Fear(s) of the Dark tasks a cabal of today's brightest graphic artist with creating a series of short animated pieces that put the "cartoons are for kids" philosophy to bed. French artist Blutch unleashes a pack of rabid dogs and their sadistic master, who wander in search of victims to ravage. America's Charles Burns tells a tale of love, obsession, and bugs when a young man falls for an emotionally needy woman. A Japanese girl confronts her inner rage in Marie Caillou's vignette. Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti's story involves a man remembering a childhood spent in fear of a great best terrorizing his village. The film ends on a particularly creepy note, thanks to Richard McGuire's example of what happens when you combine an old, dark house and one man's overactive imagination.
At once imperviously artistic and ingeniously simple, Fear(s) of the Dark takes the notion of being scared to one of its most profound dimensions yet. Movies like Them and The Strangers claim they're getting back to horror's basics, but it's really a "get out of criticism free" card to excuse an absence of action. They are onto something, though; we tend to forget that films are art and can perform without convoluted stories. Fear(s) of the Dark is sweet on symbolism, but anyone can identify with the emotions buried beneath. Its images touch on what puts you at unease, both figuratively (through most of the shorts) and literally (via Pierre Di Sciullo's interludes). It's not the mere sight of grody bug monsters or those savage hounds that's most frightening but rather the subtext they entail.
Some segments do their jobs better than others, but you can't fault a one for lack of ambition. Even if a vignette's themes leave you hollow, there's always some unique animation as a consolation prize. Casual film fans will likely respond most to the Charles Burns tale. It's the closest in style to "Tales from the Crypt" as the movie gets, though it still leads viewers down a deeper path than they'd expect. The last story (and the one that dominates the poster) is a diabolical masterwork with a hundred little jolts, and Blutch's stark renderings are among the film's most brutal. Caillou's yarn was the only one that sort of faltered; while its bizarre creatures are impressionable, the premise never really goes anywhere. The Mattotti piece has great atmosphere, but its ultimate message ends up a tad muddled.
Fear(s) of the Dark is a creepshow unto its own, a grab bag of surreal goodies worth snatching up just because of how unique it is. Some may designate is esoteric twaddle fit only for the art snob crowd, but trust me when I say the film provides plenty of reason for everyone to leave the comfort of the light and embrace the unknown.