Charlie Lyne’s Fear Itself

The Guardian columnist and documentary maker is back with another feature staggeringly soon after Beyond Clueless. With Fear Itself Lyne redeploys the found-footage montage approach of his first essay film, yet switches his gaze from teen cinema to horror through the ages.

Although it’s essentially a genre study, Lyne’s chosen texts are again surprisingly wide-ranging, even more so than in Beyond Clueless; Fear Itself sweeps over the entire history of cinema and utilises clips from many influential and lesser-known foreign language films. Staple themes of darkness, the unknown and body horror are examined through reference to films as diverse as Nosferatu (1922) and Enduring Love (2004), though somehow Lyne manages to resist including Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) in his exploration of the fear of heights.

F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)

F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922)

The anthology is held together by a rather different voice over from that of Beyond Clueless, and this marks the only innovation Lyne has made to his format since the earlier film. Fear Itself is narrated by Amy E. Watson, whose persona reflects on a recent trauma alongside rumination on humanity’s relationship to horror movies. Although it sometimes seems a little forced, this device gives Fear Itself another narrative in addition to its intellectual argument, providing a further means to engage, and a mystery which is very gradually revealed.

Lyne is a skilful editor, and here produces some smartly observed match cuts without losing sight of the film’s overall structure. Fear Itself appears to build to a climax similarly to a horror movie; the clips get longer, and so do the silences in Watson’s hypnotic voice over. A sequence in which Willem Dafoe searches for a teddy bear in long grass (excerpted from Lars von Trier’s Antichrist) is keenly paired with an important revelation in the narrator’s story, serving as a neat visual representation of discovery.


However, Lyne’s analysis also leaves gaps for the viewer to chew over. Surely it’s no accident that many of the included moments from horror cinema take place in movie theatres, though Lyne doesn’t give his take on this. It’s an even more interesting observation when considered in light of Fear Itself’s distribution model; most people will watch it on iPlayer in the comfort of their own homes, rather than in a cinema.

Fear Itself may not represent a significant development to Charlie Lyne’s style, but it adds plenty of fresh ideas as it pores over technical and thematic concerns. As well as teasing out many of the tropes and preoccupations of horror cinema from its origins to the present day – Gravity and It Follows are two of the most recent releases included – Fear Itself makes a decent, if inconclusive, stab at a thesis on the human obsession with narrative.

Fear Itself is currently available on BBC iPlayer.