Like many horror films, Know Fear begins with a house – a house with a dark past. Shortly after Wendy (Amy Carlson) and Donald (David Alan Basche) move into the house, Wendy begins experiencing strange sensations that overwhelm her. The family learns that Wendy has been possessed by a demon, and the only way to save her is to use a book to enact a ritual that will allow different members of the family to see, hear, and talk to the demon in order to banish it.
Director Jamison M. LoCascio (Sunset) has a knack for mundane horror. Throughout the film, ordinary events and images are rendered strange and unnatural. While the music and sound do a great deal of the heavy lifting, the influence of Hitchcock is detectable in disorienting editing and jarring cuts that contribute to the deeply unsettling effect. There are more than a few genuinely scary moments, and the tension and dread build nicely toward the predictably bloody climax.
While Basche is somewhat forgettable as the stiff and skeptical Donald, Carlson is exceptional as Wendy. Though Know Fear never explores the angle fully, Carlson’s performance suggests a connection between demonic possession and mental illness – particularly depression and anxiety – that gives what is otherwise a rather by-the-book (pun intended) demon story an interesting, if not exactly revolutionary, twist. There is a real sense that this woman is what keeps the family together, and they struggle to find connection and solidarity as she becomes less and less available to support them.
Without a strong central metaphor, horror films that feature demonic possession can quickly become cliché or even downright silly. While Know Fear could have taken the metaphor of grief, family, and community further (particularly in the third act, which seems a bit too hasty to cast aside the characters’ emotional context in favor of creepy visuals), the film remains so thoroughly grounded in the ordinary details of reality that it avoids becoming ridiculous.
The one exception to this is the demon itself, which shows up a bit too early and a bit too frequently. Certainly, the film is at its most frightening when the horror remains psychological. One can’t help but feel that Know Fear would have been even more terrifying without quite so many clear glimpses of the supernatural threat.
While Know Fear isn’t perfect, it is an enjoyable and well-constructed horror film that delivers scares without falling into the trap of repeating tired tropes. It is clear the LoCascio is a fan of classic horror and knows how to emotionally manipulate an audience – I’d love to see him take another stab at the genre.
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