Fear Itself: S1E03 “Family Man”

Note: The Roku Channel says it has the entirety of Fear Itself to watch online. However, episodes are swapped in the program order and at least one episode is missing. Family Man is that missing episode. is listed under E7: Community.

Fear Itself is the spiritual successor of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. Lionsgate stepped in to finance a new series when Showtime was no longer willing to fund the show on its own. The new series aired on NBC for one season, which created a format shift. The short films were now 45 minutes long and broken up by commercial breaks that felt a lot different than uninterrupted hour long horror films.

Family Man is a body swapping horror film. Dennis, a loving father and husband, is brought into the emergency room after a car accident. A serial killer know as the “Family Man” is brought into the same hospital after being apprehended by the police. Somehow, they swap bodies. Dennis cannot convince anyone that he is not actually the serial killer, and the Family Man cannot handle just being a normal member of society.

Ronny Yu is the director I know the least about in the Masters of Horror/Fear Itself series. He is a prolific action/horror director from Hong Kong. He’s best known in the United States for directing Bride of Chucky and Freddy vs Jason, though those are only a small part of his resume. Most of his work seems to fit into that in-between space of horror/thriller/crime films that so many of the directors in this series worked in.

Family Man is the first genuinely scary episode of the series. There’s a particular style of horror at play here that can be very hit or miss. This episode throws everything at the screen to see what sticks. There are religious elements, surgical horror, a sequence with the characters as ghosts able to travel unseen while the world is frozen in time, and crime/thriller elements. Horror is a genre that thrives on excess when it manages to be tonally consistent.

The body swapping horror is nothing new, especially in anthology horror series. Yu breathes some new life into it with some great style elements. There’s this particular style of slightly frenetic editing that peaked in mid-00s horror. Think the Saw series, with its constantly shifting reaction shots to the reveal of the games and panning shots to show what the new environment looks like. Family Man uses it sparingly to amp up the tension while showing how hopelessly trapped Dennis is in his new life as the Family Man.

Colin Ferguson and Clifton Collins, Jr. do double duty as as Dennis and the Family Man. Ferguson gets to open up the episode as the kind and compassionate father who gets into a car accident. His first interaction with Collins’ the Family Man is terrifying. When Dennis comes to, he is now a very confused Collins discovering he’s somehow in the body of the Family Man. Meanwhile, the actual Family Man has a perfect escape with his new life as Dennis, now Ferguson, but cannot hide his aggressive nature that pushes him to react with violence to every provocation. Both actors feel appropriately kind and cruel in their interactions. The audience never doubts who is who, but no one else in the story can begin to comprehend or accept what is actually happening.

This is just a well planned episode in the format of this series. The opening scene is a little bit longer than the other episodes of Fear Itself so far, setting up a high stakes situation in a hospital with a lot of slick editing and big performances. Then, it gives you one more twist of the knife after the credits to keep you invested. It scales back until the climax sequence. It’s clearly a horror film in its first moments, then switches to the kind of performance-driven suspense that defines the American horror anthology series.  

***

content warning: gore, surgical footage, police brutality, violence against women


Up Next: S1E04: “In Sickness and in Health” from director John Landis. If you want to watch along, it is mislabeled as “The Sacrifice” on Roku.