Fear Itself Review: Episode 1.3 ‘The Family Man’

Two weeks ago NBC kicked off it’s horror anthology Fear Itself to pretty good ratings, and now the show will continue this Thursday with “Family Man”, which was directed by Ronny Yu (“Freddy vs. Jason,” “Bride of Chucky”) and is written by Dan Knauf (“Carnivàle,” “Supernatural”). This action-charged, psychological thriller focuses on a likeable family man who switches bodies with a serial killer after a near-death experience. Now, he must fight from behind bars to keep the murderer from adding his family to the long list of victims. Click here to write your own reviews or read on for Tex’s thoughts on Anderson’s episode.

The Family Man (Fear Itself Episode 1.3)

Any of you who have ever seen the HBO series CARNIVÀLE know the David Lynch world manufactured by creator Daniel Knauf was probably one of the best-scripted series on television. Naturally it was cancelled after two seasons. What I’m overwhelmingly hearing from genre fans is that they feel like the scripting in FEAR ITSELF has been unsophisticated so far. Not taking enough time to really create stories–stories with meaning, stories that rivaled the old TWILIGHT ZONE and TALES FROM THE CRYPT episodes, stories that drag us kicking and screaming toward the conclusion and then ripping the rug right out from under our feet at the last possible second. So, I ask, can pairing a genre director like Ronny Yu (FREDDY VS. JASON) with a visionary scribe like Daniel Knauf provide the kind of whole package horror concept that we’re looking for?

THE FAMILY MAN is the first episode of FEAR ITSELF that approximates the kind of vibe that the old horror anthologies provided in spades. It’s an everyman situation with a supernatural spin. Dennis Mahoney (Colin Ferguson) is a banker with a beautiful wife and two small children. He works hard to provide for them and even makes the family’s secret recipe pancakes for church socials. When Dennis is involved in a horrific car crash he wakes up in the hospital, seemingly dead and being lead about by Richard Brautigan (Clifton Collins Jr.), a serial killer that has just been gunned down by police. When Dennis wakes up after surgery–miraculously alive–he discovers that he is somehow trapped in Brautigan’s body. What’s worse, Brautigan is now Dennis and is headed home to his wife and kids.

It would be easy to nit pick some of the lapses in logic that THE FAMILY MAN offers up as plot points. First, Mahoney keeps telling his lawyers and his jailers that he is not Brautigan. Second, Brautigan keeps visiting Mahoney behind bars to find out how to fit into his new life. It seems to occur to neither that jails keep records of visitors. Brautigan is a maniac who has slaughtered dozens of families and yet, in his frequent visits; he speaks to settling down and raising the kids. He could be doing this to get Mahoney to cooperate but at home he attempts to raise no suspicions either. Also, logic would dictate that a serial killer who just got shot all to hell, would get outta Dodge pretty quickly when he realized he had a new face and a new chance to kill again. Then again, maybe he stays so as to not raise suspicion since the guy locked in the cell keeps claiming innocence. It’s questions like these that a feature film could answer but an hour-long television show just can’t manage.

Knauf’s script is hoping that you are a smart audience, especially as the episode reaches its climax. It’s not going to hand feed you every piece of the puzzle because with commercials this story has to end in about 48-minutes. Because of this, the set up to the ending comes a bit too swiftly and demands our belief that Mahoney’s character knows what he is doing so that he winds up in the same place (outside the prison walls) with Brautigan. Still, for the minor plot contrivances and logistical improbabilities–and really…this is a film about conscience transference so it’s safe to say we’ve left suspended disbelief a long time ago–THE FAMILY MAN is thus far the best episode of FEAR ITSELF yet, with the kind of ending that made so many of those old series so memorable.

In essence, THE FAMILY MAN is just a plain old drama. The blood is minimal, the violence is limited, and nothing is spooky or ookie. It’s just the plight of one man, desperate to save his family and himself. It takes place in a handful of locations and the suspense is not terribly foreboding but in the end the episode is engrossing and the finale disturbingly satisfying. If nothing else, THE FAMILY MAN illustrates that FEAR ITSELF is not trying to be the edgiest series on network television. But this episode shows that it can sate horror fans appetites with some solid genre writing in lieu of a busload of body bags and buckets of blood.

8/10 or 4 Skulls