A Fantastic Fear of Everything is probably not what you're expecting from Simon Pegg. It's not horrifically funny like Sean of the Dead, as outright entertaining as Hot Fuzz and, mercifully, it's not as tepid as Run Fatboy Run or as stagnant as Paul or Burke and Hare. Actually, it's not very funny at all to start with.
So what is it? Well, it's a journey and if you decide to embark upon it you'll need to see it through to the end to decide if it was worthwhile. It begins with an engaging, gentle, animated title sequence before introducing us to Jack (Pegg) a flailing children's author engulfed by his research into Victorian murders for a prospective TV series that nobody wants. We quickly discover he has an all-consuming paranoia of being murdered. How do we know this? Because he tells us. And that's when it starts to go downhill.
It's a steep decline that director Crispian Mills (yes it is, but more about him in a minute) seems incapable of avoiding. He seems unaware of any filmic devices to portray the protagonist's thoughts and emotions without resorting to plodding, turgid exposition and painfully obvious statements. It's part way down this terrible slope that you'll feel the urge to pick up your coat, head for the exit and sneak into the screen next door even if it is only Top Cat: The Movie.
Don't! Stick with it. Somewhere around the halfway point the decline into cinema hell slows, stops and gradually heads up to a satisfying peak via some strange and thoroughly enjoyable scenery. For the patient and slightly off-kilter, it's a very satisfying escapade indeed.
At some point you'll discover that it's evolved into a most amusing and very dark trip through a world inhabited by the likes of Tim Burton (when on form), Wes Anderson, Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. It's a world I feel very comfortable in but doesn't suit every reader of my blog. There's murder in mind, paranoia at large and animation sequences akin to Fantastic Mr Fox and The Nightmare Before Christmas on LSD.
Cast-wise there's nothing remarkable on display; Pegg is good but ill served by the stodgy first act and Amara Karan as Sangeet occasionally forgets how to act but gives enough to be enjoyable if not memorable. The absolute star of A Fantastic Fear of Everything is Crispian Mills and it has nothing to do with him being son of Hayley, grandson of Sir John, nephew of Maxwell Caulfield or lead singer of Kula Shaker, although it's all interesting trivia.
No, he's a star because this is his directorial debut. And his first outing as producer. And the first screenplay he's written. As debuts go, it's not up there with Duncan Jones' Moon but it's one heck of a start and he's the star because he's dared to be both dark and different at a time when Hollywood is determined to be predictable and repetitively upbeat.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything is far from being a perfect movie but it's a solid, enthralling film that hints at the possibility of Crispian Mills becoming a very fine filmmaker indeed and a hero of the off-kilter cinephiles who are tired of Tim Burton's ever-downward spiral and in need of someone new to rely on for their fix of surrealism.