The gimmick in Jeremy Lovering's atmospheric thriller "In Fear" stems from the director's idea to never tell his stars what will happen next, so that when something shocking occurs, cameras will capture true, visceral reactions.
In theory, this sounds intriguing. Except the actors' "real" reactions can't hold a torch to the fake ones cast members create, augment and flavor as needed in other thrillers.
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Lovering casts Alice Englert and Iain De Caestecker as Lucy and Tom, a young Brit couple on their way to a music concert when they decide to stop at a rural hotel.
One they can never find, it seems. They keep driving and driving through narrow country roads and always winding up at the same foreboding gate with a "Keep Out" sign prominently posted.
"We're in a maze!" Lucy realizes.
Speaking of things that amaze, the best element in "In Fear" is the tech. Excellent sound editing (great wind, terrific car door closings!) and David Katznelson's camerawork give the movie a high-end flair.
But that doesn't compensate for Lovering's lacking direction. Instead of maintaining suspense by keeping the couple's point-of-view, he allows us to see scenes through the eyes of an unseen stalker, diluting the raw power of this rural thriller.
We never know Lucy and Tom enough to care about their survival, so when a bleeding stranger ("Downton Abbey" regular Allen Leech) jumps into the car and begs the couple to drive away fast, "In Fear" trades in its well-earned scare capital for thrills so cheap, they might have been made in China.
"In Fear" opens exclusively at the Buffalo Grove Theater. Rated R for language and violence. 85 minutes. ★ ★