Dir. Anthony Leonardi III, 2013, 100 min. Rated: R
Pastor Dan (James Tupper) moves his family—his wife (Anne Heche) and two teenage daughters—to one of those small towns in the USA that is typically inhabited (at least in Movieland) by either extremely religious people and/or inbred rednecks (I probably don’t need to tell you that sometimes these are one and the same). A few weird welcomes aside, the family settles into their new home quickly, and just as quickly they discover that the townspeople have some pretty strange customs. Unfortunately, by the time they figure that out, it might already be too late.
I really wanted to love this film. I was interested when I heard guitar-god Slash had produced a horror flick, but what really sold me was that black stretchy mouth I saw in the trailers, made popular by such films as Ringu (Hideo Nakata 1998), Ju-on: The Grudge (Takashi Shimizu), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson 2005), and more recently, Grave Encounters (The Vicious Brothers 2011). I’m a sucker for just about any distortion of the human face and/or body—take something familiar and make it unfamiliar, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to capture my interest.
Nothing Left to Fear captured my interest, but within about 10 minutes it had almost completely lost it. By the halfway point I just wanted the film to be over, and I was grateful when it finally was. I hate to admit these things because I truly believe that everyone involved in the film—cast and crew—really did their best to create an original and interesting instalment in the horror genre; I also truly believe that they failed miserably at this goal. During the behind-the-scenes featurette it was painful to hear the filmmakers talk about how they really wanted to do something original. I caught myself unintentionally grumbling at the screen: but it’s NOT original, you’ve just borrowed concepts and designs from TCM (Tobe Hooper 1974), Children of the Corn (Fritz Kiersch 1984), and every other small-town horror flick, and then combined them with some possession and ghost-house Japanese fare—even the combination isn’t original.
Of course, originality isn’t everything—hell, it’s not even always the most important thing, since the majority of audiences seem to be satisfied with watching virtually the same movies over and over again. That’s not a criticism of audiences. It’s no big revelation that many of us enjoy familiarity, and it’s only natural this would extend to the films we watch, hence the popularity of genre films, remakes, and actors like Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts. And then I have worn-out VHS copies of Muriel’s Wedding as well as traumatic memories of being subjected to repeat screenings of The Rescuers Down Under by a childhood friend to prove that some of us also simply like watching the exact same movies over and over again. A good lot of us are creatures of habit. I get it. We like what we know and, as long as we’re not jerks about it, that’s okay.
So why do I persist in criticizing Nothing Left to Fear if all it’s doing is feeding a natural human desire for the comfort of the familiar? Honestly, I’ve been asking myself that very same question. I don’t want to criticize it. I want to like it. To be honest, it’s one hell of an accomplishment for a first feature. I would be in awe if one of my film production buddies screened that in class. My limited experience with film production makes me angry at myself for having the nerve to criticize anyone who can pull off a feature film. I know that even the ugliest babies are a long and arduous labour of love. I feel bad for saying that Nothing Left to Fear is not really worth watching because I know that given the same time and money I probably couldn’t make anything even half as good. Maybe it’s not so much the film that’s the problem (although trust me, it’s really not very good), but its budget, marketing, and hype.
Nothing Left to Fear is a $3-million film that should have been made for a fraction of that. It could have benefited from the grit and grime of truly low-budget filmmaking, and the charismatic performances of hungry actors with something to prove, as opposed to the established names and Disney-pretty youngsters that it ended up with (although I will give a special shoutout to Jennifer Stone, who really threw herself into the role of Mary). Let’s be generous and say that Nothing Left to Fear is a victim of circumstance.
What should have competed with Rob Zombie’s work in atmosphere and self-reflexive, awkward (yet memorable) performances, ended up being just another chunk on the growing pile of dull, dry dung clogging the frighteningly fecund bowels of horror.
The aforementioned behind the scenes featurette, and an audio commentary with Slash (producer/composer), Nicholas O’Toole (composer), and Anthony Leonardi III (director). If you like the film, you’ll like these. If you don’t like the film, they’ll probably annoy you.