"Watch your head." - SOME CANADIAN GUY WEARING A POLICE OFFICER'S COSTUME
With the current state of the economy, it was only a matter of time before Fear Itself got around to addressing the housing crisis, and it did so somewhat obliquely with "Chance," a story about a couple in danger of losing their home when they get three months behind on their rent due to financial mismanagement. Of course, if the episode had aired last summer as originally planned it probably would have seemed a whole lot more timely and maybe even a little prescient. After all, haven't we as a nation been taken for a ride by a crooked antiques dealer (read: the federal government) who got us to sink our life's savings (read: billions of our tax dollars) into a shady deal (read: the Wall Street bailout) involving a rare, 16th-century vase? (Okay, that's where my metaphor breaks down, but you get the point, right?) As it is, "Chance" will have to make do with being slightly behind the curve, but that's not such a terrible place to be. It's better than being behind the eight ball.
Directed by John Dahl, who's better known for neo-noirs like Red Rock West and The Last Seduction and thrillers like Unforgettable and Joy Ride than for his horror work (although he has since helmed episodes of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries), "Chance" was written by Lem Dobbs (whose twisty screenplays for Kafka, Dark City and The Limey often played tricky games with identity) and Rick Dahl (who co-wrote Red Rock West with his brother John and hasn't done a whole lot since). Together they cooked up the story of a 30-something loser named Chance (Ethan Embry) who hopes to get $45,000 out of a shady backroom deal with antiques dealer Vondie Curtis-Hall so he and his infinitely more responsible girlfriend (Christine Chatelain) won't get kicked out of their house. However, when the deal goes south (what a shocker!) Embry gets into a scuffle with Curtis-Hall leaving the older gentleman with a gaping head wound and Embry scrambling to figure out what to do.
That's when his friendly neighborhood doppelgänger (also played by Embry) pops in and offers to help, but at first he tries to cover his tracks himself, even literally sweeping evidence under the rug at one point. Embry won't get off that easy, though, especially once a nosy security guard (Sean Hoy) and Curtis-Hall's glamorous wife (Ellen Ewusie) show up in turn. (One of them even gets offed after taking a long, luxuriant shower. See if you can guess which one.) The trouble is, once Embry starts taking his double's advice there's no telling how far down the dark path he'll go.
The biggest problem with the story of "Chance" is that if one takes it at face value it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. For example, where does Embry's doppelgänger come from? What's the deal with his reflection disappearing whenever he looks in a mirror? And if the smoke alarm in the office of an antiques shop went off, would that really alert the security company? However, if one were to view it as a depiction of a man losing his grip on reality and/or giving in to his darker impulses it plays a whole lot better. Maybe not scarier, which admittedly is the raison d'etre of a show like Fear Itself, but I'll take what I can get.
Oh, Fear Itself, will you ever stop disappointing me? Actually, yes, you will. My math isn't so hot, but I do know that thirteen episodes doesn't equal "infinity" episodes so we're bound to run out of Fear Itself installments to review eventually.
Ugh. This episode, "Chance," just... I don't know. Can you say "sucks" on the Internet without arousing the wrath of the bluebloods? Oh, to hell with the bluebloods: IT SUCKS. There. I have said it.
Honestly, pilgrims, I seriously considered just cut-and-pasting some ASCII art of a hand flipping the bird instead of actually composing my half of this review of "Chance." That's about what this episode deserved - some indignant birdage composed of backslashes and underscores. (I prefer my ASCII art to be "Oldskool" or "Amiga" style, thanks.)
Mr. Clark has already helpfully pointed out some of the episode's many logical shortcomings, which go nicely with its many dramatic and artistic shortcomings. Allow me to add one more: IMAGINARY DOPPELGÄNGERS CAN'T HELP YOU LIFT HEAVY STUFF LIKE DEAD BODIES! This is indisputably true. Imaginary doppelgängers are notoriously crappy at lifting heavy objects. That's why they don't go into the furniture-moving business. Take it from me: the next time you're moving, skip right past the ads in the phone book which say, "All Our Movers Are Imaginary Doppelgängers!" 'Cause let me tell ya, pilgrim, you're going to end up moving that futon all by your lonesome, while the useless imaginary doppelgängers you hired are lounging around, practicing their evil laughs and smirking at your misfortune. In case you were wondering, imaginary doppelgängers are also pretty lousy at cleaning, so don't hire them as maids, janitors, etc. either. Among its various crimes against the audience, "Chance" vastly exaggerates the usefulness of imaginary doppelgängers.
Looking back over what I have just typed, I see that I have been mostly negative in my comments about "Chance." Is there anything positive to say about this episode? Okay, if you watch it on the FEARnet website, like I did, there is a little watermark or "bug" in the lower right-hand corner with the FEARnet logo. So what, you say? Well, this logo's particular shape (splattery) and color (grayish-white) make it look as if someone has either sneezed or, ahem, splooged on the screen. If you're thinking that's not much of a compliment, let me remind you that I am neither Jesus Christ nor Santa Claus.
This one got on my bad side by taking what could have been a hilarious, pitch-black comedy/horror story - antiques deal gone incredibly bad, bodies piling up, not-terribly-helpful doppelgänger hanging around - and turning it into mush. The acting was really sub-par all around, the lead actor does little with a potentially juicy double role, and during the embarrassingly gratuitous "shower" scene, I think I might have actually said the words "oh puh-leeeeze!" aloud. This one was in desperate need of a rewrite. Take the actual antiques deal scene itself. I swear, the actors cycle through essentially the same dialogue three times. I was like, "Asked and answered, Your Honor! Let's move on!"
There is a moment in "Chance" which is rather reminiscent of the movie Blood Simple, but the comparison does "Chance" no favors because it only serves to illustrate how predictable and boring the Fear Itself episode is compared to the ingeniously concocted Coen Brothers film. Imagine if the episode had skipped the godawful, ham-fisted expository scene with the girlfriend whining about the rent money (how trite!) and started in medias res with the dialogue between the buyer and the seller at the antique store. At first, there's no hint that the scene is going to become violent. It's just two guys talking about a vase. The deal starts to go south, harsh words are exchanged, and then WHAM! A sudden, unexpected outbreak of violence leaves the buyer dead. The game is completely changed in five seconds. From there, we play on the wonderfully awful black comedy of the situation which keeps building and building at a nightmarish pace. This guy came to the store to sell a vase, and now he's a murderer. Then people keep showing up to investigate, and he has to murder them, too. Plus, he's in an antique shop full of delicate, valuable items trying desperately not to break anything. It would have been a great twist if the guy were actually an antique lover himself and keenly aware of the value - both historical and financial - of everything in the store. Meanwhile, the poor man's reflection (I never would have made the doppelgänger a physical entity) is giving him cold-blooded, hard-nosed advice from the sidelines, as it were.
Unlike some of the other really bad Fear Itself episodes, "Chance" had a chance to be something extraordinary - a devilish dark comedy which preys on our guiltiest fears. Instead, it's pabulum. Blecch!