Directed by
Alex Winter

Review by Matt Zoller Seitz

Fans of movie-movies will enjoy Fever, a lean and absorbing thriller from writer-director Alex Winter. If his name is familiar, it’s probably because he was Bill
 in the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure movies. That’s too bad, because he’s also an audacious and intriguing filmmaker; his last feature, Freaked–a fantasy about a South American genetic mutant freak show, co-directed with Tom Stern–was one of the stupidest and funniest comedies of the 90s. (Bob Goldthwait provides the voice of a human sock puppet; if that doesn’t make you want to rent it, then you definitely don’t want to rent it.)

His latest, about a disturbed young painter (Henry Thomas) who fears his tenement apartment building may house a murderer, is much darker and more serious, yet unmistakably pop. The deep-green and dark gray color scheme suggests a Franz Kafka story illustrated by Edward Hopper; but the story line fits squarely into the proud tradition of "Is the hero crazy or isn’t he?" movies.

As with Panic, another fine, small movie, you don’t go to Fever hoping to see big
production values; you go to see a superficially familiar story told in an unexpected, sometimes very successful way–and to see talented actors stretch themselves. Thomas is one of them. As Nick the painter, the emotionally damaged son of a rich Brooklyn Heights family, he seems too young somehow, even though he’s just about the right age. Yet his unaffected performance, showcased in nearly every scene, grounds this highly stylized movie in psychological reality. He truly does seem like a man who could be losing his mind without knowing it. He gets fine backup from Bill Duke as a detective investigating the murder of Nick’s landlord, Teri Hatcher as Nick’s gallery owner sister and Scottish actor David O’Hara as a nihilist dockhand neighbor who lives beneath the authorities’ radar.

The film is ultimately too emotionally slight to support the arsenal of technical devices laid on top of it, but as a virtuoso display of how big ambitions can be realized on a tiny budget, Fever is damned hard to beat. Joe DeSalvo’s photography, Mark Ricker’s production design, Azan Kung’s costumes and Coll Anderson’s sound effects work in eerily perfect accord, creating a world that seems to be breaking down in fear, paranoia and disgust as we watch. It was said of Kafka that only a man who lived in apartments his whole life could have written stories so uniquely disturbing. Winter has clearly done his share of renting.