onsdag, oktober 16

Horror Movies Suck!

I just saw The Conjuring and am disappointed with it, because the first forty minutes were absolutely great and then there's this one scene where it all completely comes crashing down, and I just immediately knew that after that scene the movie was gonna turn to shit. And it struck me...this, where there's just this one scene that makes you 'oh, there goes that movie', it only happens to me when I watch horror movies. Only in that genre are what makes a movie great so sensitive, so fragile if you like, that it can be so easily undermined. Because filmmakers love to overdo their horror, and horror is one thing which does not benefit from being overdone.

I love horror movies, I just wish they didn't suck so much. Especially so the American ones. Here's why: subtlety is scary. The unknown is scary. Suspensions of disbelief is the basis for being able to be scared. When the premise of a horror movie is too ridiculous to be even remotely believable, the whole sense of mystery, fear and dread dissipates as soon as that premise is revealed. When the special effects are too far-fetched, too badly done, or simply too ridiculous, the same thing happens. So here's my easy points on things to avoid at all cost when you make a horror movie:

(A quick sidenote: While I also love slasherfilms, I don't consider them true 'horror' movies, and the same goes with zombie films; they rely on completely different moods and premises than the kind of movies I intend to discuss here, which is movies where the main source of suspension is the supernaturality and unknowability of the phenomena portrayed. The emphasis on this is why [REC] qualifies as a proper horror movie as well as a zombie movie, and why The Fourth Kind is horror rather than scifi).

1: The God Premise

Please, fucking pretty please, Hollywood; STOP DOING FUCKING HORROR MOVIES WITH THE PREMISE THAT GOD EXISTS. By all means, use the devil, or witches or whatever you fancy, but then make the demons/hellish entities very vague and unknown, don't over-define them and give them a solid foundation in a christian cosmology that the movie will then have to define as true. Because I can't believe in a christian cosmology. The less you talk about hell, horned men, and upside-down pentagrams, the better. Rather talk about the spirit world, a vaguely defined underworld, or secrets embedded in a creation not explicitly associated with any god.Needless to say, this whole problem is vastly less prevalent in Asian and European horror films.

How to do it: You can use satanic imagery and mythology without making it a blatant assumption that christianity is true. Examples of movies that succeeds with this particular element (without necessairly being great anyhow) are [REC] (possession, mysterious church conspiracies, everything keeps unexplained), The Unborn (a holocaust victim possessed by a jewish mythological demon very subtly handled), Grave Encounters (vague satanic ritual imagery), Paranormal Activity (vague satanic elements, like the demon seem to have clawed feet).

How not to do it: The Conjuring (lots of statements of facts regarding witches and demons, and a completely non-mysterious church organisation devoted to battling them), The Omen, Drag me to Hell.

2: The Unbelievable Possession

Possession is scary because it's about losing control and having something unknown and malevolent inhabit a person's body. But possessions in movies often serve to make the source of fear less mysterious, less unknown, by personalizing it, letting it have dialogue and making it's motivations way too clear. Mosre importantly, they're often done in a way that completely ruins the suspension od disbelief, by letting the possessed person completely change their voice (I hate this one sooo much because it's in every fucking possession move ever), defying gravity, getting weird eyes, communicating meaningfully with people, etc. Possession should be about scary behaviour, just like scary sleepwalking, and if possessed people have to do supernatural things, yes,sure, it can be scary, but it has to be unexpected and very subtly done, effects-wise. It is also scary when possessed people talk languages they shouldn't have been able to know, but for god's sake, let them do it in their normal voices or something very close to it.

How to do it: Paranormal Activity (the possessed look normal in every way but behave strangely and scarily, have almost no dialogue), The Fourth Kind (fake case study-footage, and the only case I know of where 'weird voices' has worked, because they are so mothafuckin' scary), [REC] (very, very vague, defined only as backstory)

How not to do it: Sorry but, The Exorcist. The Conjuring, every other possession movie ever.

3: The Physical Demon

I understand that your bloated special effects budget makes you tempted to use a cool, physical sources of horror, like, old witches in torn victorian clothes, or a horned demon covered in fire, or maybe an unnaturaly frail woman in a withered dress, surrounded by weirdly behaving shadows. But please refrain from it, because it almost never works. It doesn't matter how believable you can make it look, for the problem stems from the fact that the defined is not scary. There will naturally be exceptions to this, for just one scene or two, if you have a really mothafuckin' scary design going, it might be okay to showcase your demon/witch/ghost/whatever, but almost every single truly scary horror movie have that in common that they never ever do. It's much more fearsome to have something invisible assail you at night, or too see a vague shadow in the corner of a room, or a pair of eyes glowing in the dark of a cellar, than to be hunted by a completely physical old hag with sharp teeth, no matter how scary her design. Because when you portray her like that you create the feeling that she can be defeated by normal human means, and it's a subconscious thing, it's not important whether this actually is the case in the framework of the movie. But more than that, you disrupt the suspension of disbelief, because a shadow in the corner of a room is much more believable than a physical beast in your closet. Again, it is possible to use very physical looking ghosts/demons/whatever if you know exactly what you're doing, and make them look extremely scary and/or very human, but nine times out of ten it's better to just not do it.

How to do it: Paranormal Activity (the demon is completely invisible always), Blair Witch Project (is there even a physical being? who knows?), Hollow (no real pshycial being), Grave Encounters (mostly subtly used, terribly scary effects), Ring (subtly used, terribly scary effects), Kaïro (subtle techno-horror), [REC] (the original, first movie; the physical demon is only seen in the distance, through blurry night-vision),  Lake Mungo (no real evil being, just a girl's ghost)

How not to do it: The Conjuring, Mama; two movies that could have been great but where ruined by overuse of non-scary, unsubtle physical monsters. This is, by far, the most common problem in horror movies, especially american ones (though asian ones also fall prey to it quite a lot). 

By now, I'm starting to realize that I've seen so many run-of-the-mill horror movies that I can't remember them; on my harddrive, I find a huge pile of horror from many different countries, and I know I've seen them but I hardly recall the plot at all. Part of the reason is probably that all horror movies have the same name; The ing; The Conjuring, The Gathering, The Haunting, The Summoning, etc. Please stop with this? If you can't think of an interesting enough premise that your movies deserves a better name, maybe you shouldn't make a horror movie at all? I'd rather have one great horror movie per year than 50 mediocre ones.

This is hopefully the first post in a series of posts I intend to do about my love for horror/slasher movies. So if you liked it, drop by once in a blue moon and check for updates.

måndag, september 30

FFF 2013

I've just come home from a full day of movie-watching at this year's incarnation of Lund's Fantastic Film Festival; having already seen all the movies on my 5-card together with meimei, I don't know if I'm gonna see any more; I already feel quite satisfied, never before has the average grade of the movies I've seen at FFF been this good (which is ironic, considering that at first I wasn't too impressed with this year's program). If I do see any more films, I'll update this post later, right now, I just need to get something of what I've seen out of my system because I feel so inspired and affected and wanna share some great films with my friends. The main function of this post will actually be to give more or less spoiler-free recommendations, but certain friends of mine; if you don't want even the slightest spoiler, you'll just have to take my word on that you need to see the movie in question.

This friday, we started out strongly with The Machine. It's a moody british cyberpunk movie that does an absolutely amazing visual job out of a tiny-winy budget, and manages to both look and seem like the production values were ten times greater. There's only a short teaser trailer out this far:

The plot is not very original (and yes, the military-industrial complex is evil...), but it does handle some themes in slightly new and inventive way, and because I've just spent a year or more writing Neotech X, it's great to see a good cyberpunk movie that, just like NX, tries to re-invent the genre a bit, take it away from the dated 80s feeling, and make use of more up-to-date issues and sentiments regarding technology. The movie especially might surprise you a bit on how the 'doomsday' theory of technological singularity, as seen in for example The Terminator franchise, is handled rather differently.

My rating: In the end I gave it a 4 out of 5. It's very good, and has good acting and a great atmosphere, but the world felt a bit too constrained, and I really dislike the ending scene for some reason.  

People I know who needs to see this one: Martin Fröjd, Joel, Björn

Next in line; OXV: The Manual, also from Britain. This is a quirky philosophical/scientific romance story set in an alternate world with weird natural laws. I don't want so say too much about it as I feel certain people I know will absolutely adore it but should see it with an open mind and heart, but the basice premise is that people have certain frequencies, and people with pronounced frequencies are geniuses. If their frequency is really high, they'll be extremely lucky and succesful in everything, but completely emotionally dead. If their frequency is really low, however, they'll be unlucky losers with lots of emotions. The main characters are a boy with the school's lowest frequency and a girl with the scool's highest; whenever they meet, nature freaks out because they are so incompatible, and bisarre things happen.

This is not a truly bizarre movie, it has a miniscule budget and does not rely a lot on special effects, so don't come expecting the special effects/high concept-type of quirkyness. The odd premise is instead primarily used to explore the psyches of the main characters, and later on the potential consequences of certain radical discoveries they've done. It actually manages to have something in common with the italian book/film The Solitude of Prime Numbers, in how it portrays the main characters and their psychologically impossible relationship develop from childhood to adulthood (In the italian book/film, the main characters has the idea that he and the girl are different prime numbers and therefore they can never meet). As far as I know there's no trailer released yet, so I give you a picture of the main characters as adults for filler instead, isn't that guy just dreamy?:

My rating: The acting is great both in the child actors and the adults, the plot is intelligent and emtional, if a little bit disjointed at times, the premise is tought-provoking and utterly brilliant, and in generally they've done such an amazing job with tiny resources to make this movie outstanding. I didn't hesitate to give it a 5 out of 5.

People I know who needs to see this one: Joel, Björn, Alva, Elin, Kalle, Bunny

Then came Mars et Avril, a french-canadian movie that I can only properly describe in swedish: gubbsjuk och totalt spejsad. To try to put it in english, it's the kind of surrealist pretentiously freudian move where young girls somehow randomly has an uncontrollable lust for the flesh of fat bearded old Hemingways who spend their time making celebrated music on handmade instruments designed like voluptuous women's bodies. At the same time, there's a Mars landing going on, and these two themes are drawn together by the Music of the Spheres, and of course I adore that they used that supermega-awesome ancient philosophical concept, and the movie is visually amazing and ethereal beyond the level of even The Fountain, and creates a visually compelling portrayal of a distant future Montreal with fashion and hairstyles that all look like they were designed by Alexander Bard on crack. All these good things, unfortunately, does not take away from the fact that this movie is essentially about boring old men having gubbsjuka and navelskådande existential crises relating to the freudian connection between their overblown ego and the universe, or something, and the pretty girl that randomly gave them a blowjob last night before being accidentaly teleported to Mars.

My rating: So no, it doesn't really work, and while very, very special and visually interesting, most of my friends would cringe if they saw it, and so did I. I gave it a 3 because it's so beautiful.

People I know who needs to see this one: None, you are all too feminist. But watch the trailer, that way you'll get to see a sample of the gorgeous visuals.

Next up was Chastity Bites, an american high-school horror flick made on, to quote the director, "the catering budget of The Avengers". While the lack of budget shows a bit in this one, and the actors are a bit uneven (most critically the actress playing the villain is not very good), it's made by a writer and a director who are true horror freaks and put so much love in this movie that it's about to burst from all the obscure references. The dialogue is great, which is very important to high school movies, the absurdity at just the right level, and when they have gotten the casting right, it's amazing; the main actress is absolutely fantastic and her embittered hipster feminist genre-savvy character one of the hottest and most likeable I've seen in a long while. A cool, anti-stereotype thing they did, very consciously the writer told me, was to put an asian girl as the leader of the classical evil bimbo-girl posse. Certain geeky friends of mine will also recognize the actress of that character...

 Chastity Bites is not great because the plot is amazing or anything, which high school film is? It's great because it has a feminist slant throughout, combined with dark humor and meta-jokes. Also, it has a wild sex scene which starts with the couple discussing Simon de Beauvoir...

My rating: At FFF I gave it a 5. It's really more like a 4, and that's what I'll give it on filmtipset later, but it was extremely fun to watch and basically made with the target audience of swedish feminist geeks (this was the european premiere, and the producers were impressed by us seemingly getting all the Simone de Beauvoir references that the audiences at american film festivals didn't understand).

People I know who needs to see this one: Everybody who likes feminism and high school films, but in particular Cornelia, Joel, Alva and Maria. Also Mika because the main character looks like her.

Last but not least, and the only movie I knew about before the festival; the british vampire movie Byzantium. When I first heard about it long ago I wanted to see it because it had Gemma Arterton in it (I've liked her since the excellent 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed', shown on a previous FFF), was about vampires and was namned Byzantium, though to my disappointment I later realized it would have nothing or extremly little to do with the byzantine empire, instead being set in contemporary Britain. But I then learned it would also have the likewise excellent Saoirse Ronan and it and she and Gemma Arterton would play like vampire sisters or something...and then it was of course a must-see anyhow.

But I never expected it to be, y'know, good. I expected it to be some kind of Underworld-style movie with Gemma Arterton in tight leather pants slaughtering millions of mooks in super-effects-heavy action scenes. But even though the movie starts with a lot of Arterton in a thong, it quickly turns out to be something...very, very, very different. Byzantium has almost no action scenes, the vampires have almost no super powers, it relies heavily on dialogue and moody monologue scenes, it's more close to that british 'I'm arranging matches'-style of film, as vampire films go actually most similar to 'Let the right one in'. Without spoiling to much, it's a tale of two renegade female vampires shunned by a misogynist vampire society, being alone, hunted and haunted for two hundred years. Their contemporary life on the run is juxtaposed with flashbacks to the Regency era when they became vampires, gradually building up the series of events that led to their current situation. But  the younger of the two vampires (Ronan) is fed up and tired with their deadlocked life patterns, which builds up to a conflict with the older (Arterton), who is hell-bent on protecting the younger but don't know how (or can't muster the strength) to do it any other way.

Though of course not completely without flaws, this is among the best vampire movies made, alongside Let the right one in and Interview with the Vampire (which had the same director). The acting is amazing (Arterton in particular makes one of the most compelling performances of her career), the characters psychologically and morally complex yet very likeable, the plot is intriguing, the production values high, the lighting gorgeous. But what really sets it apart is the theme of patriarchal opression, running like a dreadful red thread between the two time frames of the story. The movie's script is apparently based on a play by a female irish playwright, which maybe sort of explains certain themes and the dialogue-driven narrative.

My rating: 5. It's among the best vampire movies ever, a huge positive surprise, entertaining and thought-provoking, but, though not exactly a pure tragedy, likely to make you somewhat depressed. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, though I think maybe a few people might take slight issue with the ending, as it could be argued that it robs Arterton's character of some of her agency.

People I know who needs to see this one: Alva, Frans, Björn, Joel, Bunny.