For as written off as James Foley’s Fear tends to be when it comes to being seen as something more than a teen trash psychological thriller, its homage to most of the great Greek tragedies provides it with a strong backbone for being taken seriously. Centered around the sexual coming of age of Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon), a 16-year-old with a virginal aura, Fear highlights the ways in which a girl’s first love is the ultimate threat to her father.
After living with her mother in Los Angeles for a time, Nicole decides to move in to her father’s, Steven (William Petersen), house in Seattle, where he resides with his new wife, Laura (Amy Brenneman), and her son from another marriage, Toby (Christopher Gray). Although Nicole is generally a “good kid,” her rebellious streak is spurred on by her best friend, Margo Masse (Alyssa Milano), who has a looser approach to guys than Nicole. The way she begins dressing as a result begins to make Steven feel extremely uncomfortable, though perhaps for reasons deep within that he would rather not admit–going back to the Greek element, you know?
When Nicole catches the eye of an older coffee shop loafer, David McCall (Mark Walhberg), she feels a sense of instant fear–it’s the first time she’s ever felt this level of sexual attraction to another man (besides, obviously, her father). Though she assumes, she’ll never see David again, the two later encounter one another at an underground rave Nicole goes to with Margo. Swept away by his seemingly mild-mannered, attentive nature, she is cajoled into breaking her curfew to spend time with him in the woods overlooking the water, where he romantically winds her watch back to prove that they still have more time together.
Because her father is out of town on business when Nicole breaks her curfew, Laura is left to be the enforcer, telling Nicole that she “look[s] like a slut” with all that makeup on. Nicole fights back by informing her father of this comment, which, of course, upsets him–the underlying reason being that he doesn’t want anyone to see her as a sexual being. While Nicole isn’t exactly the Myrrha type (Myrrha was the mother of Adonis who tricked her father, Theias, into having sex with her–sure, sure, it’s always a “trick”), she certainly knows how to keep daddy wrapped around her finger.
Steven lets her off with a light punishment of household chores for the week, allowing Nicole to continue going about her business in consorting with David. As he woos her with his poetic outpourings of affection, Nicole grows increasingly farther apart from her father. Concerned about how much time she’s spending with David, Steven requests to meet him. The Eddie Haskell vibes of David fool Laura quite nicely, as she’s instantly charmed by his good looks and polite manner. Steven, on the other hand, sees right through the shtick, noticing his harshness and dark side when he screams out at Nicole, “Nicole! Get me a Coke!,” as though she’s some sort of 1950s housewife or a battered woman in a trailer park. Nonetheless, he knows better than to speak ill of David to Nicole without any evidence to truly back it up.
Thus, Nicole becomes even more intimate with David that night at the fair when she lets him finger her on a roller coaster as The Sundays’ “Wild Horses” provides the backing soundtrack to play up the effect. Now her loyalties have completely shifted, surrendering her heart–and her vag–fully to David. When Steven and Laura go on a weekend getaway together, Nicole takes advantage of the opportunity by giving David the code to her house so he can come by later that night. As he creeps in to find her sleeping, he peruses her room, fixing his eyes on a bracelet that says “Daddy’s Girl” on it. He pockets it so that he can later cross out the writing to read “David’s Girl,” yet another piece in the Greek tragedian puzzle of Fear. And then, naturally, he steals her underwear too after de-virginizing her.
From this night on, Nicole is hopelessly devoted, immune to anything her father might say to smear David’s reputation. Indeed, David even turns a confrontation he has with Steven against him. Daring to say to Nicole’s patriarch, “Listen to me. See, I’m hip
to your problems. All of ’em. I know you abandoned Nicole when she needed you most…’cause I licked her sweet tears. I know about things comin’ apart at work. Maybe you fuckin’ lost it in that department. I also know you ain’t keepin’ up, so to speak, your end of the bargain with the missus. ‘Cause if you were, she wouldn’t be all over my stick. Relax, Steve. We’re friends.” This over the line bravado incites Steven to threaten him with legal action and then drive away in a huff, upon which David begins pounding his own chest violently so he can tell Nicole that her father beat him up. Nicole falls for his lie easily, using it as an excuse to run off with David that night. When she insists on going home later though, David agrees to take her. As he drives off, she suddenly decides she wants to go back with him, taking one of the cars from the garage to meet him at the party he said he would be at.
As she walks up to the house, she spies the sight of David verbally abusing a drugged out Margo and then taking her against her will to another room to have sex with her. Horrified, Nicole drives away, now fully immune to David’s facade. The more she refuses to see him, the more persistent he becomes, cornering her in the public bathroom of a mall to insist, “You gotta use the one thing you have that can hear the real me… It’s here (touches her vag). That’s what it is, Nicole. You know it. I know it. Your daddy knows it.”
And so, yet again, the allusion to her father coming in the way of their love hammers on the point that daughters and fathers can’t seem to avoid the Electra complex, especially when, in this case, said father has to kill her daughter’s boyfriend to break the bond.