Logline: Several nightmarish tales of the macabre, grotesque and creepy delivered in heavily-stylised monochromatic animation by leading European artists of the surreal.
We’re so used to modern animation being saturated in colour, especially the stuff that comes out of Hollywood (Pixar and Dreamworks Animation), that a collection of animated tales in stark black and white seems strangely refreshing. Add to it a distinctly European (with a dash of Asian) sensibility and a healthy dose of surrealism and you’ve got the fabulously "noir" tales and interludes that make up the Franco fears of Fear(s) of the Dark, a title which plays deliciously with both its subject matter and its stylistics.
There are four main stories, plus one that is cut up and played between the four main tales, and another that is delivered as a series of shape-shifting interludes with narration. The movie opens with the hounds from hell barely being held in check by a ghoulish-looking leash-holder. These dogs snarl and devour anything that gets in their way including a lost little boy. Later they ravage a young gypsy woman. Eventually the dog-owner (?) gets his.
The first main tale describes in flashback a nervous young man’s romance with a very strange woman who enters his life not long after he’s lost his praying mantis pet. She becomes his lover and more, her personality transmogrifying along with her physicality. Carnal desire becomes very heavy and sticky for the young man. This was a most grotesque vision, and reminded me of David Lynch.
The second story is of a Japanese schoolgirl who falls foul of a Samuari ghost. There is blood spilled here (the only splash of colour in the whole 85-minute feature). The animation style leans toward anime but also seems vaguely, strangely South Park-esque in style too; unsettling, yet very striking.
The third tale is dreamy and painterly, with washes of grey and floating shadows. A man reflects back on a village terrorised by a monstrous beast. This is one of the standout stories visually. There are many stunning images that drift and coil like clear light over dark water, undulating with the potency of a beautiful, but dangerous dream.
The final tale is my favourite (although they’re all superbly made, no qualms there). A middle-aged man who never says a word, simply grunts and groans, has moved into an old house only to discover he’s not alone. It’s haunted and it ain’t gonna let him go. There are no shades of grey or cream here, it’s all either pitch black or white as a ghost. The shapes and patterns created by the shafts of light and the dense shadows make this the most visually striking tale of the whole collection.
Although this is adult fare, it’s not about gory viscera, graphic nudity or even expletives. The emphasis is on atmosphere, texture and tone, and Fear(s) of the Dark delivers in spades; black spades digging coal at midnight under a moonless sky.