Fear Itself: S1E10 “Chance”

In 2007, NBC aired the front half of an anthology horror series called Fear Itself. The series is the unofficial third season of Showtime’s Masters of Horror. Showtime did not want to fund a third season of the show, so Lionsgate stepped in with the budget and helped ink a deal to bring the show to network TV. The final five episodes of Fear Itself never aired on US television. The rest of the series was placed on the NBC website and a DVD release.

Chance goes for one big score to pay off his massive debt. He tries to sell off an unusual antique vase to cover the scheme, putting him in the crosshairs of some supernatural occurrences. His own reflection has a life of its own, a doppelganger bringing chaos to every moment of his life.

Chance is upsetting in the way only great crime thrillers can be. Chance is desperate. His future depends on what he was told about the value of a vase. When that falls through, he’s willing to do anything to make his life finally turn around. We’re following the origins of a tragic villain as he tries to set his life right for the people around him.

John Dahl fits a certain type of director in the Masters of Horror/Fear Itself series. He is one of a handful of directors who made a name for himself creating thriller films that occasionally crossed over into horror. I know him from 2001’s Joy Ride, though he made a name for himself in the late 80s and early 90s for neo-Noir thrillers like Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, and The Last Seduction. His world is filled with fully realized characters who are allowed to be awful. He now mostly works in television, directing episodes of shows like The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, and The Strain.

There is a distinction between a thriller and a horror. It’s a fine line, sure, and both genres often crossover into each other. Thrillers are suspenseful, exciting, and unpredictable. Horrors are suspenseful, scary, and unpredictable. The ultimate goal of a thriller is to keep you guessing what’s going to happen until the very end; the ultimate goal of a horror film is to make you dread what’s going to happen until the very end.

Chance hinges on Ethan Embry’s performance as the two versions of Chance. The main version of Chance is a man pushed to his limits. He’s anxious. Nothing is going right. His girlfriend reminds him that the rent is due or they will be evicted. He shows up to the antique store before his set appointment time and the owner has already closed up shop. Even his sure-thing of a sale goes wrong because the antique dealer gave him faulty information. Something snaps and he makes a choice that changes his life forever.

Chance’s reflection, his doppelganger, looks exactly and nothing like him. He seems more confident. His hair is styled and his clothes fit better. There is no fear in his eyes. This Chance has never struggled in his life for anything. He even taunts the real Chance, watching him make mistake after mistake and calling him “pathetic.” It’s a great duality of character that shines once the two Chances finally agree to work together.

Chance works as a short thriller. There’s a great story here. It’s not as successful as a horror film. This isn’t a scary story, which misses the mark for a horror anthology series.

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content warning: gore, violence against women


Up next: Fear Itself: S1E11 “The Spirit Box” from director Rob Schmidt.