Although their first album sold like hot-cakes, Kula Shaker were a frequent target for mockery, thanks to their conspicuous co-opting of Indian music, culture, and mysticism… but as a white Britisher intent on misappropriating Indian mythology in my own writing, I probably have more sympathy for the band than most people do, and have always found their music to be quite, er, groovy. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect from lead singer Crispian Mills’ debut venture into film-making… despite the obvious good taste he showed in casting Amara Karan as the love interest.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012) stars Simon Pegg as ‘Jack’, a successful children’s author, whose ill-advised move away from light-weight kiddie’s fare into grisly true crime thrillers, has left him on the brink of a total mental breakdown. He scuttles around his dismal flat, jumping at every creak and squeak, and checking the dark corners for “killers” the way most people check for spiders. After his agent arranges a last-minute, late-night meeting with an important and influential patron, Jack is compelled to overcome his crippling phobia of laundrettes, in order to rustle up some clean(ish) clothes for the meet-and-greet… little realising that many of his supposedly “irrational” fears are about to be validated by a real-life serial killer. Oh noes!
If I had to sum up the style of this film, I’d say it was like a cross between Spaced, Psychoville and a Luke Haines spoken-word track… although not nearly as funny as that combo might suggest. The Variety’s reviewer accused it of “casual misogyny and pronounced racism”, but I can’t really agree with that… I assumed from the outset that we were seeing the world from the cock-eyed perspective of the paranoid protagonist, which is why all of the characters he meets (regardless of ethnicity or gender) come off as slightly creepy and threatening and grotesque. I’m normally the first one to jerk my knee and play the “misogyny” card, but I just didn’t get that vibe here. The film didn’t get many positive reviews, but I found myself laughing quite often (mostly thanks to Pegg’s performance), and thought it looked pretty gorgeous too… especially with its adorable stop-motion animation sequence. I could have done without some of the lamer double entendres, and thought the ending was a bit of a fumble… but overall I’d feel pretty confident recommending it to friends who appreciate dark comedies of urban desperation like After Hours and Crimewave. And fans of Pegg should definitely consider giving it a rent for the commentary track and hilarious “easter egg” video (on the Bonus menu, press up until the cartoon hedgehog turns red, then press “enter”).
As for Ms. Karan, she plays ‘Sangeet’, an “unspeakably beautiful” Art student whose slow-motion, soft-focus entrance into the launderette throws Jack for a loop, and destroys whatever vestiges of cool he may have been clinging to up until that point. When they separated at the end of the laundry sequence, I was worried that would be the last we saw of her… but (thankfully?) she then gets kidnapped by the killer, and wakes up tied to a pipe in a dank basement with Jack, where they bond over their common interests (such as escaping and living to tell the tale). She also gets to fight back a bit, and *almost* saves the day… so at least it’s an improvement on The Task! Still not the sort of front-and-centre starring role that she really deserves though, dammit.
Fun fact: Wikipedia claims that the story is based on a comic novella called Paranoia in the Launderette (1998), written by Bruce Robinson (of Withnail and I fame)… but he doesn’t get a credit on IMDb, or the film itself. On the commentary track, Mills frequently points out elements that were taken “from the book”, but never bothers to mention which book he’s actually referring to. I haven’t read it myself, so I can’t say how similar the two works are… although the plot description posted on Amazon seems pretty much identical: “Explores the depths of a paranoid writer who is terrorised by visions of deadly attackers and their horrifying crimes. A call from his literary agent, a possible plot on his life and a disastrous trip to the launderette ensue.”
Un-fun fact: Sheridan Smith was cast as Jack’s former wife, but her role was cut out of the film completely… she doesn’t even appear in the deleted scenes on the DVD (although there is a quick shot of a painting that looks a little like her).