Irrational Fear (2017) | Directed by Hunter Johnson
Written by Hunter Johnson, Kevin Sommerfield | Starring Baker Chase Powell, Jennifer Nangle, Charles Chudabala
Rational boredom. Perhaps its me, that watching decades of horror films has left me jaded and able to predict the action in banal and mindless twaddle like Irrational Fear. The movie reminded me of those direct-to-video slashers of the 80s, the plastic covers promising extreme violence, sex or both and more often than not, failing to deliver. I wanted to enjoy the film, honestly, but the poor production values, shoddy camera work, incompetent direction and uneven acting wore me down.
It really is a shame because there is some talent evident. Some of the young indie actors are quite good and several scenes were imbued with a ghostly and nightmarish quality. But the movie tries to walk a fine line between gore fest and suspense and fails at achieving either.
Doctor Sanders (Charles Chudabala), an expert in the behavioral sciences, invites a number of people to one of his weekend retreats in his house by the lake in Wisconsin. Sanders specializes in treating people with phobias, or irrational fears, and this particular weekend he’s joined by assistant Zach (Baker Chase Powell) who has been successfully cured of his fear of ghosts (and I’m not quite sure how that phobia worked).
The rest of the intake comprises Taylor (Leah Wiseman), who doesn’t like to be touched, Cameron (Mathias Blake) who has a fear of being choked, Kelly (Jennifer Nangle) a fear of eating disorders, Helen (Cati Glidewell) with an irrational fear of water but not alcohol, germ obsessed Jake (Kaleb Shorey) and Nate (Tom McCarthy) who has severe dental anxiety. What a bunch! Whatever happened to nice clean phobias like snakes, enclosed spaces and the like?
The first evening with the group all together does not end well: Kelly and Helen get into a fight, resulting in Kelly leaving the retreat in her car. But something odd happens to Kelly while driving away: she embarks on a food binge while behind the wheel and her mouth fills with a black ooze, causing her to crash her car.
The next morning Taylor goes for a morning walk only to be grabbed by hands that spring out of the earth and drag her underground. The rest of the group realize that something is seriously wrong; an entity seems to be feeding on their phobias. Fingers slowly point towards the relentlessly upbeat Doctor Sanders – what is the secret he’s hiding?
Hunter Johnson’s rough round the edges, and in every other direction as well. The monster (the gloop’s the key) is unusual but not the type that will induce chills in anyone but an auto mechanic, and the hysterical performances, especially Chudabala’s unhinged Sanders character, really sink this turgid mess down in the muck. Sometimes the movie feels like a bit of a tussle between issue-of-the-week drama and creature feature, and there’s an awful lot of people shouting at each other, but again, the noise and psycho dramas drown out any worthwhile action or dialogue.
Among the actors, Leah Wiseman and Cati Glidewell stand out among the cast. Unfortunately, Wiseman’s character is dispatched much too early in the film for us to cozy up to her. Glidewell’s character, on the other hand, evolves from a drunken harridan to a genuine self-realized person, a truly remarkable achievement considering the massive shitstorm of a film she’s trapped in.
On the other side of the coin, the opposite is true for Chudabala. His character careens from a creepy nerd to a hysterical maniac at the twitch of a nerve. I’ve always maintained that the formula for a successful horror movie consists of at least one sympathetic character and a strong villain. Where would the Halloween franchise be without Laurie Stroud and Michael Myers?
I don’t start out wanting to hate these films. But all it takes is a little more care, some more attention to the dialogue, a polished screenplay and a plausible plot. To tell you the truth, though, I can accept mediocrity from a low budget indie production rather than from a big budget boxcar full of crap.