Out-of-the-ordinary horror elements click in ‘Dark’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, October 30, 2008 5:58pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There’s always room at Halloween for a good horror anthology, and “Fear(s) of the Dark” fits the bill — but in a rather unusual way.

For one thing, this is an animated omnibus; for another, it’s French. And it’s in black and white.

“Fear(s) of the Dark” brings together a group of well-known graphic artists for a round-robin of unsettling tales. Some of the contributions are self-contained short stories, one is a recurrent series of linked episodes, and another is an abstract collection of shapes, complete with narrated fears. Those last two keep recurring throughout the film, tying together the self-contained bits.

I didn’t find the ongoing things all that compelling, but three of the tales are outstanding. First up is Charles Burns, the Seattle-raised artist whose stark, high-contrast visual scheme is perfect for an animated movie.

His story must be a common anxiety for comic-book nerds: The shy young hero finally meets a woman, but she turns out to be scary in ways impossible to predict. Burns’ stunning images and deadpan approach make this truly creepy, and the whispered narration by the late Guillaume Depardieu is just right.

Lorenzo Mattotti’s style is much softer, but his story of mysterious disappearances in the countryside is just as haunting. It was my favorite segment of the bunch, in part because it leaves a great deal unexplained.

And Richard McGuire’s story takes the most imaginative approach to the black-and-white scheme. It’s mostly a man alone in a dark house — which means the screen is overwhelmingly black for most of the running time.

This messes with your mind in interesting ways, and it becomes almost an abstract exercise — little white shapes moving around in a vast black background — without violating its suspense.

The one dud in the bunch is Marie Caillou’s wacky story about a little Japanese girl, which seems to exist in order to pay tribute to Japanese anime styles. It’s dull.

But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this film — and by how effective the black-and-white is. French animation seems to be specializing in this, with the B&W features “Renaissance” and “Persepolis.” Or maybe it’s a coincidence. But it works.

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