The recipe is simple. Take one sweeter-than-sugar 16-year-old, her protective father and a sexy-but-dangerous young man. Throw in familial conflicts, a gang of grungy lowlifes and romantic Pacific Northwest shorelines. Doubt turns into fear and fear turns into terror.
A well-made production with rising stars, “Fear” is a potential sleeper hit for distributor Universal Pictures.
Director James Foley’s entertaining romance-thriller has a ripping good final act, the effectiveness of which is measured by one’s sweaty palms as it unfolds. There’s some literally over-the-top moments in the long set-up (the rollercoaster, a metaphor for the wildly swinging passions of the young heroine and her lover, is employed once again), but the “Straw Dogs”like payoff is so intense that one forgets the clunkier aspects of the film.
Reese Witherspoon is precious and cute as virginal Nicole, a relative newcomer to Seattle, where she lives with her remarried dad, stepmother and young stepbrother. She’s smart and perceptive and wants romance. She hangs with a wilder girl (Alyssa Milano), who introducers her to the world of hip bars and chaotic rave clubs.
On one such foray, Nicole is attracted to slim and serious David (Mark Wahlberg). He talks sweet and has perfect manners. They ride in his car and start down the path of many young lovers. Kissing and groping brings out her lack of experience in romance. No problem. He respects that.
But one thing leads to another and they become lovers. She is genuinely attracted to him and he to her, or so it seems. When her worried father (William Petersen) gets the creeps around David and interferes, she revolts. But David is no sweetheart in the long run. He beats up her best friend and lies about his past.
One night Nicole learns about his true nature and ends their relationship. David won’t let go and his obsession and terror tactics inevitably lead to a showdown.
Much of Christopher Crowe’s script rings true, but it’s the fine performances, Foley’s tight direction and the brooding atmosphere courtesy of Carter Burwell’s ominous score that elevate the film above the usual genre fare.
Witherspoon and Wahlberg are the big winners, with the latter turning off the charm abruptly and becoming a convincing monster. Veteran Petersen is also a major contributor as the father who goes ballistic when he must defend his family. And Amy Brenneman as the stepmother and Milano as the bad girl who learns her lesson are effective in crucial supporting roles.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “FEAR” Locations: Lyons and Coeur d’Alene Cinemas. Credits: Directed by James Foley; starring Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, William Petersen, Amy Brenneman, Alyssa Milano, Christopher Gray Running time: 1:38 Rating: R