Dealing with fear? No problem

We all have our personal demons but, let’s face it, it’s an entirely different matter when those fears begin to manifest themselves.

When the escalator finally sucks a victim into the disturbing space between its teeth and the upper floor, when traffic lights begin sending cars the way of slow pedestrians, when you misspell the name of a prominent Canadian director as "George Burns" in a published article previewing his newest film; fear becomes a very tangible commodity.

In the world of A Problem With Fear, fear is not only tangible, it’s big business. While Laurie (Paulo Costanzo) and girlfriend Dot (Emily Hampshire) struggle with their own, often irrational fears, Global Safety launches a new product called "Early Warning 2," which sets a series of terrifying events in motion, paralyzing the city in a "Fear Storm." It’s eerily familiar, especially for those of us with sophisticated, urban sensibilities.

"In the city, you don’t talk to people," explains Hampshire. "You create your own fears here. I’m from a suburb of a suburb but I’ve noticed, ever since I moved to the city, that I’ve just become crazier."

A Problem With Fear has been called the articulation of the phobic 21st century zeitgeist, and given Burns’ love of "anti-narrative narratives," it’s likely the best way of understanding this film. Though there is a semblance of plot, it is loosely organized, often leaving the audience to fill in the narrative blanks. An entire subplot surrounding Laurie’s sister, an employee in the malevolent Global Safety corporation, remains undeveloped until the very end, serving only to remind us that fear is often motivated by the pursuit of, among other things, cash.

Fear is the central theme here, with a surreal world complete with random, public nudity and muted, primary colours set primarily in the claustrophobic world of the city, including more than a few familiar Calgary malls. Familiarity is pursued over story, creating more of a familiarity with fear than a traditional tale. Characters like Dot, for instance, serve only to remind us of the fears that rule our own lives.

"I don’t want people to like Dot at the beginning," explains Hampshire. "I’d like to think she holds appeal, after all, the bad parts of her are nice to see. She’s afraid that people will think she’s a snob, and so everything she hears is passed through this selfish filter. I think that’s something we all do."

While it’s unlikely any of us will find ourselves with broken necks as a result of dangerous escalators, A Problem With Fear will certainly strike a chord with those of us who have given into fear. Damn you CNN and your ’round-the-clock coverage.

A Problem With Fear is playing at the Globe Theatre.

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