Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #442
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 8 June 2012
Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Crispian Mills, Chris Hopewell (animation)
Producer: Geraldine Patten
Screenplay: Crispian Mills
Visual Effects: Ben Foley
Cinematography: Simon Chaudoir
Score: Michael Price
Editing: Dan Roberts
Studios: Sensitive Artist Productions Limited, Indomina Productions, Keel Films, Pinewood Studios
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Simon Pegg, Clare Higgins, Amara Karan, Paul Freeman, Alan Drake, Teresa Churcher, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Alice Orr-Ewing, Kerry Shale, Don McCulloch, Bernard Cribbins (voice)
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Pretty Things “I See You”
 Ice Cube “Wrong Nigga 2 Fuck Wit”
Phobia is a curious thing. Far more pronounced and irrational than your everyday fear, a phobia can be utterly debilitating, resulting in the afflicted party taking great lengths to avoid said terrorizer. This is, more often than not, disproportional to the actual threat itself, and usually involves an object, environment, situation or animal. Case in point; I have never been particularly fond of spiders. The little ones are free to roam about my boudoir without me firing up the vacuum cleaner but, just like airport luggage, should they not meet certain weight restrictions, then it is time to do some spring cleaning, regardless of whether or not it’s autumn.
My phobias tend to revolve more around certain food groups, mainly vegetables, and stem from my childhood although I can’t pinpoint exactly when I began to feel that sinking feeling. Mushrooms can fuck off; don’t ask me why but I don’t trust anything which comes in the variety “death cap”. Ordinarily, it’s not too troublesome tracing each phobia back to its root. If you almost drowned in the bathtub as an infant, then the likeliness is that personal hygiene will amount to the most elementary daily flannel wash. Fall from an oak tree and shatter your coccyx and, chances are, you can wipe that parachute jump from 10,000ft off your bucket list. I must have had an altercation with fungi as a child; surely that would explain a lot about why I loathe them so.
Now imagine being crippled by a selection of phobias all at the same time. Doesn’t sound much like fun does it? However, neurosis can escalate if you don’t face your fears and attempt to decipher them. I once knew a woman whose fantastic fear of everything left her practically agoraphobic and her advanced years meant she was far too long in the tooth to ever dream of conquering said jitters. For Keeper, my mid-life crisis provided enough enlightenment as to the cause of any nagging phobias and six short therapy sessions allowed me to identify, label, and ultimately discard anything which resulted in anxiety… except for mushrooms. I may never learn the process behind their treachery but, mark my words, they’re up to something.
Which brings us tidily on to Jack (Simon Pegg), a children’s novelist whose previous work about a precocious hedgehog named Harold has placed him on the verge of discovery. He has severe abandonment issues which have remained unresolved for long enough to develop into something far more grave. Unfortunately for Jack, having a creative mind has become something of a curse, as his over-active imagination has him jumping at shadows with rarely a moment’s respite. He’s largely reclusive and this would be all well and good but even his own apartment is ultimately little more than a petri dish of peril. He is a creature of habit and there is a meticulous sequence which he must adhere to in order to complete the very simplest of tasks. Jack has become a prisoner in his own mind.
Perhaps then he should rethink his current undertaking. Researching Victorian-era serial killers for his next novel, Decades of Death, is clearly taking its toll on his psychological well-being, particularly given that a spate of real-life murders are currently being committed by the infamous Hanoi Handshake Killer just a few clicks from his coordinates. Nevertheless, he is determined to see this through as he blames Harold The Hedgehog for the dissolution of his marriage and feels that it is time to face up to his demons once and for all. Credit where it’s due; he may be trapped in a labyrinth of his own design but at least he is looking to locate that exit. Having said that, things aren’t going particularly swimmingly on that front, and he lives in a constant state of abject horror as each creaking floorboard and ominous shadow seems to harbor something truly unspeakable.
Pegg appears to have found his true calling as an actor. He has enjoyed great success Stateside since Shaun of The Dead continued the fine work he started with buddy Edgar Wright for the massively popular TV sitcom Spaced. Roles in blockbusting franchises such as Star Trek and Mission Impossible have furthered his status, while he has continued to work with Wright and partner-in-crime, Nick Frost, most notably with their celebrated Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. However, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that there is far more gas in the tank. He is capable of greater range than he is given credit for and more than equipped to handle both dramatic and comedic material with aplomb. Here he finds what I believe to be his true niche.
Cast him as a freak. His animated facial gestures here are matched only by his comic timing, never more so than during an opening act which positively crackles with nervous energy. He minces about in a pair of stained underpants and an open robe, twitching wildly at the faintest hint of consternation and even a non-threat such as carol singers present him with those pesky heebie jeebies. This is all counter-balanced beautifully by other aspects of his personality which keep his heart from simply bursting in its cradle. If he is feeling particularly impulsive then it’s not unknown for him to break out his gangsta rap swag and bust moves like he’s got a nine strapped. He’s also fiercely intelligent and always searching for answers, even when he is terrified of learning the grim truth. It would have been too easy for Jack to be one-note but Pegg invests his all into convincing us to keep the faith while he muddles through.
Eventually, however, the world outside awaits and he can no longer burrow himself away if he wishes to live a normal existence. His agent Clair (Clare Higgins) has hooked him up with a potentially game-changing meeting and he can’t put off that trip to the laundromat any longer as his soiled socks and smalls have seen better days and seemed primed to strike. Had I mentioned that he lives in Hackney? For the purpose of our American friends, Hackney is the London-based equivalent of Compton and the last place you want to run into strife. Even the pensioners carry switchblades or, at least, they did the last time I passed through. You have to feel for Jack but, at the same time, what the fuck were you thinking son? Regardless, that laundry isn’t going to rinse itself. It’s time to man up and grow a pair.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything changes tact at this point as we set off to complete these objectives and things rapidly spiral from bad to FUBAR. We are introduced to a potential muse in Sangeet (Amara Khan) and also the more questionable Perkins (Alan Drake) as impending doom continues to ripen. Thankfully, his psychiatrist Dr. Friedkin (a wonderfully composed Paul Freeman) is only ever a phone call away should he need to understand the logic behind each of his infinite phobias. There’s even time to shoehorn in a Roald Dahl-flavored children’s story courtesy of famed narrator Bernard Cribbins which is creepy and adorable in equal measures. Many critics believe the latter half of the film to be vastly inferior and, while admittedly it is at its most gratifying when penning him into his personal quarters, I disagree with the body of opinion which suggests things fall apart. Pegg is outstanding from bow to stern and, our main protagonist, lovable in spite of his multitude of quirks and, indeed, because of them.
First time director Crispian Mills is perhaps best known to us as lead singer of nineties pop/rock outfit Kula Shaker but, on this evidence, a very bright future awaits in film should he not lose heart after the unfair treatment his debut has received. The photography of Simon Chaudoir complements his vision perfectly, making full use of each dark cubbyhole and populating each long shadow with creeping dread. There is a dash of the Wes Andersons about A Fantastic Fear of Everything but anyone familiar with The Mighty Boosh or Paul King’s Bunny & The Bull will also have a fair idea of what to expect. Should you consider yourself fearless, then stroll on by, as Jack’s story will likely be beneath you. However, should you bear a grievance against mushrooms like myself, then his fear of everything may just prove rather fantastic after all.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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