Fear

The most searing afterschool special ever.
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1996
Director: 
James Foley
Starring: 
Reese Witherspoon, Mark Whalberg, William Peterson, Amy Brennaman, Alyssa Milano
The Setup: 
Young girl falls for bad boy, has orgasm on rollercoaster, endures home siege.
Discussion: 

A fellow on my message board mentioned this movie as part of a discussion on cheesy 90s ____-from-hell movies, saying it's hilariously over the top, features "Greasey Reesey" Witherspoon [his words, I like Reese] getting "third-based" on a rollercoaster, and "all this and Alyssa Milano, too." Somehow all that made it sound QUITE compelling. I don't even know what Alyssa Milano is known for, but somehow just the very sound of her name evokes images of a certain trashy oversexed talentlessness that is at once eminently mockable and entirely welcome. And almost wholly unearned, as Alyssa turns out, based on the evidence here, to be relatively talented. There's just something about that name that sounds inherently stupid. Kind of like Daisy Fuentes.

So the rather hysterical credits [as in overwrought, not hilarious] list this as written by Christopher Crowe, leading me to be like "Holy shit! Cameron Crowe!" it taking me til the end of the movie to realize that I misread the name. We join 20-year-old Reese Witherspoon [looking YOUNG] as 16-year-old Nicole as she showers. This is Reese's movie right after her amazing turn in Freeway. Nicole comes downstairs and her father, Steve, played by Manhunter's William Peterson, leers at his daughter "like he doesn't know her." He then protests that she's "dressed like a little girl," i.e. like a slut. We learn from all this that Nicole is a snotty teen [my favorite!] and that we're going to have some incest subtext [my other favorite]! All this and Alyssa Milano, too!

So at school Nicole hooks up with her friend Margo [that's Alyssa!] and they go to this sort of afterschool bar-type thing. I was unaware that such things existed, but then I was fairly sheltered. Both Nicole and Margo are fascinated with the bad biker-types playing pool upstairs [oh my God, me too!], except I wish they could have found a better greasy, stringy biker than the one Margo gloms onto. This one is pretty gross. Anyway, also hanging with the bad boys is Marky Mark as David, attired in a lycra shirt that highlights his underwear-model body, and he gives Nicole the smoldering eye. Okay, snotty teen bitches, hot dads, incest subtext, bad bikers and Lycra—damn you, Hollywood, how do you know PRECISELY what I like?

Well, it's been a minute or two without creepy incest vibe, so in order to remedy that we have a alone-in-the-car chat between Nicole and Dad, in which he calls her "my little sugar plum" and she calls him "my little nectarine." The movie is pretty vague on the family history, but what I think I gathered is that Nicole has lived with her father and stepmother Laura for only a year. We don't know when Dad and Nicole were together when they were younger, but there was obviously some kind of sit-on-my-lap-sweetie history going on, as we will have evidence of later. Stepmom Laura has an agenda of getting Nicole to love and accept her as a mother, which may be a little more pathological than she admits. What a twisted interpersonal bouillabaisse!

So Dad is called away to business in Vancouver [this is happening in Seattle], causing the whole family to miss the James Taylor concert they were SO looking forward to, inspiring Laura to sling some snot about how Dad puts work before the family, and freeing Nicole to attend the big party with Margo. This is one of those wild parties [we briefly see two guys kissing—are we supposed to believe that the club has a totally hip crowd, or that these two straight guys said "fuck it" and totally went at it?] where everyone's all punked up and dancing, and Margo promptly goes right over to the greasy biker and offers herself. Nicole is hanging by the pillar when David [that's Marky] comes around and starts flirting with her. Their meeting is done very well, with long silences in which both characters just kind of smile shyly at each other, and luckily the film has two actors who can really pull off this sort of thing. Then something utterly ludicrous happens. The greasy biker head-butts another guy, and LITERALLY WITHIN 10 SECONDS the ENTIRE warehouse-sized club is involved in a massive brawl. It just EXPLODES in violence, which—I don't know, maybe this happens. Whenever I've ever seen a fight in a bar, everyone just backs up in a circle to watch. But I don't hang with the bad boys, I guess. Anyway, David takes Nicole up to the roof—where, 30 seconds later, a police helicopter has already been dispatched [they have some effective municipal services up there in Seattle!]—and they go park somewhere and RELATE. We find that David is remarkably emotionally available for a lycra-wearin' smoldering bad boy, and he tries to get some play on Nicole, but she resists, which he totally respects. Again, nice, lengthy sections of quiet talk, and both actors are up to it.

An undefined amount of time passes, and David suggests that he meet the family. He lays on the "perfect boyfriend" routine, calling Dad "sir" and befriending the family dog, going perhaps a bit far when he offers to help Laura plant some trees, right then. Another little layer this movie weaves in is that Stepmom Laura giddily responds to David's flirtations right in front of her husband. Then back to incest vibe as Dad is clearly turned onto the flirty Margo, now that Nicole is otherwise engaged. He also notices how David has already started subtly ordering Nicole around and dominating her.

Then, the big showcase rollercoaster scene. David and Nicole are all flirty all over the amusement park, then get on the rollercoaster and David feels her up as they ride [to the tune of The Sundays' remake of the Stones' "Wild Horses"] and Nicole experiences what looks to be a very enjoyable orgasm as they rush up and down. Sure it's a little over the top, but it works, and it's nice to see someone just enjoying sexual exploration instead of it always being a horribly exploitative experience. Of course it is, here, but Nicole just doesn't know it yet. Anyway, again, pretty good scene! And I managed to keep the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster" out of my mind the whole time, too, as well as Krysta Now's unforgettable "Teen Horniness Is Not a Crime."

Not long later Dad and Stepmom are off to Vancouver, and Nicole invites David over to pop her cherry, giving him the security code to the house. He sneaks into her room and snoops through her things, finding a little girl's charm bracelet that says "Daddy's Girl." Uuuuuhhhh-huh. They then do it, and he tells her he loves her. Then, because he has experienced one moment of true happiness, he now loses his soul and becomes an evil vampire. Oh, wrong drama, but similar idea.

SPOILERS > > >
So the next day Nicole is walking with her male friend and he hugs her goodbye. David sees this, comes up and totally starts whaling on the friend! He even gives Nicole a good punch, and she tells him to go away. We have a little scene of him hanging out with the dangerous bikers, which may as well have a subtitle saying "let us not forget that he is a dangerous biker" [we never actually see motorcycles, it's just the type], and there's a good moment when David, all depressed, looks at some strips of photo-booth pics of he and Nicole. Uncommented on, but there, is a mug shot of David.

So the parents are back and notice that Nicole is all bummed, but she's not talking. Stepmom Laura starts ragging big-time [and she becomes a total harpy] on Dad's parenting skills. David wants Nicole back, saying he's all sorry and stuff, and while out sunning, Margo, whose mother is off to go stay with some rich man she's trying to seduce, advises Nicole to just forget about the fact that David slugged her. And Nicole, by this time, is saying "he didn't mean to hit me."

Okay, let's take a time-out to discuss where we are so far, because things take a turn from here. This film is another reinforcement of the first two-thirds theory in that we have a lot of fairly potent hot-button content up front, which will be retreated from and obscured from now until the end of the movie. All right, so we have a dad and daughter who were maybe a trifle too close when she was a youngster, and he still seems to have some simmering incestuous feelings for her, which she doesn't necessarily discourage. Then we have the Stepmother, who is prone to emasculating harping on her husband, makes it clear that David is a real, studly man like he'll never be, and is about to embark in earnest on her ulterior motivation to win Nicole's allegiance away from her father. Nicole's best friend is slutting herself out, just like Mom, we find out, who is off on a trip to ensnare a rich husband who will buy her things. And Nicole, already conflicted by the messages she's getting from Dad, is justifying physical abuse from her cretin boyfriend! This is like THE most searing ABC After-School Special EVER. The thing is, the simmering tensions all kind of ring true, and the first hour of this movie contains a lot of genuinely explosive material! And because it's so explosive and close to home, the remainder of the movie has to be out-there and over-the-top enough to erase all that stuff from the top of your mind, so you feel like you just saw an exciting thriller and not an uncomfortably intense family drama about incest, inter-family resentments and teen sexuality.

So Dad is convinced David hit Nicole, Stepmom Laura has gone full-time fucking BITCH, and dad arranges a little talk between he and David, wherein he tells David to stop seeing Nicole. David is totally cool, then unleashes a reptilian little speech to Dad designed to pique the patriarch's [sorry] sense of decorum, which it does, leading Dad to threaten to rip David's balls off, sauté them in lemon butter, and serve them on a bed of watercress with a light drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette. Actually, I forgot what he said he was going to do with them, but whatever it is I'm sure David wouldn't be into it. Not like David thinks wussy dad could do anything. After Dad takes off, David starts thumping his chest in a manner not unlike a gorilla, which is not something everyone looks for in their boyfriends. Me, sure, but not everyone. The next day, David has told Nicole that her dad beat him! I love totally baseless accusations of abuse. Nicole defiantly takes off with David, steaming Dad pretty bad.

So they hang out for a while, David drops Nicole home, where she finds it too dreary, and she takes the car and heads out to the biker party he's at. Margo is there with her skanky biker friend, where she appears to be riding his love hog in the middle of the party—I'm like: Am I watching Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me? Alyssa even looks somewhat like Moira Kelly—when David comes up, grabs her hair really hard and forces her to say she wants him. Margo has to follow him, whereupon Nicole bolts out of there—essentially leaving her best friend to be raped. Thanks! BFF! But it gets worse—the next day Margo comes by like nothing happened, but Nicole gives her the sub-zero shoulder, until Margo knows she knows, and says she was raped, and begs Nicole not to shut her out: "You're my only friend!" This is the moment I was telling you about when Alyssa was pretty good. But it's not enough for Nicole, who slams her door and flares her nostrils! Our Lifetime Original Movie, "Perfect Boyfriend, Perfect Rapist" will return after these messages….

Then Margo is just trying to drive home where she can cry on her pillow when David comes and runs her off the road and screams at her for telling Nicole! Poor girl is really going to have issues with trust and intimacy. Meanwhile David goes off and kills Gary, the male best friend. In retrospect, I think the only reason he does this is so the whole thing doesn't seem QUITE so juvenile and inconsequential. Hey, like, people DIE in this shit. Then Dad goes over to the biker's lair and trashes it! Not a good idea, pops. Then we get the requisite scene in which we find out that the law can do nothing in a case like this. Although hello, Nicole could at least file a retraining order, so it's not like there are no legal options. Anyway, Dumfuck Dad's ill-advised trashing of the biker's hangout now leads to a hyped-up showdown that runs the entire movie off the rails.

So the bikers come back and get all in a snit, which leads to this whole long siege on Nicole's house, with her family home, beginning with a nasty little visit from the family pet—or what's left of him. Now it just so HAPPENS that their house is some sort of model of security or whatnot, due to Dad's being an architect, and as such just happens to be outfitted with reinforced glass. I don't recall ever learning this previously in the movie. Anyway, so it goes on, with a resourceful little boy saving the day, and the appearance of a sudden cliff [did we know the house was situated right on a cliff? I sure didn't]. It's all a little over-the-top and ill-advised, but there are still good little details that evoke more violence than is actually shown, like one of the bikers, when he is holding mom down, giving her a few little humps. It all comes down to Dad vs David for Nicole's eternal devotion, and well, we know who got her the engraved bracelet first.
< < < SPOILERS END

Ultimately, a lot of fun. I love the whole overwrought drama of it all, the two leads are good, it alludes to more serious issues that it keeps out on the sidelines, which give what's happening onscreen resonance rather than seeming like it's avoiding things, and hey, you have a girl getting fingered on a rollercoaster. So I'm all down with that, and since this is essentially a teen movie about like, what if you had a really mean boyfriend, and it doesn't really aspire to anything more, one doesn't really hold it's limitations against it. I don't want to ever see it again and somehow there's this nagging feeling wishing it were better or that the ending weren't so off the rails, but I can't really say how I would do it differently, and it did show me a great time for at least the first half. And that's about all we can ask for, Okay, it's not, but whatever.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, especially if you like overheated teen issues!