Today: April 20, 2024

Fear Clinic

Before getting into a discussion of the merits of the film, an important safety notice should be made; almost the entire last twenty minutes or so of this film are almost non-stop flashing lights. As such, those that are photosensitive to any large degree are advised not to watch this one. Mind, even if you don’t have such a condition, it still makes watching this a bit of a chore. That’s not the only thing that makes it so…

Doctor Andover (Robert Englund) is a research psychotherapist that has had a large amount of success with his own creation, the Fear Chamber. Stimulating the amygdala (part of the brain), it puts patients into a deep hallucinatory state where he can literally talk them through the source of their greatest fears and neuroses. One particular group of patients he was able to help through traumatic memories of an incident of a shooting in a restaurant. But nearly a year or so later, all of them return to the clinic, finding the old nightmares starting all over again. A relapse? Given what happened to the Doctor’s most recent patient, he suspects something else at work, and using the machine again could be the worst thing they could possibly do…

Fear Clinic is actually a follow-up to a web series done a few years ago, which got very good reviews and feedback. Hope you have seen that version, because if not, prepare to be very confused going in to this one. After a brief narration blitz, it throws you into the story pretty quickly, with the characters all knowing each other from previous events. In regards to getting to know everyone, this is quite a problem, not least for the large-ish cast, but this also affects how we view the film’s biggest idea; the Fear Chamber itself. Since from the word go, the sessions aren’t going well, it can be hard to see why anyone uses it, given it involves getting into the most bleak, claustrophobic box imaginable to be plunged right into your worst nightmare. If we never really see it working properly, or get a good understanding of how it should work, why should we care when it’s going wrong?

Also on the point of a web series, the film’s pacing feels very odd. It’s an odd mix of sudden info-dumps and a lot of people looking grim in various parts of the clinic. It actually does feel like a bunch of web episodes strung together, which leads to a somewhat disjointed narrative. This isn’t helped by a strong case of “and then” storytelling, where it doesn’t all flow properly, it is just a collection of various things happening. What’s more, the way it focuses on certain characters over others you think there’s going to be a far bigger pay-off with several characters’ story-arcs then it actually delivers. Finally, after the film does touch on some interesting concepts early on, it all dissolves into running, shouting, and lots of CGI creature effects, which are complicated by the fact that it’s really uncertain what’s literally happening to the characters, and what’s more metaphorical. This sort of narrative warping can make for a strong horror experience (case in point Videodrome), but it’s not executed well here.

There is one major saving grace though; Robert Englund. Best known of course for playing Freddy Kruger, his performance is excellent, with plenty to work with in the script. Dr. Andover isn’t a “mad scientist”, quite the opposite, he wants to help and all the signs are that his techniques have worked and saved many lives. But he’s forced to face unintended consequences to his discoveries, something more than one real life scientist has had to deal with over the years. Having to reconcile the help he provides with his own doubts about the process is a bold character struggle, and Englund pulls it off well, exceeding pretty much everyone else in the cast. It’s not quite enough to save the whole film but his work is easily a highlight, showing what a talent he is.

Fear Clinic should really not be being sold as a stand-alone film, as to get the most out of it you do need to see the web series. Even then though, it’s hard to really recommend it; what works in little YouTube size chunks doesn’t translate well to a full feature. This might be notable for some, being Slipknot member Corey Taylor’s feature debut but he doesn’t make much of an impression. It’s still good to know that true talent like Englund is at work in the genre, one of the actors who’s always watchable no matter what the rest of the film is like.

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