A Fantastic Fear of Everything is, on paper, a great movie. It’s a quirky British import starring Simon Pegg, a genre-blending horror comedy with high level, Wes Anderson-ish production design. It’s perfect on-demand viewing—something a little unusual you probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise, except that it’s easily available in your living room. The reality of A Fantastic Fear of Everything, though, is that all that cool stuff is utterly wasted by an uneven script and uninspired direction.
Pegg stars as Jack, a children’s book author who has spent years researching Victorian serial killers in order to write a script called “Decades of Death”. He’s an obsessive type whose compulsion for meticulous research has wrecked his marriage and rendered him nearly agoraphobic as well as a paranoid wreck. It’s a promising premise and Pegg actually does quite a bit with role, delivering not only solid comedy beats but also hitting on some real emotion as Jack’s past as an abandoned orphan is revealed throughout the movie. It’s a shame the rest of the movie doesn’t hold up to Pegg’s performance, which is quite fine and nuanced.
But it doesn’t hold up, as a total effort. Yes, there is some nice art direction that makes for pretty, if not memorable, visuals. It wanted to have the feel of a Wes Anderson jewel-box movie, but in order for that aesthetic to work you have to push it to the extreme and essentially make a life-sized diorama. Here, not going far enough, you’re left with some nice set pieces and some ordinary ones—kind of an over-cooked/under-cooked dichotomy—that creates a disjointed visual narrative.
This doesn’t look like a unified world, nor is the difference used to delineate between “inside Jack’s mind” and “outside Jack’s mind”, so it ends up feeling like the directors (first-time directing duo Chris Hopewell and Crispian Mills) didn’t have enough money to fully realize their vision. In a way it does jive with the script, which is equally disjointed and jarring.
There is a neat stop-motion interlude toward the end illustrating a story Jack tells involving hedgehogs that was easily the best part of the movie. If the whole thing had been an animated movie about a nervous hedgehog making friends with the creepy hedge-beast in his neighborhood, alleviating two people’s loneliness and staving off tragedy, only to be revealed as the product of a paranoiac’s fevered imagination as his neighborhood is ravaged by a serial killer in real life, A Fantastic Fear of Everything would have been brilliant.
As it is, the movie has good intentions and some good execution—and Simon Pegg is never not watchable—but the overall effort is too uneven to hang together. It’s boring for long stretches and there are too many gimmicks, narrative and visual, which make the movie feel cluttered and messy. So yeah, it’s cheap and easily available on demand, but A Fantastic Fear of Everything isn’t even worth that much effort.