Should you find yourself exiting Nicolas Winding Refn’s haunting, elusive new thriller Fear X in a heightened state of agitation, fear not: That’s precisely what the Danish auteur had in mind. “The whole point was to make a film where the audience ends up like Harry Cain,” Refn says, referring to the movie’s tightly wound protag (John Turturro), a mall security guard who’s bent on uncovering the motive for his wife’s seemingly random murder. “Distorted and confused and angry and frustrated —all those emotions you experience when you lose somebody close to you.” The perceptual and temporal acrobatics Refn and co-screenwriter Hubert Selby Jr.—”Mr. Selby,” as Refn insists on calling the late cult novelist—use to achieve this goal will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Mulholland Drive and Memento, but Refn cites another, unexpected inspiration: Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 psychedelic mind-bender The Holy Mountain. “I saw it a few years ago and was very blown away by the sheer imagination of what film can be,” he says. “That’s what I wanted to work with in Fear X.”
In addition to Selby, the Brooklyn bard of identity collapse and urban despair, Refn tapped avant-pop legend Brian Eno to help construct his holy mountain. “I sent Brian the script, and he made about eight hours of music from ideas he got while reading it,” Refn says. “He sent me CDs throughout the production process, so even when I was making the movie I was listening to his music.”
While Eno’s disquieting, near subliminal score contributes to Fear X‘s atmosphere of unease, it’s the film’s maddeningly subjective milieu and open-ended conclusion that leave audiences feeling edgy. “I liked the idea of never revealing whether a scene is [Harry’s] fantasy, his dream, or something that’s actually happening,” Refn says. “To him, there is no real difference, because that’s what obsessive people do—they cling to any kind of answer, and then they come up with the most extreme kind of conspiracy or solution.” Ever the provocateur, he adds, “The film is designed to make you obsessive.” Consider yourself warned.