Written by: Lois Kennedy
Dr. Andover (Robert Englund) is a leader in the field of curing phobias. His method, total immersive exposure therapy, involves placing patients in a sensory deprivation chamber where they hallucinate about their fears. Said patients include Sara (afraid of the dark), Megan (afraid of bugs), Caylee (afraid of eating), Paige (it’s never specified), and former patient/current assistant Osborn (claustrophobia). Along with this happy bunch are maintenance guys Gage and Bauer. Andover’s work is ruined when the patients he supposedly cured begin returning to the clinic and relapsing in harmful and even deadly ways.
Fear Clinic makes me enthusiastic about the actors. Robert Englund of course is a draw. I was also excited to see Fiona Dourif as Sara. Sara is a really annoying character; when she’s not making unreasonable demands she’s whining. After a brief meeting with new patient Blake, who has limited speech and motor skills, she comes into his room and starts a self-centered monologue about her own problems. (His recent fear treatment has rejuvenated sections of his brain, and he suddenly regains his ability to talk, presumably to shut her up.) Any other actress would have given me a headache, but I can’t help but be enthralled by Dourif’s capacity for acting—and the fact that she inherited her father’s pretty face doesn’t hurt either.
I’m a Stone Sour and Slipknot fan, and I was happily surprised by the bands’ front man Corey Taylor’s performance as Bauer: he totally doesn’t suck at acting. The Taylor product placement, like a character wearing a Slipknot shirt and Bauer rocking out to a Stone Sour song, is amusing rather than exasperating. (However, I was quite disappointed by the aforementioned song, which plays in entirety over the end credits and, unlike Taylor’s other songs, sounds like it was written in five minutes.)
My favorite performance is that of Bonnie Morgan as Paige. She’s a contortionist in real life, and gets to really stretch as an actress (hee hee hee). Her transformation into an autopsied, possessed, yet strangely alluring creature is an act of eerie beauty. Speaking of eerie, my other favorite aspect of the movie is its creepy images. There’s a nifty motif throughout of spiders, spiderwebs, and viscous gooey stuff. The villain, fear itself (more on that later), is a tendril-covered goo monster that steals features of Andover’s face and thus resembles Robert Englund as an old lady. But scarier. (If none of that made any sense, just check out the movie poster.)
I came away from my first viewing impressed with all the above. Then came the realization that the movie makes no damn sense. A subplot about a scene with Andover’s patients being traumatized by a shooting at a diner they all happened to be at contributes confusion and not much else to the movie. Why were they sitting apart like strangers? They seem to be friends (or maybe that’s only Sara, who gloms on to everyone with a creepy fervor). On my second viewing, I was still stoked but had even more issues with the script.
There’s the pseudoscience. Andover’s technique boils down to something something amygdala. Then there’s the ludicrous notion that fear—the abstract noun—gets pissed off that a handful of people are coping with their phobias and decides it wants to “live and breathe on its own.” Then there are more minor things like Sara volunteering to find extra blankets for an unconscious Megan, which leads to her swiping Andover’s tape recorder for no reason and strolling around aimlessly while playing his convenient explanation for what’s going on. Cut to Osborn covering Megan with the blankets that Sara never brought her. Then there’s Gage commenting on how Megan doesn’t blink when she visibly does. But my biggest complaint is that the monster likes to torture people by putting them in a “fear loop”—making them see what they’re afraid of continuously. Not only is exposure to feared situations or objects a widely established method for coping with phobias, it’s the crux of Andover’s treatment.
Overall, gripes aside, the cast and the visuals make it worth watching at least once. Feel free to turn off your brain. And get ready for some naked Robert Englund.