Fear Itself 3 Review - Family Man

This is a review of "Fear Itself" Episode #3
Titled "Family Man", directed by Ronnie Yu.

In this episode, a man with a loving family and a horrific serial killer both die and end up at the hospital at the same time. After having a very "J-Horror" moment together, the two men wake up only to find out that their souls have switched places. Oh my! What kind of shenanigans could arise from this?

The answer, apparently, is not much. I've decided to sort of take a more laid back approach to this series, especially after getting so worked up the first two weeks. So this week I cracked open a few beers, tied on a little buzz, and decided to just let it wash over me.

Unfortunately, the first 55 minutes of this episode were boring as all hell. We go back and forth between the two men dealing with their new lives. The "Family Guy" if you will, is now stuck in prison and trying to convince his lawyer that he's not the murderer he looks like. The murderer, on the other hand, is actually really warming up to his new lease on life. The only interesting aspect of this episode to me, were the moments where the murderer looked as if he was losing grip with his new family. It was like this amazing thing that he embraces, but he's never known normalcy so it becomes obvious really quickly that he's not equipped for that type of life. The only thing I enjoyed in this portion was the creepy "bee girl" scene. That was good stuff.

Anyhoo, there's a giant "twisteroo" at the end, that for me was the only thing in the entire episode to rise above mind numbingly boring. It was a nice horror movie downer ending, and to me was pretty sweet. The problem is, I didn't care about either character. For me, it was way too little way too late to save the episode. Out of the three that have aired so far, this one is my least favorite, and that includes the corny goth vampire story from the first week.

Can you believe it? Only somebody like John Woo could think to bring two big guns together in one epic movie; John Travolta and Nicholas Cage! The twists and turns as Cage and Travolta trade wits, and faces as their typical good cop/bad cop takes a turn for the bizarre!

Oh shit, sorry I got confused.

There's a disturbing trend coming to light here in NBC's "Fear Itself" anthology; out of three episodes, two seem an awful lot like reheated re-hashes of feature films and one has a movie monster that's been over done so many times it's near impossible to bring something new to it. This week's episode, "The Family Man" seems like the boring and nerdy step brother of "Face/Off" as good guy and bad guy swap roles and tease each other about it. Except a lot more boring.

We get some solid story telling elements to start off the episode. They set up good guy's characterization well enough in a short amount of time; the opening sequence tells us everything we need to know about this guy in an economical way. We even get a decent back story on bad guy as well with small info dumps from the police and lawyer throughout. The problem was, it was boring as hell. While the idea of another man taking of your body and your life is indeed pretty frightening, Mr. Bad Guy just didn't seem to do a whole lot with his new found self. He teases his alter ego behind bars insesantly which is understandable, but there was so much more they could have done with the hour. To be honest, I'd rather sit through another showing of Judge Reinhold's "Vice Versa" and it's zany 80's shenanigans than sit through this again. Another issue and what could have been the greatest fault for me, is the lack of performance in our two main actors. Normally in body swap movies we get two distinct characters out of each actor. In "The Family Man", we get two actors playing the same characters, they just become a bit more emotional after the first commercial break.

For me, this has been the most dissapointing episode of "Fear Itself" yet. On the bright side, it can only get better. (Knock on wood). On the downside, after three episodes it is now apparant that each episode of this season will finish with a Shyamalan style tweest, only on a smaller scale. They haven't missed one yet!

I was with "The Family Man" through 42 or its 43 minutes, I really was. Sure, the set up was pretty bush-league ("What if we did 'Freaky Friday,' but, you know, EVIL!?"), but it did create an atmosphere of real tension. The scene where the killer-turned-family-man flips out on the wife and kids bordered on terrifying for me. There was real vulnerability in that situation. And the desperation of the family-man-turned-killer also lent itself to some interesting scenarios. I also enjoyed the acting of the two leading men. But the creative team behind this episode left us with a real slap in the face, and it was honestly unacceptable.

In horror, it's fine when really fucked up stuff happens to nice people, as long as we get one good person to latch onto and identify with. In slashers, we call this person the "final girl," and picking her (or occasionally him) out at a film's beginning is one of the joys of truly understanding the genre. The survivor typically takes on great significance, and their behavior speaks volumes about what the film "means." Now, that being said, the conventions of horror do not function properly when a narrative lacks that ideological anchor to which a viewer can attach himself. When every character sufferers a horrible end, viewers typically react negatively, and with good reason. Genre movies (or in this case, TV shows) are vehicles for genre pleasure, and to get that pleasure, filmmakers have to follow the rules. "The Family Man" transgresses in perhaps the most heinous fashion: setting us up with a character to route for, seemingly allowing him to succeed, only to punish him for absolutely no reason at all.

(Long-ish aside: I do realize that much of modern horror, maybe even a majority of modern horror, is actually built around the idea of subverting genre pleasure, or at the very least subverting genre conventions and changing our experience of that pleasure. Think of films like "Inside," "The Strangers," or "Hostel II." All to some extent deny or toy with our expectations of genre pleasure, thereby mutating our horror experience. For right now, let's just all agree that "The Family Man," if it was trying to do this, did such a poor job that it shouldn't be given the benefit of the doubt.)

Maybe I'm overreacting here, but I truly found "The Family Man" disturbing, and not in any of the ways that the filmmakers intended it to be. Their ending was a cheap "shock," which really wasn't all that shocking unless you consider the shock that they would actually go where they did. Up until that final scene, I found this episode to be relatively enjoyable, even if it was a little on the slow side. The success or failure of this episode just relied so much on a sensibleconclusion, and this time, we didn't get it.

Feel free to tell us what you thought in the comments!

Eric N

Co-Founder / Editor-in-Chief / Podcast Host

Eric is the mad scientist behind the BGH podcast. He enjoys retro games, tiny dogs, eating fiber and anything whimsical.