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Fear X
IMDB Rating: 5.9/10 from 4,854 votes
Release: 4 April 2003 (Denmark) /

Fear X

Genre: Thriller
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: When his wife is killed in a seemingly random incident Harry (Turturro), prompted by mysterious visions, journeys to discover the true circumstances surrounding her murder.

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Critic Reviews

* * ½ (2½ of 5)

Fear X

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn, 2003

No fear

Nicolas Winding Refn is easily the most interesting Danish director around today. While his tracklisting before Fear X included only two movies - the gritty, streetwise and perfectly captured debut Pusher (1996) and the more ambitious and pseudo-melancholic Bleeder (1999) - he'd already worked up a name for himself as the enfant terrible of, if not European, then Danish cinema.

Refn, like Tarantino (a major influence) and many other angry young directors from the 90s, grew up a movie nerd, raised on action b-movies, Hong Kong slambang and drawing inspiration from cult movies rather than mainstream (accepted) classics.

Yet he also belongs to the elite here (where Tarantino is still CEO) as he has a keen understanding of pure movie making, storytelling and creating angles and unique approaches in what has turned into some sort of predictable genre by itself.

Notice how in Pusher the downright rotten character of Frank (intoxicatingly portrayed by Kim Bodnia) gradually gains our sympathy in his many struggles as the movie progresses. And how in Bleeder Refn still keeps you glued despite the raw and sudden turn in events (Bodnia in another amazing performance) that might have seemed simply uncalled for and repulsive in the script.

Fear X is Refns $7 million dollar American (filmed in Canada actually) debut starring John Turturro and the always welcome James Remar (remember 48 Hours?).

What exactly went wrong here is hard to pinpoint. See, Refn not only had everything going for him, he enlisted Stanley Kubrick's famed photographer (The Shining) Larry Smith and wrote the story together with Hubert Selby (Last Exit To Brooklyn) and he got Turturro to star.

It opens like magic. Refn might be an obsessive perfectionist but the visual ripe beauty and subdued enigmatic thriller qualities of the first hour are breathtaking in both their simplicity and perfectionism. Turturro too seems completely at home here, actually displaying an honest apprehension I have longed to see him take on since Redford's Quiz Show.

The story is interesting. Security guard Harry Caine works at a shopping mall but is stunned by grief when his wife is viciously shot and murdered in the underground parking lot. Caine then spends all his spare time insanely going through CCTV security tapes, hoping to spot the identity of the killer.

Refn's patient opening and sleepy but crispy audiotative visuals makes everything seem in slow-motion. Fear X promises to be a truly effective thriller by now. Notice how cars seem to roll rather than drive and how the scenes within the mall are un-hectic and almost drugged. We feel comfortable in Refn's sure hands but also sense a layered unease about to be revealed later on.

Already here - with cops and security guards in furry Parker coats, minimal and loopy dialogue and brooding snow-covered suburdan scenes that melt into each other - many will draw parallels to Fargo (1996), but that can really only be deemed a testament to how defining the Coens benchmark still is and not as valid critisism of Fear X.

No, what is troublesome is how Refn goes absolutely nowhere in the last part of movie. Caine's journey leads him to a hotel that in itself will have you screaming for another Coen gem also starring Turturro (Turturro, hotel, get it?) That is, if you're not already bogged down by the shameless nods to The Shining with the suspiciously dark red colors of the hotel furnishing, the tricky lighting and the substitute violent red-liquid scene.

There's more. Refn even spices things up with David Lynch mannerisms and comments. Caine is on a kamikaze downfall by now, but the subplot (I won't reveal it) of why and who murdered his wife is so blatantly poor that when the hotel bell clerk comments to Caine: "We provide all sorts of entertainment here" - we don't feel that Refn just popped in a cheerful thumbs-up to Lynch's Twin Peaks, but is desperately trying to thicken his sullen gravy of a plot.

It's a shame. Fear X ends as a pretentious and self-conscious mess that started out like a long-lost classic and perfect thriller.

Director Nicolas Refn is a natural - a master of sound and image - with an astute feel for vibe and engaging storytelling, but Fear X is pretentious way beyond its title alone, dumb when it should be smart and edgy for all the wrong reasons.

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