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Fear(s) Of The Dark (2007)

When you think of the emotions that animation is effective at bringing out in audiences, what do you think of? Joy, perhaps- or even sadness might come to mind. Fear is probably quite a long way down the list, but if you think about it animation has a long tradition of giving people the willies. After all, who doesn't have a childhood memory of a cartoon villain or a creepy moment that gave them nightmares growing up?

Fear(s) Of The Dark is a French animated anthology (originally titled Peur(s) Du Noir) that explores the different kinds of fears that can plague us all. The hour and twenty-something minute running-time comprises several different tales, made by various filmmakers all united by this theme.

The segments employ a variety of techniques, including a CG cel-shaded style. a more anime-influenced 2D look, and even a hand-drawn, cross-hatched pencil effect. All the segments, however, are united by a stark monochromatic look. This decision to make (almost) the whole film in black and white is a smart one, as it gives the whole film something of a connecting thread that is not always present in anthology films.

The structure of the film is also a little unusual. While for the most part, the segments are distinct stories, one after another, there is also a pair of stories that are returned to time and time again. The film does not go as far as using a wraparound story connecting the segments (as used in Extraordinary Tales) but these two shorts serve a similar function.

As is so often the case in anthology films, some segments are more effective than others- both visually and in storytelling. The weakest (from writer and director Pierre di Scullio) features a woman being interviewed about her fears, with the voiceover accompanied by abstract imagery. Unfortunately, this is also one of the repeated entries, meaning that it quickly outstays its welcome.

In middling territory, the first full-length tale (directed by Charles Burns) is made in a visually arresting 3D monochrome cel-shaded-style CG. It tells a creepy tale of a socially awkward young man with an insect obsession. When he reaches adulthood has a romantic encounter with a woman that takes a rather unusual turn.

More impressive is the 2D anime-styled entry from writer Romain Slocombe and director Marie Calliou, featuring a schoolgirl in rural Japan. The contrast of the cutesie character designs with the dark storyline and imagery (based on Japanese folktales) is creepily effective.

Best of all though is the genuinely unnerving entry from writer-director Blutch- brought to life in traditional animation using (or at least appearing to use) pencil sketches. In this repeated segment, a sinister old geezer (dressed in what appears to be full undertaker garb) wanders an unknown landscape with four vicious hellhounds. This is one of the segments which is returned to, and only becomes more terrifying each time.

The other segments fall somewhere inbetween- pretty effective horror stories that don't quite reach the heights of the best stuff here.

The film works best when the film-makers are confident enough to let the visuals (and the sound effects and music) convey the horror alone. When it does this, the film is often genuinely unsettling. Elsewhere, though, there is an over-reliance on dialogue, with a narrator telling us the story as it unfolds. It's probably a deliberate attempt to capture the experience of being told a scary story, but it doesn't quite pull it off. Perhaps something has been lost in translation (this is a subtitled film after all), but really this could have been improved by sticking to the old adage "show don't tell" more often.

As an overall experience, Fear(s) Of The Dark still manages to just about hold it together. Although some of the sections are not nearly as memorable as others, as a single package it provides plenty of chills that you might well find manage to get under your skin.

If you're looking for a decent slice of animated horror then this should fit the bill just fine. Turn the lights out and draw the curtains and settle in for some spine-chilling fun.

FEAR(S) OF THE DARK is available on  DVD in the UK FROM METRODROME and on DVD and VOD from MPI in the US.