They say “don’t meet your heroes”, and The Fanatic (2019) embodies that idea in more ways than one. While I wouldn’t call Fred Durst – the film’s director – my hero, I was a fan of his for a long time to the point that I use to wear my hat backward in tribute. When I was 14, it was Limp Bizkit’s song Indigo Flow that not only sold me on the nu-metal band but also shattered an odd stereotype I’d held that all screaming bands were devil worshipers when Durst screamed “And God…I love you,” that would forever change my taste in music. As a fan of the band, I’ve had to forgive Durst for many things – from feuding with Eminem, the stories Wes Borland told, to the countless signs of his ego being the downfall of a band that started so strong. It may be that his new film is the final nail in the coffin for my fandom.
The Fanatic plot drives forward, but what you’re watching is questionable at best
Moose (John Travolta) is never said to have a mental disorder, but it is my belief and concern that the character is illustrated to be shown as exhibiting symptoms consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), such as “social and behavioral challenges” (according to https://www.healthline.com/health/autism-in-adults and several other sources anyone can google), amongst others. Moose has an obsessive level of interest in horror movies, collectables, and the actors he likes. In particular, he loves Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa) and his local collectible shop is having a special signing with Hunter. Unfortunately, Hunter ends the signing just before Moose is able to get his autograph, and a confrontation ensues that really upsets Moose.
Travolta’s performance is very heightened, and many of the mannerisms that Moose portrays are reminiscent of ASD (or, at least, this appears to be the case based on my personal experience with people with the disorder). However, the concern I have is with regard to the tone the film takes as it begins to employ its thriller elements following Hunter’s rejection, combined with a drug-addicted street performer named Todd (Jacob Grodnik) whose constant harassment pushes Moose to do disturbing things. While I’m not an expert on this topic, there are plenty of articles out there that discuss the concerns of how any disorder is portrayed in the media, as it often becomes an unintended educational tool for the masses. Thus, people who don’t know anything about autism can see a character in a film who becomes increasingly dangerous – and witness a person in real life exhibiting some of the behaviors – and then erroneously associate the fictional portrayal as an accurate representation of truth.
So, Moose becoming a stalker and increasingly more threatening in general could become a viewer’s expectation of anyone exhibiting those traits that are similar to people with ASD. To state again – the film never says that Moose has any particular disorder, but in discussing Travolta’s performance with a few other individuals who also suspected ASD was the inspiration for the character, I feel confident with this criticism.
As far as the story and the plot of the film goes, it is competently assembled, and the heightened elements get there logically. Artistically, Durst does make some choices that don’t entirely work. There are a few moments throughout the film where there is a drawing of characters in the film that serve almost like dividers – but they also feel odd, and very out of place. There are three moments that I can recall where the look of the film leaves reality, and Durst opts for some stylistic flourishes to make that clear. However, the first two times it occurs, it is all in Moose’s head, whereas the third time it is slightly different, as the other character involved is really saying the things this time – but it matches the fantasy that Moose had earlier. It’s probably more of a preference on my part, but I don’t think it works, and this made it feel even sillier than the way the rest of the movie will end up playing out (which is often very silly).
By far, the cheesiest part of the film was when Hunter is driving with his kid, and a Limp Bizkit song comes on the radio. I totally understand that it would be very cost-effective for Durst to use that music, as he may not have to pay for the rights. The part that made the moment feel really cheesy was Hunter pointing out that it was Limp Bizkit, and getting excited about it. Again, I’m a fan of too much of their music, which is not a popular thing to say, of course … but I did have to roll my eyes at this.
While I’ve pointed out a lot of criticism, the film was an easy watch. The performances were fine, the story made sense (though problematic per the points mentioned earlier), and there are elements of dark comedy in the thriller settings. The end of the film was laughably bad, though…and the appearance of the final title card depicting the characters drawn was extra awful. In the end, The Fanatic earned the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.