Director Drew Gabreki manages to create an atmosphere of dread from a cliché-ridden plot supplied by scriptwriter Gerald Nott. A successful doctor escapes the big city and goes to live in a small idyllic Pennsylvania. The results are just about what horror fans would expect. The story is more complex than it at first appears, but it is built of fairly familiar building blocks.
Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10.
While it is undeniable that there is a feeling of dread that hangs over ‘Be Afraid’, just what exactly is going on remains undefined right up to the end of the film. Not that we have a hard time recognising the territory we are in. The film starts on a dark and stormy night familiar from legions of horror films. Throughout, there are intentional or not references to other horror films. One might wonder if they were just coincidence but tracking shots following a youngster on a plastic tricycle couldn’t be just a coincidence and when the selfsame five year-old claims that a man comes into his bedroom you know he will be ignored because what does a five year-old know? Right. The boy is living in a house that has a notorious past, but isn’t that just more coincidence?
As the film begins the story already is going at full swing. A man seems to have gone crazy and is going after who he calls ‘them’ as well as his own family with what appears to be an axe handle. We cut away to physician John Chambers (played by Brian Krause) who is tired of the hassle of a big city ER and moves into a house in a small Pennsylvania town. Almost from the very beginning his twelve-ish son, Nathan (Michael Leone), claims that a man wearing a hat comes into his room at night. Soon, Chambers’ older son, Nathan (Michael Leone), unexpectedly comes home from college from which he has decided to drop out. John and his wife Heather (Jaimi Paige) are arguing out what they should be doing to get Nathan back to school. Then to add to their problems, Nathan is walking in the nearby woods when he runs into Mr. Axe-handle who claims to be looking for his daughter. It turns out that Nathan, who sees a man coming into his room at night, also sees a strange girl about his own age who shows up and disappears in the woods. Her favourite place seems to be a sinister-looking abandoned train tunnel. Things go from bad to worse as the family is visited by nightmares and John takes it a step farther by finding he has sleep paralysis, so he cannot escape his nightmares.
The film is full of half-lit scenes, nightmares that will not end, phantoms who look like they have been dipped in tar, long walks down all-too-Freudian tunnels, phantoms in bathtubs and worried parents. There is plenty here to be scary, but little that distinctively sets this film apart from too many horror films being released this or most years. A lot of this film has to be stared at because so much of the film is under-lit. Then the trailer tells you, ‘Fear what you can’t see.’ But then there is not a lot you actually CAN see.
This film gives the impression that the horror sequences were added on informed by other horror films rather than being an integral part of the story. Much is familiar, but at least except for the sleep paralysis no single horror touch is repeatedly used within the film. I rate ‘Be Afraid’ a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Mark R. Leeper
© Mark R. Leeper 2017