It does Kubrick, one of the medium's entrenched high artists, no favors to overrate his debut. While the surrealist, pseudo-Buñuelian setup of Fear and Desire as a barebones, modernist imagining of a war film immediately impresses itself in its novelty, the constraints of Kubrick's $50,000 micro budget and sparse, skeleton crew are all too apparent as the film begins to wander, adrift like its own marooned GIs.
Kubrick, an accomplished photographer since his teens, uses the woodland locations to atmospheric effect. (He shot and edited the film himself.) And especially in the scenes designed to convey the soldiers' growing inner turmoil, the direction has a crude, off-kilter energy.
The cuts are severe, alienating, disruptive, confusing and jarring the narrative flow like hiccups. The wartime allegory is forced, the soldiers are a group of penny-ante philosophers, and the drama smothered in atmosphere. The script is laden, wet with languorous monologues dragged out of the post-synchronized voices. And yet, there is more to love here than in many of Kubrick's other early films.