drives them, and compels their hunt. In such instances, it doesn’t matter what the characters have done to deserve it: they’re predominantly innocent victims, and their moral transgressions are purely circumstantial. Max doesn’t fit that bill, and neither do Lucy or Tom.

Max has constructed a website to lure people to this romantic resort. He’s bought land, and constructed a maze to trap his prey. He meticulously calculates the best way to break his victims, with carefully timed lies and evasions to distract them from the truth. But what is that truth? Why has he gone to such lengths to trap tourists? Why these tourists? Max is far too calculating a character to take whatever flies fall into his web. And yet, that’s what we’re given.

At the start of the film, as they make their way, Tom and Lucy leave a bar. They will find themselves perpetually haunted by this pub stop, as Tom has evidently done something terribly wrong, yet we’re never told what that offense is. We’re given guilty parties with no knowledge of their transgression, and a villain who seems to be carrying out his own twisted form of justice, with no motive. The film follows clichés as blindly as Tom and Lucy follow clearly incorrect signs to their own doom. It’s aimless, and pointless, with a few tired tricks up its sleeve.

The performances, on the whole, are perfectly adequate. Caestecker seethes as a presumably guilty party who’s brought this torment on himself, and his travel companion. Even though we never find out what that is, he does an outstanding job with the character. He’s weak willed and spineless, angrily lashing out at his own lack of control, and losing his wits when it becomes apparent that there is no way to win.

Englert as the flustered damsel in distress, Lucy, could have been given far more meat to chew. There’s ferocious potential to Englert’s performance that feels unrealized. Sadly, I find myself questioning whether it’s Englert herself who seems so capable, or the character. With such flimsy writing, it’s difficult to say. However, Englert brings a much-needed energy to the otherwise vacant female lead.

Finally, Allen Leech as the villain. Though he does an excellent job with what little he’s been given, his performance would have shone with better dialogue. His few speaking parts are repetitive and redundant, more irritating than terrifying. His presence, however, is menacing. It’s wonderful to see him stretch his legs. Although he is delightful as Downton’s former chauffeur, it’s thrilling to see him try on a different hat, no matter how ill fitting. Hopefully this does not dissuade him from future attempts at horror or psychological thrillers.

The camera work is, as with everything else, perfectly adequate at best, though it finds itself being overly complicated. Lovering seems enamored with his own composition, so much so he forgets its function. More time should have been spent on the script, as beautiful composition is worthless without a plot and real characters to support it.

Ultimately, In Fear would have made an excellent short. However, it doesn’t have enough meat on its bones, and wasn’t thoroughly developed enough, to properly fill its feature length run time. For a first feature film, it’s a solid effort. However, it is far from a classic, and worthy of about a third of the praise it’s currently receiving. In Fear is unfortunately little more than a victim of hype with limited payoff.

In Fear will be playing at various Cineplex theatres across Canada on Thursday, March 13th as part of Sinister Cinema.