While it makes the unfortunate mis-step of ending weaker than it begins it is hard to fault French animated omnibus Fear[s] of the Dark too much for that. When you have a project as unique and compelling as this one, one driven by the distinct personalities of a diverse collection of artists, there are sure to be certain segments that connect with certain members of the audience more than others, that's just the way of things. And when your project hits the audience with something as flat out stunning as the Charles Burns entry to the anthology in the early going it is simply well nigh impossible not to slip back a little bit over time.
A collection of animated works by some of the world's most respected comic artists - Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire - Fear[s] of the Dark is the sort of project that seldom holds together as a coherent work. There are too many personalities in play, too many styles, too many approaches to story telling, and things almost always come out uneven and somehow less than the sum of the parts. This, happily, is not the case here. While each of the artists was free to indulge their own unique style the film as a whole holds together beautifully thanks to the very simple requirement that all films be in black and white, that all be stories about fear, and by the producer's very simple - so simple it's shocking that more anthologies aren't structured this way - decision to subtly intercut the different stories rather than simply running them in sequence. There are no chapters, there are no title cards, there is no sense that this is where artist A ends and artist B begins, there is simply one complete film that happens to be very varied within its run time.
Stories range from Poe inspired macabre, to Kafka-esque dread, to a simple monologued recitation of insecurities, to a childhood memory, to a J-horror inspired hallucinatory dream to the simple tale of a man locked within a house that was to be his refuge from a storm and visual styles vary just as widely, from pencil drawings to what appears to be Flash animation, to stark, hard edged, high contrast work and flowing geometric shapes.
While every entry has its own charms and appeals there are three that stand out above the others. First is the simple, pencil drawn story of a Victorian era man releasing his pack of vicious dogs on random passers by then simply standing and laughing as his beasts tear the innocent victims to shreds. It is cruel and random and all the more shocking because of that. Second is the story of a young boy spending his summer in the marshlands when a series of disappearances convince the local villagers - correctly, as it turns out - that there is some sort of vicious beast preying upon residents of the region. Third, and most resoundingly is Charles Burns' absolutely stunning story of a young, shy boy whose fascination with insects takes a shocking turn, leading to horrifying results. While all are strong the Burns is clearly the best of the lot, living in a world somewhere between Serling and Kafka, told with aplomb and visually magnificent.
More a series of campfire tales than it is an attempt at horror Fear[s] of the Dark is immediately engaging thanks to a spectacular opening sequence, it holds your attention throughout - an over long closing segment notwithstanding - and serves as a brilliant introduction to some of the world's outstanding visual talents. It's not a perfect film but it's pretty damn close and it is the sort of thing that reminds that animation doesn't need to be just for children. Here's hoping some brave company feels the same way about it because this is definitely one that any self respecting fan of global animation requires in their collection.