The first official review of 2023 is going to be perhaps the easiest watch of 2023. Coming in barely over 70 minutes is The Horror Collective’s newest feature, Bring Out the Fear. The movie continues a long line of tight nightmarish films from the upstart production company whose track record is close to impeccable. Bring Out the Fear blends elements of The Blair Witch with The Ritual’s claustrophobic setting. The result is a treatise on what it is to be trapped. Trapped in a job. Trapped in a setting. Trapped in a cycle of addiction. Most prominently, trapped in a relationship.
Bring Out the Fear follows a couple who is struggling to fix their doomed relationship and is lost in a dangerous forest that refuses to let them escape. This festival darling will leave you questioning what is real and what is malicious trickery until the very last frame. That final frame will be as controversial as it is confusing.
The bulk of the film effectively utilizes the forest as a setting that is as wild as the relationship that Rosie (Ciara Bailey) and Dan (Tad Morari) attempt to reconcile. The movie effectively introduces Rosie as an alcoholic in recovery. The alcoholism seems to have been a catalyst for their relationship issues, as Rosie cheated on Dan while she was under the influence. The hiking trip is meant to be a nice relaxing way to evaluate the relationship, which Dan desperately wants to move to the next level.
The real horror begins as the couple gets lost, only to realize that their compass, phones, and watches no longer seem to be working. The problems appear to be time and space itself as a monster with a wooden face and hands starts to stalk them. The creature design is one of the real standouts as the reveals come in short choppy bursts that seem to only add to the woodsman slash Pinnochio aesthetic that brings out the weirdness of the film. Each time one of our characters closes their eyes, the woods somehow warp their realities to force them apart.
As the characters eventually and inevitably move away from one another, the film pivots to spotlight how toxic relationships can feel equally claustrophobic. Dan does not appear to be a bad guy, and I am not entirely convinced the film wants us to believe that he is. Rather writer/director Richard Waters wants us to interrogate the damage created when people want different things out of their relationships and do not communicate them effectively. More than the communication, the film’s horror comes from the power imbalance that inevitably happens when one person refuses to view the other as a fully autonomous human being.
The film’s end offers a climax that is equal parts harrowing and terrifying as the wooden scarecrow starts to take over their realities. The end of the film feels a bit rushed, and while I tend to like ambiguous endings, there are too many other head fakes and red herrings for me to be fully satisfied with an end that may or may not offer an actual denouement. I left the movie without knowing what happened but in a cold sweat. Perhaps that’s the point. Relationships are scary, and any attempt to understand them comes at our own peril. Either way, I left looking at my wedding ring in a completely different light.
Bring out the Fear opens today, and you can find it streaming on a number of different platforms. It is a quick watch that will open your 2023 on the right foot. If nothing else, it will scare you out of your new year hiking resolution very quickly. You can find all the release details on the official Bring Out the Fear website. It comes out today.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.