"In a genre whose commodity is anxiety, Nothing Left to Fear begins with a touch of irony"
In a genre whose commodity is anxiety, Nothing Left to Fear begins with a touch of irony that ranges from what could be described as a mild disconcertion to represent a prophecy of doom. If there is any phrase that is representative of the apocalypse in horror cinema then it is those four words.
With his debut feature film Cheap Thrills, E.L. Katz echoed the great Akira Kurosawa, who in 1960 masterfully exploited the title of his film noir The Bad Sleep Well to deliver one of cinema’s most powerful conclusions. Whilst Nothing Left to Fear doesn’t quite manage to turn its hand as masterfully, it does have its eye on the question: What's in a name?
The title plays into the more disquieting brand of horror, which manifests as a feeling. Nothing Left to Fear is most aptly described as a tainted love story in which religious or ritual machinations corrupt young love and two person’s discovery of their potential soul mate. From there it then spirals outward to depict the corruption of a society and its young, functioning as a meditation on the dogmatic social construct of a community that all too vividly echoes the flaws of our civilisation’s experiment with religion.
From The Exorcist to The Rite, within horror cinema nothing is as compelling as the collision between religion and horror in which men of God encounter the demonic forces of evil. From his speech of how trust and faith are intertwined, to his admission that there are no guardian angels sent from on high to protect man, the film’s two centrepiece moments come courtesy of Clancy Brown’s Pastor Kingsman. Approaching a crisis of faith in which man must embrace his most primitive instinct - survival, Nothing Left to Fear does not quite dare to enter the Nietzschean territory of God is dead, but it does touch upon the subject of the abandonment of God and his perpetual cruel and habitual test of those he created in his own image.
Brown remains throughout the disquieting face of the horror, omitting a patriarchal warmness coupled with a dark glint in the eye. Of course the conscious camera senses this therefore allows us to see what the protagonists fail to see. Continuing to toy with the titles deceit, whilst the protagonists go on about their lives settling into the new town and their home believing there is nothing to fear, we along with Rebecca’s haunting premonitions perceive the dark underbelly of the idyllic. What the film manages to create is an amusing interaction between the events and What's in a name?
Lacking suspense, tension and scares other low budget films such as Paranormal Activity and Insidious have exhibited a propensity for, Nothing Left to Fear is far removed from this mode of visceral horror. A misconception within horror is of the genre’s mandate to terrify. For those horror films that achieve such a purpose, there are those that do not strike the chord of terror and yet have gone on to become classics of the genre.
As Nothing Left to Fear flickers across the screen it becomes difficult not to sense that it derives from a first or early draft that requires both refinement and enhancement. The spine of the film is pieced together, but it struggles to then take that construct and build onto it, and create a unique vision of disquieting horror that can step out of the shadows to stand alongside the modern classics that have defined the genre in the last decade of horror cinema.
Seeming to lack a sense of urgency, the storm clouds are held back until the final third, and when the storm does eventually strike, it does so with a fervent torrent. Wandering too close to the thorns of the budding romance story for comfort, Nothing Left to Fear then ill-advisedly slips into the realm of action, the two casting the horror into a subservient role which sees any evolution of the disquieting horror overlooked.
Nothing Left to Fear gambles whilst playing it decidedly safe. In one sense there is no risk in the construct, piecing together scenes that lack aspiration, but which then gambles on a particularly dark conclusion, but which within narrative storytelling has stopped before the stories conclusion. Nothing Left to Fear is an apt title if convention is respected, and the story becomes a tale of the rise of the heroine. However, creating a convoluted character who gets lost within the maternal and passivity obstructs her journey towards taking up the mantle of the heroine, and is a hindrance to the film.
It does present premonition and dream sequences that are eerily effective, but which are underused. They do suggest a movement in the right direction, specifically the possibly avenue of supernatural foresight, an additional supernatural thread that if explored would have boldly painted Rebecca as the supernatural and maternal figure within the narrative of the unexpected heroine who liberates and represents the bringer of life.
Inspired by and set in the town of Stull, Kansas which is cited as one of the gateways to hell, Nothing Left to Fear is decidedly lightweight on mythology. Rooted in religion and the demonic persecution, it is a promising story of the relationship between trust and religion, but one that fails to take a scalpel and slice open the skin to allow the blood red context to bleed out and transform the narrative.
Nothing Left to Fear finds itself lost in the pleasantness of its characters relocation, the budding love story and is unable to intersperse a greater sense of the threat within its set-up of the seemingly idyllic. It struggles to evolve the threat to compliment the subtext the film flirts with but remains an unrealised treasure guarded by the demon.
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