With its elliptical relationships, creepy-sexual tone and sense of impending disaster, writer-director David Barker's tyro feature could pass for a Harold Pinter play - indeed, its rather stagy nature is "Afraid of Everything's" biggest liability, at least in commercial terms. Elegantly crafted and acted, intriguing if not fully satisfying, offbeat three-hand drama is natural fest fare; upscale tube programmers might also beckon.
Since losing a leg (prosthetically replaced) in an accident a year earlier, 35-ish Anne (Nathalie Richard) hasn't gotten back to her normal life, or even left the large NYC apartment she shares with tightly wound partner Donny (Daniel Aukin). Into their fragile yet functional domesticity crashes Anne's much younger sib Iris (Sarah Adler), whom she hasn't seen in 10 years. Brash, tactless, as endlessly talkative as her hosts are silent, Iris claims she's looking for some stability after a short life of globe-hopping transcience. But she destabilizes the couple instead.
At first appalled, Anne soon grows to enjoy her sister's compulsive extroversion. On the other hand, Donny - who's about as humorless as they come - finds Iris a terrifying provocateur, a role she's quite willing to live up to. iris exacerbates the older pair's differences until a break occurs that's either liberating or catastrophic, depending on where your sympathies lie.
Making her English-language debut, French star Richard (of ''Irma Vep'' and several Rivette films) creates an exquisitely nuanced portrait; Aukin and Adler are just as fine, though some may find scenario's deliberate withholding of character backstories or motivations frustrating. If ending doesn't deliver quite the hoped-for emotional payoff, getting there is nonetheless quite an absotbing and intelligent diversion.
Basically interior-bound tale is elegantly lensed in widescreen B&W, with original chamber score by opera composer Stewart Wallace (''Harvey Milk'') another plus.
Dennis Harvey, Variety, February 15 - 21, 1999