If there was ever a film that dove deep into the nebulous trenches of uberfandom, Fred Durst’s third feature film, The Fanatic, certainly achieves its goal. From the outset, the film challenges viewers on what it means to gauge the subject matter, through the perspective of the often overlooked, downtrodden and mentally ill, principally in the city of Los Angeles, or as Leah (Ana Golja) calls it, “the city of bullshitters” where “everything breaks down eventually”.
It’s Leah’s voice narration that introduces the role of Moose (John Travolta), an unyielding, socially-awkward street performer who lives alone, rides a moped, and is the latest target for bullying by pickpocketing street performer Todd (Jacob Grodnik). For his hobby of collecting autographs and rare memorabilia, Moose routinely relies on favors from Leah, a paparazzi photographer who does her best to help keep Moose on the straight and narrow whilst helping nuture his fandom, and the two soon find themselves in the thick of it when Moose sets out obtain an autograph from his favorite action/horror star, Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa).
After losing out one evening, Moose eagerly manages to make it to friend’s comic book store in time to get Dunbar’s autograph, only to get jilted upon skipping the line, after a visibly exasperated Dunbar loses his patience and leaves. The incident sets off a dangerous chain of events for Moose, unfettered by his own innocent, child-like psychosis, as his pursuit dissolves into something much more deceptive and deadly, with Dunbar fearing for his life and his family.
Durst and co-writer Dave Bekerman craft a grim, often chilling tale in The Fanatic, host to a stark dichotomy, and haunting complexity in its nuances and characterizarions. The prevalent classism between Moose and Dunbar is the primary factor of import that commences the unraveling of our characters, taking a note or two from films like Play Misty For Me and Rob Reiner’s Misery. Leah’s own involvement brings a few things into perspective here, regarding Moose and his actions, somewhat underscoring the dangers of enablement, and doing nothing until it’s too late despite seeing the signs.
With the brunt of the film’s focus centered on Moose’s afflictions, and Dunbar struggling with newfound stalker issues on top of his own personal demons, and before anyone is the wiser prior to the film’s third act, somebody ends up dead, and lives are soon destroyed. What remains in The Fanatic thereafter is a narrative that bodes as something darkly subjective, one that inclines you to gauge just what it is that contributes to a character’s inner turmoil, and if whether or not they reinforce the kind of dangerous precedent that so frequently afflicts the wider discourse on mental illness with respect to crime.
While Moose is no hero in the tertiary feature induction of Durst’s directing career, he’s not exactly anyone’s villain either. His freakish gait and obsessive, compulsive, sore-thumb temperament aren’t reasons to pass judgement on him for his actions, but in light of societal norms, their severity weighs all the same. The biggest flashpoint here comes with Dunbar’s own apprehension, and proclivities of his own nature as a man deceived by his own privilege and the comfort of his upscale habitat; You get a small idea of just who he is when he enters the film, compared to the image in Moose’s head. He’s a man with his own problems and secrets, and boundaries, and Moose’s careless, albeit innocent compulsion here is the proverbial spark that lights the match.
A solid cast line-up in The Fanatic brings out the best in this movie, with the exemplary Travolta in one of the most stripped down and infectious performances of his career. With “the City of Angels” as his backdrop, Durst brings audiences a bleak, consequential, almost nihilstic depiction of what “making it in Hollywood” really means for the average schmo.
One may easily conclude the messaging therein with Durst’s The Fanatic, that achieving happiness is not entirely subject to textbook deliberation. The construction of Moose, his origins and what makes him tick, are what aptly deliniate a case that makes Moose entirely understandable, and for that matter, a grisly, frightening analysis on mental health, as merely opposed to toxic fandom. He’s no Travis Bickle or Evelyn Draper, but he’s just the kind of shit stirrer a film like The Fanatic requires, drawing on aspects of the human condition to create an intense, and indeed, bloody story that ties you down, and sickfully pokes and prods you at the senses.
Dazzler Media presents The Fanatic, on Digital Download beginning June 8, and on DVD from July 6. The film is currently available in North America from Amazon.