A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fear is a "creepy boyfriend" thriller in the Cape Fear and Fatal Attraction mode, but geared toward teens. It's filled with violence, including fighting, use of weapons, murder, and a severed dog head. Teens are seen kissing and exploring in a sexual way, and eventually having sex. Other sexual situations are not so safe. Language is strong, including several uses of "f--k." One minor character uses crack and a teen girl regularly smokes cigarettes. Teens might be interested in seeing younger versions of actors Mark Wahlberg (then about 25) and Reese Witherspoon (about 20), but the material is probably too strong for any but the most mature teens.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Teen Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) lives with her dad and her stepmom and goes to a normal high school with her friends Margo and Gary. Heading to an sleazy bar for lunch one day, Nicole sees David (Mark Wahlberg). Later, she meets him at a dance club, and they hit it off; he seems gentle and decent, and she begins to fall for him. They kiss and make love, but when David spots Nicole hugging Gary at school, he snaps and begins thrashing on Gary. Nicole tries to dump her new boyfriend, but he's very persistent, and it seems that he has a few dirty tricks up his sleeve. Not to mention that he has a terrifying dark side, and a murderous streak that eventually endangers Nicole and everyone around her.
Is it any good?
Director James Foley gets just below the surface of his two leads and coaxes strong, believable performances from both Wahlberg and Witherspoon. They click onscreen together, and the mounting terror is emotionally believable. William Petersen (later on TV's CSI) is also excellent. Foley had previously made some excellent, stylish films, including After Dark, My Sweet (1990) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and his work with actors is always exemplary.
However, the movie as a whole never really rises above the conventions of this "creepy boyfriend" genre. There was more at stake in earlier examples like Fatal Attraction (1987) and Cape Fear (1962 and 1991), and this one feels too little, too late. It's a little too shallow and mean. Despite the strong performances, it feels made for naïve teens with no prior experience with this cliche of story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's violence. In what scenes is it thrilling and in what scenes is it terrifying? How does the movie accomplish these different moods? What would the movie have been like without the onscreen violence?
Why does Nicole trust David? What message does the movie send about relationships? Does it seem an accurate message?
Is there anything more Nicole's father could have done in this situation? Is there any point at which Nicole would have listened to his advice, or did she need to learn this lesson on her own? How can parents protect their kids while allowing them independence too?
- In theaters: April 12, 1998
- On DVD or streaming: October 27, 1999
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, William L. Petersen
- Director: James Foley
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong graphic violence and terror, sexuality, language and drug use
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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