Fear walked so hundreds of Lifetime movies could run. You can’t turn on the TV today without seeing films like My Psycho Ex-Boyfriend or Deadly Boyfriend. Different titles with the same premise of a young woman meeting a “good” guy who turns out to be criminally insane. There weren’t a lot of young adult thrillers like that up until the release of Fear in 1996. You had horror and dramas, but not any Fatal Attraction-type films for the high school crowd. There was The Crush in 1993, starring Alicia Silverstone as a teenage girl who becomes dangerously obsessed with an older man, but that was told from the man’s point of view. Fear‘s focus is primarily on the teens, which makes it much more interesting.
Girl meets boy
Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon) is a 16-year-old who lives in Seattle (we know this because they show the Space Needle a thousand times) with her father Steven (William Petersen), her stepmother Laura (Amy Brenneman), and her little stepbrother Toby (Christopher Gray). There’s friction at home because Nicole is growing up and her dad can’t handle it. When she stays out past curfew to go to a rave with her best friend Margo (Alyssa Milano), she meets David (Mark Wahlberg). He seems great on paper: good looking, polite, and chivalrous. So, Nicole falls for him pretty quickly. The sexy part of the thriller kicks into gear here. It’s like David brings Nicole out of her shell and causes her, and the director, to lean into her sexuality. There are plenty of closeups of her breasts in lowcut dresses, intense make out sessions, and a fingerbanging scene on a roller coaster (set perfectly to The Sundays’ version of “Wild Horses”). David’s perfect boyfriend veneer soon begins to crack, though, and he proves to be fairly disturbed. Like when he kicks the crap out of Nicole’s friend Gary (Todd Caldecott) for giving her a friendly hug. Or when he purposely injures himself and blames Steven. David continually manipulates Nicole until she finally gets a clue. She dumps him, but he won’t let her go. He even makes a homemade tattoo on his chest proclaiming: NICOLE 4 EVA. It’s fairly ridiculous, but I guess it was supposed to be cool and scary back then.
The overprotective dad
The contentious relationship between Steven & David makes up a large portion of the story too. Steven isn’t fooled by his overly polite façade. Good eye. But even if David wasn’t a bad guy, Steven still would have hated him. He’s extremely protective of Nicole and wants to keep her his little girl. Sweet on one hand, creepy on the other. Throughout the movie he worries about her dresses being too short or that David is too handsy with her. It all comes down to his fear of her losing her virginity. When he discovers that Nicole and David had sex, he freaks out. It’s almost like he’s jealous. For his part, David does anything he can to antagonize Steven. He stares him down, daring him to stop him from screwing his daughter. He even flirts with Laura, so he can really be a dick. Both men want to possess Nicole in their own way and be the alpha male figure in her life. Her narrative almost gets lost as she’s bounced back and forth between these two men.
The best friend
In a thriller, the best girlfriend is the talk-to who helps keep the heroine’s story going. Margo fits the bill here. She’s supportive of Nicole and offers an ear for all of her problems. She even risks her life to save Nicole from being attacked. It’s a wonder she isn’t killed since that’s usually the fate of this character type. Although, I suppose poor Gary, Nicole’s other good friend, being beaten to death by David kinda counts. On the flip side, Nicole is a shitty friend. She sees David forcibly take Margo away to have sex with her, but she’s actually angry with Margo. As if her best friend wanted to sleep with her boyfriend and wasn’t raped. It’s a horrible way to treat someone who has already been traumatized. #JusticeforMargo
The last act is where all the dramatic violent chaos happens. David and his cracked-out friends (how did I miss that he was a crack dealer when I first saw this in 1996?) try to break into Nicole’s house, while Steven and Laura fight them off. The family dog and a security guard are killed, Toby runs over someone, and Nicole is nearly sexually assaulted. In the final moments, Steven saves Nicole by tossing David out of a window. That splat is very satisfying. The ultimate lesson here is if a guy seems too good to be true, he probably is. Even if he’s a hot 90s era Marky Mark.