Fear (1996 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Foley
Produced by Brian Grazer
Written by Christopher Crowe
Starring Mark Wahlberg
Reese Witherspoon
William Petersen
Alyssa Milano
Amy Brenneman
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Thomas Kloss
Edited by David Brenner
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • April 12, 1996 (1996-04-12)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million
Box office $20,831,000

Fear is a 1996 American psychological thriller film directed by James Foley (who co-scripted without credit) and written by Christopher Crowe. It was originally titled No Fear, without bearing any connection to the same-named line of sporting apparel. It stars Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, William Petersen, Alyssa Milano and Amy Brenneman. Described by producer Brian Grazer as "Fatal Attraction for teens"[citation needed], the film is an "intimacy thriller", a film subgenre which became highly successful in the 1990s. It revolves around an upper-middle class Seattle family whose seemingly perfect, yet humdrum existence is threatened, when their teenage daughter begins dating an attractive and mysterious young man, much to her father's chagrin.

Although Fear was largely derided by critics upon its theatrical release, it became a marginal sleeper hit in the spring of 1996, grossing $20 million at the U.S. box office. It has since developed a reputation as 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 film's premiere. Wahlberg was nominated for the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain.[1][2]


Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon) is a fairly innocent teenager with a rebellious streak who is sent out from her mother's house. She lives in the suburbs of Seattle with her well-meaning but overbearing father Steven (William Petersen) and his new family: second wife, Laura (Amy Brenneman) and her son Toby (Christopher Gray) from her first marriage. At a rave with best friend Margo Masse (Alyssa Milano), Nicole meets David McCall (Mark Wahlberg), who is part of the same group of friends with Margo. Though he has borderline personality disorder and antisocial features, she is swept off her feet by his sweet, polite nature. When Steven meets David, he mistrusts him and does not believe in him when Nicole violates her curfews to spend more time with David. Eventually, while Steven and Laura are on a business trip, Nicole and David sleep together at her home, disobeying the house rule about unsupervised guests. One day, David scares Nicole by assaulting her friend Gary Rohmer (Todd Caldecott) upon seeing them hug each other. He shoves Nicole to the ground when she tries to stop him, giving her a black eye. Nicole ends things with David, leaving him crushed, but her father's now-intense opposition to David paradoxically drives her to accept David's apologies. Steven suspiciously checks into David's background and learns that David spent his early life with various foster families, until getting arrested or institutionalized. When David turned 18, he was released from foster care.

Steven confronts David on a street corner and tells him to leave Nicole alone. However, David spins the encounter against Steven, making it look like Steven punched him, gaining the sympathy of Nicole who is driven further away from her father and deeper into David's arms. One evening, Nicole is invited by David to a party at his friend Logan (Tracy Fraim)'s house. She declines at first but, after a fight with her dad, reconsiders and drives over alone to surprise David. Looking in through a window, Nicole witnesses Margo smoking crack and having sex with Logan, only to be interrupted by David who takes Margo for himself. Nicole swears off David for good and leaves without anyone noticing her, then goes home and makes peace with Steven. The next day at school, David tries to surprise Nicole, only to be pushed away by her, and also by Gary. Nicole also ends her friendship with Margo, despite Margo saying that David took advantage of her while she was high against her will and her pleas for forgiveness. When David finds out why Nicole dumped him, he violently threatens Margo, unless she patches things up between him and Nicole. David becomes obsessed with Nicole, tattooing his own chest with the words "Nicole 4 Eva". He sees her hugging Gary again and gets furious. Nicole goes with Toby and Laura to the mall; they invite Gary along, but he has to get home. As Gary walks alone through the woods, David kills him by breaking his neck. David then vandalizes Steven's prized Mustang and leaves a taunting note: "Now I've popped both your cherries!". He then heads to the mall, where he harasses Nicole further, insisting that everybody is jealous of the love they had. Meanwhile, Steven breaks into David's house and finds an obscene shrine that David has built for Nicole, along with a box containing: a vandalized bracelet, which read "Daddy's Girl" but has been changed to "David's Girl"; a pair of Nicole's underwear; a defaced family photo, which finds Steven's head replaced with David's, and other objects. Steven angrily trashes the house. David returns home and promptly concludes that Steven has been there. He determines 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 goes to Nicole's house and informs the Walkers that David has killed Gary.

David and his gang behead Kaiser (Banner), the Walkers' German Shepherd. When Hacker tries breaking into the kitchen with an axe, Laura injures his hand with a drill. Knobby escorts Hacker to a hospital. Terry attempts to get inside from upstairs, but is thwarted by an umbrella-wielding Nicole. She then signals Larry O'Brien, the Walkers' private security guard, by flashing "SOS" with the light in her room. Larry arrives to confront David and Logan, and Steven comes outside to do the same. Terry shoots Larry dead from behind. The trio pummel Steven and take him hostage, then force their way into the house after taking Larry's handcuffs and pistol. They cuff Steven and Laura, taping their mouths shut. When Logan forces himself onto Nicole, Margo intervenes and is coldcocked. Toby escapes through another window, getting to Laura's SUV and using her car phone to dial 9-1-1, since David's gang cut the phone lines to the house. Toby has to start the engine to make the phone work; Terry notices this and shoots out the windshield, just missing Toby, who runs Terry down with the SUV. David brings a bound and gagged Steven into Nicole's room, so he can "give away" his daughter. He shoots Logan dead for trying to rape Nicole. Toby sees his mother's signal that she is handcuffed, retrieves the keys from the dead security guard, and frees both his parents. David gently tells Nicole, "It has to be this way", and asks her if she wants to go with him. However, Nicole agrees to it and pretends to reciprocate David's affection. Steven rushes David, but he hits him across the head with his pistol. Just as he is about to execute Steven with the gun, Nicole stabs David in the back with a "peace pipe" letter opener (which David himself won for Nicole at a carnival on one of their dates). David gets up and lumbers toward Nicole who stands ready for him despite being unsure of what he intends to do with her, but Steven gets up and pounces to disarm David from behind. Both men fight murderously until Steven tosses David through Nicole's bedroom window to his death on the rocks below. Margo and the Walkers share a group hug, and the police and EMTs have arrived by the morning.



The film's production history can be traced back to 1993, when the working draft of the script was titled No Fear. In No Fear, Toby's original name was Teddy, Laura's original name was Lisa. There were opening scenes that showed Nicole's mother Melissa. David McNeil (instead of McCall like in the finished film) went to Nicole's school, even though he wasn't the same age as them. The script went into more detail about David and his gang: Logan, Hacker, Terry, and Knobby. And also the setting wasn't in Seattle, Washington. The setting in No Fear was originally Palos Verdes, California. This is not a remake of the 1917, 1946, 1965 or 1990 films of the same name. Reese Witherspoon replaced Liv Tyler for the role of Nicole Walker. The film went into production from the fall of 1995 to early 1996 and, although set in Seattle, was mostly filmed in Vancouver, Canada


The film received mixed reviews from critics, holding a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews.[3]

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."[4] 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".[5]

Fear opened at #4, with $6,312,240 in its opening weekend, recouping 97% of its budget (4/12-14). By the end of its run, the film earned $20,831,000 domestically.[6] The film was perceived as a moderate success, since its gross tripled its budget and was placed as #19 on Bravo TV's "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments".

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]

Songs used in the film[edit]

  1. "Jessica" – The Allman Brothers Band (played in Steve's car while he is chatting with Nicole about an upcoming James Taylor concert)
  2. "Green Mind" – Dink (contains samples from "Friendly Fascism"; played at the rave where David hooks up with Nicole, and also used in the film's theatrical trailer)
  3. "Comedown" – Bush (played over montage of David picking Nicole up from school to play billiards and go on a subsequent date)
  4. "Wild Horses" – The Sundays (played over the rollercoaster ride scene, and also used in the film's theatrical trailer)
  5. "Machinehead" – Bush (played over montage of David wondering how he is going to make peace with Nicole, after she dumps him for beating up Gary)
  6. "Something's Always Wrong" – Toad the Wet Sprocket
  7. "Animal" – Prick (played at David's party where Nicole secretly observes him cheating on her with Margo)
  8. "Stars and Stripes Forever" – C.H.S. Municipal Band
  9. "The Illist" – Marky Mark (written by Mark Wahlberg, Fabian Cooke; played in the bar when David gets stood up by Nicole, due to him beating up Gary)
  10. "Irie Vibe" – One Love (written by Mark Wahlberg, Fabian Cooke; played at the pool hall where David and Nicole first encounter each other)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mark Wahlberg movies, ranked from worst to best". Boston.com. Retrieved July 6, 2015. 
  2. ^ Vena, Jocelyn (December 29, 2010). "ReeseWitherspoon's Love Life: From Ryan Phillippe To Jim Toth". MTV. Retrieved February 1, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Fear Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 12, 2010. 
  4. ^ Nick LaSalle, "Chilling 'Fear' finds its Mark, Wahlberg stars in lustful teen thriller." San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 12, 1996. http://www.sfgate.com/movies/article/Chilling-Fear-Finds-Its-Mark-Wahlberg-stars-2986174.php
  5. ^ "Movie Review: Fear". Entertainment Weekly. September 7, 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Fear (1996) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  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. 

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