Studio: Amasia Entertainment
Director: Vincent Masciale
Writer: Luke Barnett
Producer: Luke Barnett, Vincent Masciale, Natalie Masciale, Heather Kasprzak
Stars: Lucas Neff, Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette, Stephanie Drake, Patrick Renna, Richard Riehle, Naomi Grossman, Leslie Jordan, Eric Lange, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Mark Moses, Abigail Breslin
An immersive role-playing haunt experience becomes too real for a horror movie addict and his three friends.
I prefer traditional Halloween haunts. Pressure plate triggers for hydraulic-mounted props. Fake fog, strobes, and fluorescent lights. Seasonal actors in latex masks. All of the above is every bit an essential part of celebrating the holiday as Count Chocula and pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts.
But the Hollywood theatrics of maze-based attractions like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights don’t pump everyone’s blood equally. Recent years have seen the emergence of role-playing haunts geared instead toward fully-immersive experiences straight out of an Eli Roth movie. Now it’s all about liability waivers, cryptic phone calls, and being faux kidnapped in the trunk of a car for transportation to a starting point.
That’s not my cup of chamomile. I’m not afraid, mind you. I just don’t see any personal entertainment value in having a stranger stick his hands in my mouth or simulate peeing on me while I’m forced to crawl on the floor. I understand these experiences about as well as I do the contestants on “Hellevator.” No matter the scope or the spectacle, you still know you’re part of a script in a controlled environment. How does someone disconnect his/her imagination enough where fiction can become indistinguishable from fact?
Horror movie junkie Joe Foster feels the same way. Halloween haunts simply aren’t “real” enough. Fear, Inc. couldn’t agree more. That’s why when Joe openly laments the supreme lack of genuine scares at a haunted attraction to his girlfriend Lindsey, a mysterious man interrupts to hand Joe a card. Fear, Inc. promises a customized scare experience guaranteed to terrorize and traumatize. Dare to call the number and find out.
Joe’s eyes widen with intrigue. First, it’s time to host best bud Ben and Ben’s wife Ashleigh back at Lindsey’s posh home for a holiday get-together. After Jenga, joints, and plenty of booze to boot, Joe takes another peek at the card and decides to give Fear, Inc. a ring. Yet before Joe can even ask a second question, a disturbing voice on the other end dismisses him with “sorry, sold out” and abruptly cuts the call.
Of course, the call’s end seemingly signals the game’s start. Before long, masked men are glimpsed stalking the shadows. Power is cut. Warnings written in blood and odd newscasts on TV point to something strange going on in the neighborhood. It isn’t until murders and mutilations start taking place based on scenes from “The Shining,” “Friday the 13th,” “Scream,” and “Saw,” that Joe finally suspects this might not be Fear, Inc.’s doing at all. Joe is signed up for the fully authentic fright experience he thought he wanted, and his unwitting friends are forced to play along with him.
Tapping into what happens when an immersive haunt actually succeeds in making fantasy feel like reality is a timely premise giving “Fear, Inc.” a great edge among Halloween-themed movies. Comedy mainly comes from characterizations while the scenarios they find themselves in are almost strictly serious, making for a funny fright film whose black humor doesn’t overpower the horror.
“Fear, Inc.” doesn’t always find the sweet spot in between, however. When the four main friends are together, they often play as if they are from differently toned movies. Joe manages to stay mostly endearing, but is so much of a stoner slacker that his slow-talking surfer style can be a nagging drag. His girlfriend Lindsey is wired to be played practically straight, on the other hand. Ben is balanced best for feeling like he isn’t on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch or a Shakespeare stage, though he is coupled with a kooky wife to make another weirdly matched pair.
In retrospect, the varied frequencies used to play their parts make more sense than they do before the film is all said and done. Nevertheless, you can’t retroactively apply an “I see why they did that” clemency to something that felt awkwardly unbalanced at the time.
That goes for the horror side of things, too. Some of the situations are so psychologically intense and gorily gruesome that they don’t gel with the comedic vibe. In many moments, you aren’t sure how much fun you’re allowed to have versus how much fear you’re supposed to feel. Uncertainty over what may or may not be real is part of the intent to keep an audience disoriented. Yet once again, the experience at the time ends up being an internal conflict over whether or not something can even be seen as entertaining. No one wants to laugh at a goofball who thinks he is playing an imaginary game when he may actually be dismembering his best friend, after all.
Another hiccup with “Fear, Inc.” is certain scenes going on too long. The hot tub party bonding in the opening is good for some gags and necessary for exposition, though only to a point. After a while, which is less time than the scene takes, showcasing an actor’s ability at impressions is an indulgence that doesn’t contribute to story.
“Fear, Inc.” tries hard to keep its audience guessing when the first two (of at least three) twists should be suspected, if not expected, by anyone remotely thinking ahead. Luckily, enjoyment of the film isn’t entirely dependent on whether or not these secrets stay secret. For all the grumbles described above, earnest homage to modern horror classics, entertaining if unsynched performances, and some nailbiter setups of suspense make for a cheeky crowd-pleaser of surprise shocks and humorous horror.
Like virtually any seasonal haunted house, a second trip won’t be the same when you anticipate where the maze turns and which shadows hide the scares. Yet the first pass through “Fear, Inc.” can be a mildly wild ride best taken with like-minded pals who don’t need uniquely tailored thrills to have fun, but for whom traditional scares and snickers still do the trick.
Review Score: 75