With the re-emergence of the zombie genre, it’s understandable that one might not get the fear that one is supposed to feel in the face of such creatures. After all, one can outrun a zombie…without even breaking much of a sweat. The thing is though, a zombie doesn’t stop…it doesn’t stray…it doesn’t give-up. On a long enough timeline, the zombie will catch-up to its victim.

The zombie chase is perhaps the best metaphor for fear itself; it cannot be outrun, no matter what.

FEAR ITSELF is part documentary, part visual essay. We meet nobody, see nobody, listen to no interviews of experts and witnesses. Instead, we listen to a very thoughtful, soulful, and personal account of one person’s interaction with horror films in the wake of a violent accident. As the words are filtered through a narrator’s voice, we watch scene after scene from horrors and thrillers as old as NOSFERATU and as recent as IT FOLLOWS.

Each moment is carefully chosen to embrace every element of what scares us about film; from physical embodiments to the great unknown. The film underlines the use of darkness and silence in scary movies since in each we have no way of knowing what they are hiding…and how both feel seemingly infinite when we are at our most terrified.

FEAR ITSELF is a deep dive down the rabbit hole of what we go through when we give ourselves over to scary movies. It wonders how we can learn the formula and yet still fall victim to the to the terror – how we could ever get desensitized when desensitization is what would ultimately lead to the genre’s undoing. The film is disinterested in the greatest hits of horror, and more interested in individual moments of greatest effect. Sometimes those moments are horrific foreplay, sometimes horrific climax. What does what scares us and doesn’t say about us – the viewers?

As a filmgoer who didn’t embrace the horror genre until very recently, much of the psychological reactions and visceral responses expressed in FEAR ITSELF struck a familiar tone. The key difference was that while Lyne found herself going back for more and unable to break the cycle, I wanted nothing to do with these feelings and recoiled in the opposite direction.

This poetic documentary reminds us that both are valid responses, of course, since fear itself can be both highly paralyzing, and deeply addictive.


FEAR ITSELF plays at Hot Docs 2016 on Tuesday, May 3rd, 3:45pm at The Lightbox. It then plays once more on Wednesday May 4th at The Bloor – 9:45pm (official website)