Parts of a Hole

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:10

    Fear(s) of the Dark Directed by Charles Burns at IFC Center Running Time: 80 min. 

    Because it tries to turn several artists’ disparate visions into a single product, omnibus films are a schizophrenic’s delight. As disjointed collaborative projects, they rarely cohere into the creative kaleidoscope they set out to: Because while their various contributors seem united in a common theme, that’s rarely the case. Such is the problem with Fear(s) of the Dark, an animated omnibus of horror shorts whose title announces its desire to present both a single and a fragmented vision of terror.

    As a typical omnibus film, Fear(s) attempts the impossible by bringing together various incompatible segments not only with the film’s horrific theme but also with its French identity. That illusion of homogeneity is instantly shattered upon discovering that three of the six artists are not French. Charles Burns, the most prominent of the bunch, contributes an Outer Limits-esque segment that focuses on his usual preoccupation with sex as an inhuman, ritualistic metamorphosis. It’s as French as a mounted steer’s skull, a club called La Bleue Leune and tried-and-true Francophone expressions like “Take a picture! It’ll last longer!”

    It’s impossible to ignore how disinterested Burns’ segment, prominently displayed as the first full-length segment in the film, is in the film’s proclaimed goal of probing the basic fears of humanity—so as not to spoil the fun of the segment’s ending, all I’ll say is this: bugfuck. Fellow American Richard McGuire and Italian-French Lorenzo Mattoti do that best in their playful, atmospheric and mostly silent shorts. While Burns’ CGI segment is glossy and meticulously detailed, it can only be celebrated at the overall film’s expense as an exemplary fragment that reveals Fear(s)’ impossibly limiting mandate.

    As a holistic experience, Fear(s) of the Dark feels at odds with itself, torn between highlighting its contributors’ distinct voices and enforcing an artificial unity. For the sake of linking the four separate main shorts, two different segue segments—provided by Blutch and Pierre di Sciullo respectively—are unnecessarily thrown into the mix. Both are gratuitous as neither is memorable enough to be anything more than well-crafted filler material. Mattoti and McGuire’s contributions are both terrific; but as in any narrative film, a few good dream sequences can’t do much for a film when its unifying plot can’t support them.