The one problem with publishing a popular, best-selling book is that you’re always feeling pressure to come up with something every bit as good for your next effort.
Rom is just such a newly successful author. And since he and his girlfriend, Bianca, have been isolated in the midst of the COVID shutdown, he hasn’t been very successful in digging up a suitable follow-up. But then he comes up with a brilliant solution for his next project and all his current concerns: He’ll book a getaway.
Rom arranges to rent out an entire historic resort for himself, Bianca and a gaggle of great friends. It’ll be a cool surprise for Bianca’s birthday, Rom reasons. But on top of that, he’ll make sure that everyone is tested so it can be a terrific fresh-air vacation from the pandemic for one and all—not to mention a fabulous occasion to publicly propose to the woman he loves.
Oh, and the book? It just so happens that the historic Strawberry Lodge is located in an isolated part of California that’s known for its mythology and lore—particularly the legends of Las Brujas, Mexican witches who stoked fears and stole souls. It’s just the stuff that he needs to spark his next book about mythology in the Americas.
When the crew all gets there, however, everything just feels a little off. Rom’s best friend, Lou, is sounding sick, for one thing—coughing and snuffling. And that has some in the group on edge. The old junk-filled lodge has a certain creepiness about it, too. So much so that the group’s first gathering crumbles from cheerfulness to talking about everyone’s greatest fear.
It all feels so weird and dispiriting.
But later that night, Rom starts rambling around the big old lodge and finds a hidden stash of stuff that might explain what everyone is feeling: age-old pictures and books. Paintings of devil-like characters with really creepy notations. Some written bits speak of dark ceremonies and witchy events.
At first Rom is elated that he’s hit a treasure trove for his book.
But then his next thought is about what this old place might actually be. Not only that, he’s locked all his friends inside it.
The gathered group of friends all apparently enjoy each other and care for one another. Rom’s male friends are also very encouraging about Rom’s plan to propose and marry Bianca. (But with time the whole group’s collective fears get the best of them and they aren’t very nice to one another.)
There is a dark, pervasive, spiritual atmosphere here, and some found books and pictures (and other events) suggest that a certain chest in the Strawberry Lodge basement is actually a gateway to the demonic. We hear of witchcraft and ceremonies in which souls are stolen and fed into that gateway.
One of the friends seeks information about Las Brujas online and looks at pictures and short videos of witches and covens. And some of the witches’ occult power seems to still be lodged in the lodge. Rom finds, for instance, a seemingly spiritual dictate in an old book that says, “Believing what you fear will bring to the victim what they are afraid of.” In like manner, someone says, “Fear and faith are the same.”
Bianca wears a cross, and a female caretaker at the lodge says that Bianca “carries the light.” We later find out that Bianca recently finished her doctorate in religion. That knowledge leads Bianca to connect a later-found number to a Scripture verse. She determines it’s Isaiah 41:9 (which she carries over into verse 10) and reads it aloud:
“I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’.
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you …’”
That Scripture encourages Bianca and Rom to push back against the evil manipulations about them. Bianca even repeats the last part of those verses to ward off a ghostly creature that attacks her. Rom encourages Bianca not to lose her faith in the moments of greatest attack.
Someone casually watches a TV evangelist preaching for a few moments. Lou, who appears sick, declares that he was tested and isolated before the retreat. “It’s the God’s honest truth,” he proclaims.
One of the women wears skimpy lingerie that reveals a lot of leg and a little backside. And her boyfriend kisses his way up that leg and rear.
We see Bianca in lightweight nightwear, too. She reveals to her friends that she’s pregnant. Rom and Bianca kiss. Several of the female friends wear curve-hugging outfits.
A drawing of a witch sports a bare breast.
Early on in the film, Rom and his friends all share their greatest fears and we see all of them play out in one form or another. Many of these fears (but not all) are manifested in personal visions or memories that terrorize the individual while other deadly things take place in the real world.
One woman remembers being held underwater as a girl, for instance, while she slips and drowns in a tub in the real world. In another case, a guy envisions himself trapped in a very small space while in the real world he repeatedly slams his heavily bloodied forehead into a bathroom sink.
We see people stabbed (one by a large knife to the stomach) and thereafter bleeding profusely. We’re also shown an open wound. Several people snap their own necks. A man sees himself grabbed and beaten by a policeman. Someone is locked in a room where he hears whispered voices. He then struggles with his own hand which is holding a knife—eventually slashing his own throat and bleeding out on the floor.
A woman pulls bloody teeth out of her mouth. A man is strapped to a gurney, his shirt is ripped open and a masked man cuts at his chest (just off screen) with a bone saw. Someone wakes, gagging, and pulls a chain out of her throat.
A swirling spiritual mass—looking like tentacles or worms—grabs people and drags them away, or envelopes them. It also takes more human form at one point to choke someone.
There are more than 35 f-words and 7 s-words in the dialogue joined by multiple uses of “h—,” “d–n,” “a–hole” and “b–ch.”
There are four or five uses of a variation on the n-word in the movie soundtrack. God’s name is misused once.
Bianca, who is an asthmatic, repeatedly uses a medical inhaler. The group of friends share glasses of champagne and wine on several occasions. One bottle of wine—a private label belonging to the Strawberry Lodge—is opened and shared, too. But the friends uniformly think it is bad or spiked with some other substance. (Which is possible since they all later have visions.)
A spider crawls into a sleeping young woman’s mouth. Several people hear whispered voices that speak of things such as a friend’s distrust and encouragements to commit suicide.
A news report about a new viral pandemic strain—causing hallucinations and physical sickness—permeates the outside air like a smog. It’s considered deadly.
Sometimes a film makes for a much more effective trailer than a movie. Such is the case with Fear. This pic contains a hodge-podge of ghoulish images—a woman pulling bloody teeth from her mouth; someone drowning; a shirtless man being approach by a masked surgeon with a whirring bone saw. When gathered together in a trailer, those icky bits imply something extremely creepy. But truthfully, Fear as a whole is just bad.
I’m not suggesting that fully fleshed torture and torment would be good in any situation. But when it’s mashed up in a tedious and completely ill-defined pic like Fear, it’s somehow even worse.
The only thing this unmoored horror film gets right is when a character, late in the tale, quotes a passage from Isaiah that states that thanks to God, we should not fear. That Scripture doesn’t go so far as to say you shouldn’t watch fear … but I will.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.