Does Bill Maher know about this? On hiatus from his high-pressure job, loving husband and father Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen) is finding it hard to adjust to 24-hour idleness. With nothing better to do, he volunteers as a test subject for an experimental tranquilizer, and is startled by the peace and clarity the drug invokes. When the test is abruptly cancelled, he decides to keep taking the pills, the better to explore his new insights into life. However, since those insights include compulsions to statutory rape and a desire to drive his wife insane, you have to begin wondering if the drug company wasn’t just a little bit more savvy than its guinea pig.
There’s no real gore in FEAR ME NOT, and precious little violence — save mostly for violence to the psyche — and you shouldn’t have too much trouble guessing a key plot twist, yet this examination of an ordinary man’s descent into monsterhood is so subtly turned and beautifully captured that the film is no less chilling. A lot hangs on Thomsen’s performance. His serene embrace of increasingly horrific compulsions — by the time both the on-screen characters and the audience fully realize Mikael’s intent, it’s way too late — turns the man into unsettling prototype for a twenty-first century Jekyll and Hyde.
FEAR ME NOT comes out of Denmark’s Zentropa Entertainments, Lars von Trier’s company. With von Trier’s own ANTICHRIST coming up and Sweden’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN last year, it appears that J-Horror is soon to be supplanted by a new stream of S- (for Scandanavia) Horror. Guess we’re going to have to start mounting our flatscreens in teakwood cabinets.
FEAR ME NOT (IFC, 2008; 95 mins. In Danish with English subtitles.) Directed by Kristian Levring. Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Emma Sehested Høeg, Lars Brygmann, Paprika Steen.