Edgar Wright’s spot-on haunted house parody Don’t, the best of the half-dozen trailer spoofs showcased in the feature-length version of Grindhouse, boasts more jokes and scares across its 87-second running time than A Fantastic Fear of Everything musters over more than an hour and a half.
And yet, for those familiar with this distinctly British style of horror-comedy, such an unfavorable comparison is difficult to ignore: The influence of Wright seems to loom over every aspect of the picture, from its often precarious tonal oscillations to the presence of its leading man, Simon Pegg, whose lauded turns in Wright’s Cornetto trilogy made the otherwise niche TV actor an international star.
Like Wright, first-time director Crispian Mills (best known as the frontman of indie rock band Kula Shaker) gravitates to elaborate sight gags and impressive feats of slapstick; the film’s most accomplished sequence, in which Pegg’s panphobic hero must negotiate a public laundromat with half of his head spattered with burns, has been so intricately blocked and edited that the injury remains unseen until it’s revealed as a kind of visual punch line.
lsewhere, alas, Mills’s go-for-broke tendency yields little. For all its comic panache, A Fantastic Fear of Everything too often feels forced rather than funny — the strain evident in the setup is rarely worth the payoff, and the result simply proves exhausting. I might suggest that ambition, as far as comedy is concerned, isn’t necessarily a virtue, and in fact may sometimes impede a joke’s more effortless pleasures. Mills could learn a lot from Don’t‘s 87 seconds.