The Fear of Strangers (in “Fear” and “Greta”)

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If you’re a highly successful horror author loved by millions, it’s good to be aware of the different fears that percolate through the human psyche. Or, if you’re me, an author who’s royalties from today paid for about a third of my cup of coffee (and this is a good day), well, it’s still a good idea. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years thinking about categories of fears. Fear of spiders. Fear of water. Fear of math. That sort of thing.

I recently watched two films that honed in on a particular fear. The first movie was an old Reece Witherspoon/Mark Wahlberg flick from the 90s conveniently titled “Fear”. Reece’s virginal teenager meets hunky Wahlberg, who is, at first, a pensive dreamboat, but slowly turns into a testosterone-fueled demon (not a literal demon, just a real bastard.) It’s ultimately up to Reece’s dad, played by CSI’s William Peterson, to save her.

Last night, I caught “Greta” on MAX. From 2018, the film recounts the story of a twenty-something (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) who befriends an older woman (played by Isabelle Huppert) who turns out to be a complete maniac.

So what’s the fear at play in these films? It’s the fear of strangers, or more particularly, the fear of letting strangers into your life. And this fear gets to a genuine dilemma. At times we all would like to swear off humanity and stay cloistered with friends and family. But strangers have a certain appeal. They’re new, so they promise new experiences, new adventures. They can serve as a way for us to redefine ourselves, to recreate ourselves in the eyes of this new person. (This is particularly appealing for teens who seek to evolve out of their childhood personalities.)

But the lingering fear, explored by these movies, is that this new person may be a deranged lunatic. (And it’s a reasonable one—studies show that 65% of strangers are homicidal maniacs.)

The two movies use different relationship types to explore this theme. Reece’s character is lured into a romantic liaison with Wahlberg, while the protagonist of Greta seeks to replace her recently deceased mother with the older stranger. But in many ways, “Fear” and “Great” are the same film, separated only by a few details of era and plot.

Both movies worked, though, because they were filled with fingernail chewing tension and deft plot development. They got me thinking I’d like to do a story based on this primal fear of the smiling stranger who turns out to be anything but friendly.

What fears get you rattled?

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