(Very) Wrong Turn
by Glenn Lovell
Jeremy Lovering’s impressive “In Fear” considers the hoariest of genre tropes ‒ that fateful wrong turn down an ominous country road ‒ and takes it for a wild new spin. Very much like the unlucky wayfarers in Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes” and the traveling lounge singer in Belgium’s overlooked “Calvaire,” the young couple in this new horror entry from England detour down an ever-narrowing back road ‒ and pay a very steep price.
En route to a music festival in Ireland, Tom and Lucy (Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert) agree to overnight at the Kilairney House Hotel, which bills itself as “your slice of paradise in the Emerald Isle.” The chained gate across the entrance road should arouse suspicions. But, of course, it doesn’t. Per formula, the best victims ignore their better instincts and, as the gas gauge dips into the red, keep on driving … and driving.
Oh, one more thing: This is Tom and Lucy’s first trip together; they’ve known each other for a little more than a fortnight. This is crucial information. It adds a whole other layer to the mystery and keeps us wondering whether the sometimes teasing, more often annoying Tom is in on what could be an elaborate prank. We do know something happened during a pub stop early on. What exactly that something was, we can’t be sure.
Lovering is obviously a director to watch. In the tradition of Val Lewton and other fright masters, he tightens the screws the old-fashioned way, through atmosphere and the creepy suggestion of something in the woods, watching … waiting. It’s what we don’t see that keeps us on edge. And as dusk gives way to night and fog, the trees seem to come alive, menacingly.
“In Fear” is basically an improvised two-hander ‒ a bit more when you factor in Allen Leech’s accident victim. (Leech you’ll recall from “Downton Abbey.”) Which puts added pressure on the skeleton cast. Englert and especially De Caestecker ‒ whose Tom pronounces himself “a lover, not a fighter” ‒ are more than up to the task. They take us through the accelerated stages of a relationship, from playful to accusatory. And in the end, questions are answered with questions, affording the whole affair a caustic Pinter-esque quality.
IN FEAR With Alice Englert, Iain De Caestecker, Allen Leech. Directed by Jeremy Lovering from a story by Lovering. 85 min. Rated R (for profanity, shock scenes, grisly makeup effects)