Fear (1996 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Foley
Produced by Brian Grazer
Written by Christopher Crowe
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Thomas Kloss
Edited by David Brenner
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • April 12, 1996 (1996-04-12)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million
Box office $20.8 million

Fear is a 1996 American psychological thriller directed by James Foley and written by Christopher Crowe. It stars Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, William Petersen, Alyssa Milano and Amy Brenneman. It revolves around an upper-middle class family whose seemingly perfect existence is threatened when their teenage daughter begins dating an attractive and mysterious young man, much to her father's chagrin.

The picture was largely derided by critics upon its release, but became a sleeper hit in the spring of 1996, grossing $20 million at the U.S. box office. It has since become a cult film, while at the same time launching teen idol status for its two young leads, who were romantically linked at the time of the movie's premiere.[1] Wahlberg was nominated for the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain.[2]

The film's executive producer, Brian Grazer, described it as "Fatal Attraction for teens" - a loose recollection in which Wahlberg and Witherspoon have the Glenn Close and Michael Douglas roles (respectively), while Petersen is in Anne Archer's.


16-year-old Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon) lives in the suburbs of Seattle with her overbearing father Steven (William Petersen), his new wife Laura (Amy Brenneman), and Toby (Christopher Gray), Laura's son from her first marriage. At a bar with her best friend Margo (Alyssa Milano), Nicole meets David McCall (Mark Wahlberg), and is instantly swept off her feet by his good looks and sweet, charming nature. The two begin a relationship.

When Steven meets David, he mistrusts him immediately. Although David is nice to Nicole, he keeps her out past curfew and soon shows an aggressive nature when he assaults her friend Gary (Todd Caldecott). He shoves Nicole to the ground when she tries to stop him, giving her a black eye. Nicole breaks up with David but, ultimately, she changes her mind and the two continue their relationship. They eventually sleep together while Steven and Laura are away on a business trip. Still suspicious, Steven checks into David's background and learns that David has had a severely troubled life in foster care. Steven confronts David on a street corner and demands he leaves Nicole alone. David spins the encounter against Steven; he makes it look like Steven punched him, which gains Nicole's sympathy.

One evening, Nicole is invited by David to a party at his friend Logan's (Tracy Fraim) house. She declines at first but then has a fight with her father and drives to Logan's alone. Through a window, she witnesses Margo smoking crack and having sex with David. Nicole leaves without being seen. The next day at school, David finds himself being pushed away by Nicole for his disloyalty. Nicole also ends her friendship with Margo, although Margo insists that David raped her while she was high. With the relationship over, David becomes obsessed with Nicole, tattooing his own chest with her name. David follows Margo in his car and crashes into her; he chokes her and threatens he will hurt her more if she doesn't fix things for him. David then sees Nicole hugging Gary outside school and, as Gary walks home alone, David follows and kills him.

Nicole goes with Laura and Toby to the mall, where David corners her in the women's restroom, claiming they have something special and demanding her to be his forever. At the same time, Steven finds his Mustang vandalized by David who has left a note reading "Now I've popped both your cherries!". Furious, Steven breaks into the house David shares with Logan and finds an obscene shrine he has built for Nicole. He also finds a vandalized bracelet (it read "Daddy's Girl" but has been changed to "David's Girl"), a pair of Nicole's panties, a defaced family photo (Steven's head has been replaced with David's). Steven trashes the house in anger.

Later, David returns home and promptly realizes Steven has been there. He decides to break into the Walker residence with the help of his four equally violent housemates: Logan, Hacker (Gary Riley), Knobby (Jed Rees) and Terry (Jason Kristofer). A distraught Margo is already at Nicole's house, where she informs the Walker's that Gary has been found dead. Upon arriving at the house, David and his gang behead Kaiser, the family dog. David tries to enter using the code to the main door that Nicole once told him, but Steven and Laura barricade everyone inside, while Nicole, Margo and Toby hide upstairs. Laura injures Hacker with a drill who is then taken to hospital by Knobby. Using a flashlight, Nicole sends an SOS to Larry, the Walker's private security guard, who arrives to confront the situation, but he is shot dead by Terry.

David, Logan and Terry eventually force their way in and take Steven hostage, using Larry's handcuffs to shackle up him and Laura. When Logan forces himself onto Nicole, Margo intervenes but is knocked unconscious. Toby escapes through another window and gets to Laura's SUV. He uses her car phone to dial 9-1-1. Toby has to start the engine to make the phone work; Terry notices this and shoots out the windshield. It misses Toby, who then runs Terry down by reversing the SUV out of the garage. Retrieving Larry's keys, Toby sneaks inside and un-cuffs both his parents. David shoots Logan dead for trying to rape Nicole, then asks her if she's ready to leave with him, which will save her family. Steven rushes at David and the pair get into a furious brawl. David gets ready to execute Steven but Nicole prevents this by stabbing David in the back with a peace pipe (which David himself won for Nicole at a carnival on one of their dates). Both men continue to fight until Steven pushes David through her bedroom window to his death on the rocks below.

Nicole and her father embrace, knowing they are safe.



Fear was released on April 12, 1996 in 1,584 theaters. It opened at No. 4 at the box office, making $6.3 million in its opening weekend. By the end of its run, the film earned $20.8 million in the US.[3]



The film holds a 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews.[4]

Gene Siskel gave the film a thumbs-down, while Roger Ebert gave it a thumbs-up. Leonard Maltin gave it 2 (out of 4) stars.

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "Fear is hard to resist. On one hand it's a shameless thriller that makes up for the inevitability of its story by consistently being bigger, faster and more appalling than you might expect. On the other hand, it contains enough truth about fathers, teenaged daughters and young lust to distinguish it from most thrillers and ground it in vivid emotion. It is a nightmare fantasy for fathers. Director James Foley and screenwriter Christopher Crowe keep raising the stakes all the way to a finish that's something out of The Straw Dogs. It's a maddening, satisfying, junky, enjoyable picture."[5] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a positive review, further accrediting the comparisons to Fatal Attraction, writing: "Fear is a teen Fatal Attraction, and — surprise — it isn’t bad." He did, however, criticise the finale: "[Director] James Foley does a fine job evoking the sexual tensions between father, daughter, and rogue suitor, but he has less luck with the (inevitable) garish climax, which is so unconvincingly staged it never even makes it over the top".[6]

Critical revaluation has proved kinder to the film than its initial reception. The dramatic and tense score by Carter Burwell was praised and well received.[7] One critic has since stated that "although dismissed by some reviewers upon its release as a sensationalist, hysterical, formulaic piece, Fear has improved with age".[8] The film was placed as No. 19 on Bravo TV's "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments".

See also


  1. ^ Vena, Jocelyn (December 29, 2010). "Reese Witherspoon's Love Life: From Ryan Phillippe To Jim Toth". MTV. Retrieved February 1, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Mark Wahlberg movies, ranked from worst to best". Boston.com. Retrieved March 12, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Fear (1996) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Fear Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ LaSalle, Mick (April 12, 1996). "Chilling 'Fear' Finds Its Mark". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 13, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Movie Review: Fear". Entertainment Weekly. September 7, 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2015. 
  7. ^ Romanek, Neal. "The Top 5 Carter Burwell Film Scores". Retrieved July 6, 2015. 
  8. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; Ursini, James; Porfirio, Robert (2010). Film Noir: The Encyclopaedia. Overlook Duckworth (New York). ISBN 978-1-59020-144-2. 

External links

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