FFWD REW

Pegg in the middle

Simon fails to get the laundry done in A Fantastic Fear of Everything

Simon Pegg wearing a yellow sweater and a grungy pair of underpants clutches a carving knife while screaming in abject terror at some unseen menace. This is the poster image for the film A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012) and seldom has a poster been so truthful about a film’s contents. Watch this movie and you’ll see the likable actor shrink in horror from telephones windows blankets grapefruits milk bottles Christmas carollers his own agent and laundromats — oh yes especially laundromats.

It’s almost like a one-man show in which we are invited to laugh at a character’s unending Poe-flavoured paranoia and dread. Fully half of the film is dedicated to Pegg’s shaggy-haired shut-in looking terrified while his voice-over narration recites the various perceived dangers he imagines around every corner.

Does that description scare you off if you’ll forgive the thematically on-the-nose phrase? Well perhaps it should — this really isn’t a movie for everyone. Audiences wanting a funny comedy should probably search elsewhere as this flick (sometimes described as a “semi-comedy”) is more “peculiar funny” than “ha-ha funny.” Still there’s something weirdly compelling about this oddball character study and if you’re going to watch an actor freak out by himself for 50 out of 100 minutes that actor should definitely be Pegg. The Shaun of the Dead and Spaced star is a joy to watch in just about any context and this scenario lets him really ham it up bulging his eyes and trembling at every dark corner of his filthy apartment.

Pegg plays “Jack” a failed writer who is currently researching Victorian-era murderers for an unproduced television series. The research has made Jack a nervous wreck. He now imagines 19th-century stranglers hiding in his bed or scratching at his window. He no longer leaves his apartment and has been clutching a carving knife for two weeks just in case.

Jack’s agent sets him up with a meeting with a producer who might actually offer Jack a paying gig. All Jack needs to do is put on some clean clothes and attend a meeting. These simple tasks prove to be insurmountable. After losing his last clean sock (don’t ask) and accidentally burning his laundry in the oven (again don’t ask) Jack is forced to step (gulp) outside and visit a (double gulp) laundromat the very same laundromat where a young Jack was abandoned by his mother as a child.

Jack’s predicament will feel familiar to anybody who has ever felt woefully unable to perform a simple task that everybody else seems capable of doing with ease. Absolutely nothing goes right for the poor guy. The laundromat’s coin-operated machines have been changed since Jack’s last visit (20 years earlier) and the new instructions are baffling. He forgets to add the soap. The other patrons glare at him with impatience as he tries to get the washing done. His semi-cleaned underpants fly out of his grip and are discovered by an attractive woman who tries to return them while Jack avoids her gaze shuddering with embarrassment. When everybody sees Jack’s carving knife (which he has unwittingly crazy-glued to his hand) the police are summoned. Everything gets wildly out of control.

Thanks in large part to Pegg’s considerable star power this bizarre exercise in silly paranoia is consistently watchable eventually leading to some unexpected twists as our frightened hero finally winds up in real jeopardy. A Fantastic Fear of Everything is available to stream on Netflix Canada and while Pegg fans won’t find it as good as say The World’s End (2013) it’s unique interesting and definitely a step above How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008).

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