Fever (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

This movie was written and directed by Alex Winter, who is best known to you as "Bill," the member of Bill and Ted who was not Keanu Reeves, but it certainly isn't what you expect from Bill S Preston. It is neither a stoner comedy nor a screwball teenploitation film, but a very serious movie which combines elements of the murder mystery and the psychological thriller.

Nick Parker is a struggling artist who doesn't much care for his life. He lives in a slum tenement, in which the landlord and landlady feel free to make themselves at home in his room. They enter without knocking. The landlord also has a cavalier response to any requests for service, all of which is understandable since Nick appears to be far behind in his rent.

The landlord is killed one night.

The mystery boils down to this: was the murder committed by someone else, or by Nick? You see, he knows of his own psychological problems, to the point where he ties himself to the bed at night to prevent himself from hurting someone in his sleepwalking trances. This all seems to stem from some unpleasantness with his parents when he was a little boy, but the details of the childhood trauma are revealed slowly, and even when we see the incidents, we cannot be sure that they are real because, in addition to all his other problems, Nick suffers from hallucinations. He suffers from delusions about the present, about the past, and about what happens at night. He is not sure what is real and what is a hallucination. Because of that mental condition, Nick not only doesn't know whether he is a suspect, he doesn't even know whether he should be.

Nor do we. 

There are some other suspects including a drifter in an abandoned apartment. Nobody loved the obnoxious landlord to begin with. Perhaps there is a different killer and Nick's hallucinations have nothing to do with the crime. Or maybe they do. That's the hook of the movie.

The film is cleverly crafted, eerily beautiful, and interestingly photographed. It maintains a spooky atmosphere as Nick's mental state deteriorates, and we share some of his POV as he wanders through his urban hell. We see things as he sees them. Does the detective view him as a suspect or a witness? When the cop says "be thankful that you have someone to care for you, while it lasts, is he being solicitous for a sick man blessed by a caring family while he's still young, or is the policeman suggesting that he'll soon put Nick away? 

Unfortunately, although I was impressed with many elements of this film, there were two major drawbacks for me:

1. Man, is the pace slow. The exposition tries to draw a balance between plot advancement and a portrayal of Nick's descent into madness. That's a tough balance to strike, because the plot needs to move forward, but the psychological study wants to be slow and creepy. Atmosphere and mood are difficult things to master, and this film does manage to use details and suggestion to generate some claustrophobic, creepy background. The camera set-ups are imaginative and artistic, helping to portray Nick's madness. Ultimately, the film was just a portrayal of Nick's madness, not a murder mystery, and that made its pace a mite languid for mainstream viewers. For me as well. I watched it with some other people, and we all kept shouting, "c'mon get on with it" at the set.

(My daughter said the movie was so bad that I shouldn't even dignify it with comments, but she's 15, and not likely to praise a movie that favors style over content and presents a thoughtful study of madness rather than non-stop entertainment. On the other hand, her perspective will tell you that the film won't appeal to viewers who like a tidy resolution to a fast-paced plot.)

2. When the resolution finally arrives, you still don't know exactly what happened. I think I know, but even the final details were revealed in Nick's POV, so that I still am not sure what happened for real and what he hallucinated. The final scene is unsatisfying, since the plot includes a lot of confusion and misdirection, and the ending doesn't really offer clarification.

Apollo, The NY Times, The Village Voice, and several IMDb members praised the film, and not without justification. I didn't fully agree with the rave reviews, but I can see where they are coming from, and I think this director shows a lot of potential. I sure hope he speeds up the action in the next one, however, and replaces some of the style with substance. 


DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1. A good transfer

  • Full-length director/writer commentary (he's joined by the editor)

  • several interviews with the director and cast ,members



Marisol Padilla Sanchez did a full frontal as an artists' model.

Tuna's notes

Fever (1999) is a modern psychological thriller with the mood of a noir film. The story centers around Henry Thomas, starving artist and adult-ed art teacher, who lives in a dump of an apartment building in New York. When he finds that his landlord has been brutally murdered during the night, he is not completely sure he didn't do it while sleepwalking. As more murders are committed, he increasingly loses his grip on reality. We see the world through his point of view, which is very claustrophobic, and frequently muddled and confused.

It was written and directed by Alex Winter (Bill of Bill and Ted), who succeeded, in my opinion. Maybe it was my mood, but I was totally caught up in the story, and trying right along with the character to figure out exactly what was going on. After all my commitment to the story, however, I found the ambiguous ending a little disappointing.

The Critics Vote

  • Apollo 80/100!

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.3, although the comments were quite good.
  • With their dollars ... it was generally unmarketed. Although made for six million dollars, and receiving favorable reviews from the Times and the Village Voice when it opened in one New York theater, it never expanded beyond that theater. Total gross was $4,000.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C (both reviewers). Solid atmosphere and mood, but slow pacing and unsatisfying ending. Lots of talent displayed by the writer/director. Perhaps the next one will be his breakthrough.

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