Fear, Inc., the debut feature from director Vincent Masciale, takes a four-minute short and squanders its potential with a body-bag of in-jokes. Screenwriter Luke Barnett of Funny or Die reveals a generic knowledge of horror movies; unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to know how to make one.

Beginning with a misplaced Abigail Breslin (Zombieland) fleeing from a masked stalker, the movie riffs off slasher flicks that subject women to a myriad of male gazes. The movie shifts focus to Joe (Lucas Neff) and Lindsey (Caitlin Stasey), a couple who are given the unusual opportunity for their nightmares to come to life via a company called Fear, Inc. The urge to feel scared (in other words, to feel alive) soon gets the better of them, and a weekend with friends unfolds into a nightmare that the couple can’t escape.

As the pair succumbs to the terror of this mysterious company, Masciale delivers a smorgasbord of horror references from Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse to P2. The juxtapositions between the hand-crafted fun of a haunted house and of real danger might have led the movie down uncharted paths in horror. Instead, the director bombards us with reel drops that offer nothing more than coddled hand-holding, and layers of exposition derail any sense of wonder or suspense.

A brilliant salute to Wes Craven’s Scream has neighborhood watchman Bill (Richard Riehle,) dressed as Casey Becker, Drew Barrymore’s ill-fated character. The scene that pops with pastel tones and tongue-in-cheek humor as Bill warns Joe of odd behavior within their propertied neighborhood. Yet it’s unnecessary exposition, typical of the film’s preference for commentary over plot, which becomes an increasingly eye-rolling exercise.
On the surface, Fear, Inc. plays like a blunt hit around the pool; a thinly constructed idea of a fun-house that isn’t sure whether it should play for laughs or kill for screams. The movie seems primed to tackle millennial shiftlessness, subverted patriarchies and class systems. But as the references stack higher than the body count, social commentary becomes lost. We feel for Joe and Lindsay, with his lack of drive and her surplus of ambition. The strained relationship at the heart of the film feels wholly relatable amid the current cinematic population of languid millennials.

The filmmakers clearly have an affection for mainstream horror, though it ultimately works against them. The farther Barnett takes us, the more it becomes evident that his story originates neither from the head nor the heart, but from a very basic understanding of horror tropes. Soon the framework begins to crack underneath the weight of it all, as Lindsay slips into her clichéd role and the hope of any true character arc becomes more forgotten with every cinematic tribute. Fear, Inc. stems from the minds of rabid slasher junkies. Unfortunately, those minds seem more interested in showing off how many horror movies they’ve seen than in figuring out how to make a good one of their own. – Greg Mucci

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