Unless you were able to attend the Cannes Film Festival ?99 or happened to live in Los Angeles or New York (or any city in which art films are given a chance to be seen) sometime during 2000 / 2001 it?s likely you wouldn?t have had a chance to see Alex Winter?s first truly solo, feature-length film project, Fever.  For those of us who have been waiting for a chance to see this film, its debut on Starz! Movie Channel late last year has been very welcome and I?m happy to report it was definitely worth the wait.

    Made in 1999, Alex both wrote and directed this dark and moody tale of Nick Parker (played very convincingly by Henry Thomas), an art teacher living in a run-down section of New York.  As the film progresses he finds himself embroiled in a series of startling and confusing events which leaves him questioning not only those around him but himself as well.  David O?Hara is notable as a mysterious upstairs neighbor whose presence haunts Parker.  Teri Hatcher is also featured as Parker?s sister who worries about her brother?s state of mind and health as he slowly deteriorates both physically and mentally while dealing with the circumstances of a recent murder in the apartment building where he lives.

    The real strength of this film is in the writing.  The characters are complex and their dialogue is intriguing with just a hint of dark humor in the subtext.  This movie was not written with the idea that an audience needs to be talked down to.  Indeed, Alex allows the viewers to draw their own conclusions and pick up on the undertones and subtle hints of what may be coming without banging us over the head with his ideas . . . a very refreshing approach indeed!  I certainly won?t give away any of the plot here, but rarely has a movie so neatly wrapped up all of its loose ends in the last minute and a half of film time.  Even so, this is definitely the type of movie one will walk away from with the urge to discuss it with their fellow movie goers to get their impressions of it, and it?s likely no two people would come away with the same conclusions.

    While the narrative and dialogue are strong, at no time does Alex forget film is a visual medium and the images he creates accentuate rather than overshadow the story.  Alex obviously knows when to use a scene or a simple shot to suggest mood or tone and revels in the fact that dialogue is not always necessary to express a plot development or an emotion.  One has to think his choice of Joe DeSalvo as cinematographer was an ideal one, as together they created a set of indelible images which stay with the viewer long after the end credits.

    What was probably the most impressive surprise of all was the lack of gore to tell such a dark tale.  Apart from one necessary moment of bloodiness, the film relies on shadows and stark imagery to paint a very creepy and eerie picture, and at this it certainly succeeds.  If you allow yourself to be drawn into this picture?s world you can?t help but feel a few shivers run up your spine at various moments.

    Alex?s command of directing is also very obvious . . . everything from unique shots of the New York City skyline to the murky interiors of the apartment building and the gray, cold classroom, Alex sets a tone which infuses Fever with a definite mood which draws the viewer into this cinematic world he has created . . . so much like New York yet a totally different world in and of itself.  I only wish I could have seen this film in a theater, as I feel it would be even more compelling on a big screen.

    Not only does the film succeed on a visual level but it also very effectively uses sound to add to the ambience . . . not overpowering but noticeable nonetheless, background sounds are often present and help to create a complete texture to experience.

    Fever is very much in the classic style of a Hitchcock film in the sense that the plot involves a very realistic setting in which the characters are involved in a series of bizarre and disturbing events that forever alter their lives.  Even Alex pulls a "Hitchcock" himself by walking briefly through one scene.  (Tom Stern, Alex?s partner on the film Freaked, likewise makes a brief cameo appearance although he is credited at the end).

    It?s unlike anything Alex has offered us before but let?s hope there?ll be more to come from Mr. Winter?s imaginative and truly unique mind!

Fever will likely be airing again at various times on Starz! Movie Channel. Check your local listings for times and stations.