French black and white animation has been growing increasingly accomplished and popular of late through the likes of the science fiction themed “Renaissance” and the Oscar nominated “Persepolis”. Offering something a little different and far more disturbing is “Fear(s) of the Dark” (“Peur(s) du Noir”), a collection of shorts from noted animators and cartoonists Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti and Richard McGuire, edited together by Etienne Robial. Having enjoyed a successful run of festival screenings, including a well received showing at Sundance 2008, the film has now been issued on region 2 DVD via Metrodome.
Clocking in at 82 minutes, the film basically consists of 6 interwoven brief pieces. The first of these is from Blutch, and is arguably the most disturbing of the bunch, a period set short following a depraved nobleman who strides through the countryside and villages, setting his vicious pack of hounds on the innocents who cross his path. Next from Charles Burns is an unpleasant tale of an awkward bookish young man, whose obsession with insects turns against him when he finally meets a girl. Third is a Japanese themed segment from Marie Caillou, in which an adolescent girl called Sumako is forced in and out of a bizarre and terrifying nightmare by a cruel, leering psychiatrist. Finally, Richard McGuire contributes a winding, silent story about a man exploring a seemingly deserted house, only to find himself trapped.
The 4 main stories are interspersed with a series of odd inserts by Pierre Di Sciullo, which consist of geometric shapes flashing up on the screen while a woman recounts her more modern fears and worries, and a fragmented short from Lorenzo Mattotti concerning weird disappearance in a sinister marsh.
As should be apparent, “Fear(s) of the Dark” is by no means a traditionally structured anthology, with the animated shorts all flowing and breaking into each other in an organic manner. The film has a well judged flow, and is skilfully edited together to give an appropriately nightmarish feel which pulls the viewer in gradually for an eerily immersive experience. The stories themselves are equally offbeat, and for the most part do not revolve around narratives in the conventional sense. Perhaps more importantly, and indeed unsettlingly, they lack the kind of EC style twist endings which usually mark the form, never offering any real kind of resolutions. As such, the film really works as a meditation on fear, and succeeds in achieving a kind of primal horror, playing on recognisable genre motifs and atmospherics to great effect. The mood is gloomy throughout, tending to depict its characters as being rather helpless, and doomed to fall victim to their own worst fears.
The animation is impressive, with a variety of styles on show, from crisp and tightly drawn to murky pencil shaded images. Although not particularly gruesome, the film is strikingly unpleasant in places, leaving things up to the viewer’s imagination – in most cases leading to the suggestion of some truly disturbing mental pictures. Perhaps inevitably, the quality is somewhat uneven, with Pierre Di Sciullo’s inserts being largely pointless and pretentious, and not really fitting in with the rest of the collection. McGuire’s segment is similarly ineffective, mainly due to the fact that it simply fails to either engage or scare.
Still, given the short running time, these dips are brief and are soon forgotten, and “Fear(s) of the Dark” achieves what few more traditional genre films do by being genuinely unsettling. Thought provoking and sinister, it should certainly be enjoyed by adventurous fans of horror and animation alike.
Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire (director) / Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre Di Sciullo, Jerry Kramski, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus, Romain Slocombe (screenplay)
CAST: Gil Alma … (voice)
Aure Atika … Laura (voice)
François Creton … The teacher (voice)
Guillaume Depardieu … Eric (voice)
Sarah-Laure Estragnat … (voice)
Nicolas Feroumont … (voice)