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By Jeremy Mathews | October 31, 2009

“Fear(s) of the Dark” is a visually exhilarating trip through the darker regions of the subconscious—regions so dark that we aren’t always sure what is so scary about them. The animated experiment echoes the memories of nightmares, which are never as scary when recounted as when dreamed. But they can still be pretty damn creepy.

The film is a collage of nightmares as depicted by graphic artists Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Jerry Kramsky, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus and Romain Slocombe, with the supervision of art director Etienne Robial. It often feels a little more like a showcase of imagination than a truly frightful experience, but it still works as a study of its creators’ varying styles and mindsets.

Two remarkably different recurring pieces serve as transitions between four lengthier stories, which could each stand alone as shorts. Blutch’s pencil-drawn series follows a lanky, long-nosed sinister old man who walks around town with an evil grin, unleashing one of his many vicious dogs one at a time on the unsuspecting public of an antiquated town. In the other series, a woman comments on the fear of losing her political principles while black-and-white shapes move around the screen.

Of the stand-alone pieces, McGuire creates the most distinct style with a minimalist sequence that fills the screen with mostly black to study light and the lack thereof. Without dialogue, the story of a man who comes across a creepy house starts to take shape.

Caillou’s segment displays the strongest grasp of nightmare logic, as childhood cruelty transfers to Samurai ghosts while evil scientists force these images upon our young heroine. Burns’ clean drawings create a story of fear and paranoia, as an old childhood nightmare follows a simple village boy to college.

While they’re all based on a theme, the various stories don’t really add up to anything more than the sum of their parts. But the equation remains fascinating.

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