Loving horror movies and making a good one — even an in-joke-laden homage to the genre — are two different things, as proven by “Fear, Inc.” This first feature for director Vincent Masciale and scenarist Luke Barnett starts out amiably enough, if sans inspiration on both the humor and scare fronts, only to get yea more implausibly silly just when we’re meant to start taking it seriously. This Tribeca midnight-section programmer is polished enough to fetch a decent sum amongst home-format distributors, but no one will be clamoring for theatrical release.
Joe (Lucas Neff) is a young L.A. transplant who’s “between jobs” and so unmotivated he spends a typical day playing beer pong by himself then floating in the backyard pool, to the annoyance of duly-employed girlfriend Lindsay (Caitlin Stasey). On “date night” he persuades her to visit a haunted house attraction. His unimpressed grumbling afterward attracts a creepy guy (Patrick Renna) who hands over a card for mysterious “Fear, Inc.” Lifelong horror-film fanatic Joe can’t stop himself from calling the number listed, despite warnings from visiting bestie Ben (Chris Marquette) that the shadowy titular business — which brings customer’s nightmares to life for a price — has a dubious, possibly dangerous rep.
Next day — Halloween, of course — the two couples (Stephanie Drake plays Ben’s wife Ashleigh) suffer a series of disturbances that soon escalate into full-on home invasion attack. To a point Joe remains convinced it’s all just ingenious Fear, Inc. theater, though his friends are unamused. Various faked-or-are-they? violent events occur whose resemblance to familiar horror movies (“Scream,” “Saw,” etc.) is actually noted out loud in the unlikely event that any viewer doesn’t “get it.”
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After about an hour of these derivative shenanigans (kicked off by Abigail Breslin as the inevitable prologue victim), there’s a revelation regarding just how much of this is “really happening.” But pic’s more serious tenor only underlines that the content here is still pretty dumb, and no longer leavened by (admittedly routine) humor.
Indeed, the main thing early reels have going for them isn’t any actual cleverness or wit, but Neff’s pleasant riffing within a stock slacker-bro role. When his character stops having fun, so does the audience. Though needless to say, the unimaginative references to prior/better horror flicks just keep on a-comin’.
While action is largely limited to the leads’ spacious home, assembly is slick enough, albeit without any particularly distinguishing design contribs. Cast of mostly TV-familiar faces is OK, though only Neff occasionally rises above the mediocre material.