Cult Cinema: Fear X

Long before Drive, there was Fear X.

"Dang. All I wanted were reruns
of The Cosby Show and all
I got was Kardashians."
Early in the gestating career of Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, his interests were less invested in fetishistic ultraviolence than in individuals. After Bleeder, his most autobiographical work to date, it was time to take his art in a drastically new direction, one that would bring upon him almost complete financial ruin and, according to Refn, a giant step backwards when he resorted to making two more Pusher films in order to rebuild his production company, Jang Go Star. That film was his first English language effort, the 2003 psychological thriller Fear X.

Co-written by Requiem for a Dream novelist Hubert Selby, Jr. in one of his first original screenplays not based on preexisting material, Fear X stars John Turturro as Harry Caine, a mall cop whose wife was killed at gunpoint in an unsolved crime.  Broken, stunted and obsessed, Harry spends his daily existence in solitude, monitoring every security tape he can find, searching relentlessly for clues to the culprit.  Colleagues and family members urge him to let it go and move on with his life, to no avail. Teetering on the brink of madness as he closes in on what could be his most significant discovery yet, the film dives headlong into surrealism until we’re not sure which end of the rabbit hole we’re on.

"Hello. Mr. Lynch? Are you here?"
Slow and brooding, this was not an easy sell by any means. Critics polarized by Only God Forgives (also lensed by Eyes Wide Shut DP Larry Smith) for its snail pace and free use of surrealism could trace the writing on the wall back to Fear X.  Considered Refn’s most Lynchian film, the film contains numerous scenes of Turturro silently walking down long red hallways with hints of blue.  Almost completely dead silent, it’s a character study of a man trapped inside himself.  Brian Eno’s ambient score of subtle dissonance and nuances in sound design work to express the cold and numb outlook that is Harry Caine.  Turturro himself is brilliant in the piece, and James Remar as a cop who may know more than he’s telling is especially effective, giving some of his best work prior to playing Dexter’s father in flashback.

Although Fear X was critically revered, the film singlehandedly bankrupted Refn and forced him to restart his career.  With time Fear X developed a cult following, but if you ask Refn about Fear X, he’ll tell you he failed artistically and the long silences didn’t work as well as they do in Only God Forgives.  Personally, if I had to pick a favorite Refn effort to date, it would be this PG-13 rated quiet gem of slowly boiling madness, obsession, hallucination, and confronting one’s greatest fears gestating within.  It’s far, far better than its brilliant creator considers it to be.

-Andrew Kotwicki