One of the creepiest underused effects in horror is daylight when there should be darkness – there’s a great pull-back-the-curtains moment in Dead of Night (1945) that gets a jump shock out of this reversal. Director-writer Richard Waters makes sustained use of this scare tactic in his debut feature, which is also a walk-in-the-inescapable-woods movie.
Rosie (Ciara Bailey) and Dan (Tad Morari) are a couple with obvious problems – he’s an American with a tendancy to overcompensate, and plots to save the relationship by springing a last-ditch marriage proposal on her … she’s Irish, and an alcoholic in fragile recovery who has recently had a casual affair with an off-license clerk (James Devlin). When they set out for a country walk, Dan is determined to bind Rosie to him … and she’s made up her mind that it’s all over. What isn’t all over, and might never be, is their ramble, which extends well beyond getting lost and coming back to the same curious bit of folk art (a sort-of face in a broken tree) again and again since night never comes but the day isn’t exactly warm and comforting. After they run out of snacks and water, the only sustenance they can find is the worst thing for Rosie – very suspiciously-placed bottles of wine. Presences which might be woodland spirits, ghosts, or the couple’s doppelgangers are repeatedly glimpsed.
Bring Out the Fear works because the two central performances are spot-on – neither of these people is exactly bad, but they are bad for each other, and this being a horror movie they’ve trespassed in a pre-twilight zone where they’ll be eternally punished for the mismatch by being stuck with each other. It’s an exercise in disturbing frustration that depends for effect on us being as trapped with Dan and Rosie as they are with each other, and once the penny’s dropped that they’re stuck in the woods with precious little motivation to wear themselves out further by trudging on with bleeding feet or raging thirsts a certain mid-film monotony sets in as we wonder precisely what kind of doom is in store. In the end, this is more about the horror the normals bring into the woods than the horrors they find there – which makes for a thought-provoking, quietly nerve-wracking picture.