August 26, 2019 The Fanatic (Movie Review)
Fred Durst directs movies now. Technically he has been since at least 2007 with The Education of Charlie Banks, and if you counts music videos, then he has been at it since 1999, doing work for Korn, Puddle of Mudd, and of course, his own band Limp Bizkit. However, The Fanatic looks to be his screenwriting debut, having worked alongside Dave Bekerman (The Black Door 2006, Mow Crew 2009) to put his story on paper. Making its theatrical debut on Friday, August 30th before reaching VOD & digital platforms on September 6th, 2019 via Quiver Distribution, the question is whether people should catch it on release or stay home and see how well 1997’s Three Dollar Bill Y’all has aged.
The film is about Moose (John Travolta: Grease 1978, Pulp Fiction 1994), a movie fan obsessed with action hero Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa: Final Destination 2000, Escape Plan 3: The Extractors 2019). When he misses out on the chance to meet him, he gets some help from Leah (Ana Golja: Full Out 2015, Degrassi: Next Class series), a paparazzo with connections. When he finds Dunbar’s home, his stalking gradually grows more serious, until Dunbar finds himself in deep trouble.
The film plays out chronologically, with Golja’s Leah providing post-fact narration over key scenes. Her dour observations on L.A- “the City of Bullshitters”- is rather navel-gazing, though later narrations do hint at the horror to come. For example, she blames herself for what is to come, saying she just wanted to be “a good friend” as she helps Moose sneak into a party. One could say she is an unwitting enabler; doing Moose favours in helping his celeb-chasing habit, while putting too much trust in his lacking self-control.
Travolta’s Moose kind of treads the line between being a recognizable figure and being a caricature. In some scenes, he is the kind of guy that is all too familiar in nerd circles; the socially awkward, scruffy man-child that is too into his hobbies to notice how he appears to others. While in others, it feels like Durst served the scenery up to Travolta on a plate and said “bon appétit.” Particularly in Moose’s scene with Todd (Jacob Grodnik: Dear Dictator 2017, Tiger 2018), a street performer, where Moose is dressed as an old British ‘bobby’ policeman, complete with a Van Dyke-quality accent (“Is dat der Kwain?”)
The character is left in a weird place where one wants to sympathize with him, yet they cannot. Travolta’s performance suggests Moose has a kind of autistic disorder with his lack of social awareness and obsessiveness. This makes him an easy target for bullies like Todd, yet he takes the lesson learned from his experience there to extremes. It is one thing for Todd to pick on him for being different, and another for Dunbar to scold him for stalking his property. Even his friends point out the red flags, but Moose either cannot, or does not want to see them.
The plot and characters provide food for thought- the dangers of obsession and/or untreated mental trouble. The film even maintains its atmosphere, with Moose’s playing around Dunbar’s house shifting into something more menacing with its use of shots, lighting and music. That said, its tension does become pretension at points. Most notably with its illustrations of Moose. They often show events that have already shown in live action, so they do not end up adding anything to the film.
Still, there is quite a bit that makes The Fanatic worth a recommendation. It is menacing, cut and shot rather well, and the acting is pretty good across the board too- even with Travolta’s choice cuts of ham in there. The film even defies the expectation of it being a latter-day version of 1990’s Misery with its own ending twist. The lapses into pretension and cheese keep it from being a future classic. However, it is a solidly effective Thriller that would not hurt to check out. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.