I was driving from Indiana PA to Erie one night not a few weeks ago, my mind enmeshed in rapid succession of thoughts. It was dark outside, and I noticed little except for fleeting, flickering glimpses of surreal roadside images, ambiguous shadow outlines in the night, as my car coasted across 422, and then across 1-79, headed north. My CD player has been broken for months, so I was flipping through the channels, trying to settle on a song even vaguely satisfying, a melody that didn’t wink out into a barrage of static thirty seconds after I found it. Reliable radio stations are difficult to come by in some parts of Western Pennsylvania.
I’ve always enjoyed titling pieces on this blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a more appropriate title for a movie. And I say that because when you walk into the theater to see It Comes at Night, I’d highly advise you to surrender all expectations. At a glance, this suggestion may come across as a criticism, which is not my intent. I actually really invested my attention and energy into this film as I watched it, and I commend its originality, especially in a sometimes murky sea of similarly constructed modern horror films. I have nothing scathing to say about it, but I think someone sitting in front of me and to my left said out loud as the credits were rolling, “What the fuck was that?” To be sure, the type of story you’re expecting from the fairly elusive trailer is not the story you’re likely to receive. Even the title of the movie seems crafted to intentionally deceive. At the end of the day, because I always like to define horror broadly, I’ll say that yes, I’d situate It Comes At Night in the horror genre, but in many ways I found it highly unlike the horror I’m used to. Bearing that in mind, I can’t help but talk about the film without giving away more than the trailer intends to reveal. I also have a tricky habit of just saying whatever I want about a film on this blog, which often entails including spoilers (sorry). So I’m not sure how much of the plot this post will ultimately reveal as I sit down to write, but know that by reading it you’re going to have information that the trailers don’t give you. I will give you more warning about major spoilers. With that in mind, continue if you dare. Continue reading “It Comes at Night – And You’ll See None of This Coming”
With the mass-produced barrage of horror movies available to us – sometimes formulaic, sometimes cheaply made – it can be tempting for the jaded horror-goer to presume that nothing is truly scary anymore. I offer no new argument, after all, when I contend that in our increasingly sensationalized visual culture, we become (or at least risk becoming) desensitized to so many horrible things, immune to so much tragedy. It takes far more, at least from a visual standpoint, to scare us than it did sixty years ago (a fact that will be evident to anyone who compares The Haunting to an Eli Roth film). This may not be the case universally, but it’s a general rule. And still, scary movies are manufactured, and the passionate horror fan does encounter, every now and then, a film that is particularly, unexpectedly scary. Such was my experience with the film Sinister, released about two weeks before Halloween in 2012 (although I saw it much later ). Granted, Sinister is not as artistically scintillating as my two favorite horror movies of reference – The Shining and It Follows – but it’s still a well-made, incredibly unsettling film. When I told Michael I wanted to write a piece about it, he reassured me that he wouldn’t be upset if I re-watched it without him; one time was enough for him. So I sat down tonight, in my little Indiana apartment, with a focusing question in mind: What makes this film so scary? While I may discuss other things in the post below, I am particularly interested in exploring possible answers to this question. Continue reading “What Makes Sinister So Scary?”
While much of the world sits in judgement, furrowing its eyebrows at M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, it’s a film that’s near and dear to my heart. Significantly, I didn’t even realize that was the case until I embarked on a Shyamal-a-thon this week and revisited many of his films after years of separation. The Village, released in 2004, came out when I was a wayward sophomore in college. In stark contrast to popular opinion, I liked the film so much I bought a copy of the DVD (which I didn’t watch much after that). Despite my love of film and literature, my memory can be shoddy and I don’t always remember movies after I’ve seen them. The Village, however, lingered in my mind long after the initial viewing. As Michael and I watched it yesterday, I found myself able to predict almost every plot turn despite the time that’s lapsed since I last saw it. A film has to be good, at least in my eyes, for me to remember it that well. So I guess this piece is an attempt to defend the film – or to share why I like it – by pointing out the questions it raises, the tensions it explores, and why I think it’s so damn clever. As per usual with M. Night, his tricky surprise ending will be revealed to give me full range of discussion and analysis, so brace yourself for spoilers. Continue reading “It Takes a Village (to Lambast a Filmmaker)”
Michael and I have been talking lately about the phenomenon of hating. Of course, hate is prevalent in all sects of life, and more problematic in some sects than others. But when it comes to the arts, and films specifically, people love to hate. Witness the new female-driven Ghostbusters film: it’s brilliant and funny and original, but people get this weird high off slamming it on the internet. The same goes for the Star Wars prequels: any attempt to re-visit the highly successful plot of the first three films was certain to be met with some contempt, because our proclivity to love has an opposite proclivity to hate. And I think the same observation could be made with M. Night Shyamalan. Continue reading “Sensing Brilliance in the Sixth Sense”
I have a self-imposed challenge as an avid horror viewer: I must find an exorcism movie that truly terrifies me. Huddled with a group of giggling 12-year-olds when I was in seventh grade, I watched in near-disbelief while Regan spewed unthinkable profanity and did immodest things with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Assuredly, I was not old enough to watch the movie without being flung into a shock-provoked state of uncomfortable laughing fits (a twelve year old is hardly mature enough to take those scenes seriously), but something about that reaction seems significant when I reflect upon exorcism films almost 20 years later: Namely, the film was shocking, unorthodox, compelling – and indisputably ground-breaking for the era – but The Exorcist, along with, I think, every other exorcism film I’ve ever watched, has never really scared me. I find them interesting, and essential from the standpoint of someone who makes it a (humble, wage-less) second-living to know and review horror fare (albeit for a small number of readers), but for some reason I’ve always found ghosts a lot scarier. Don’t get me wrong: conceptually, the devil is terrifying (to the extent that I believe he exists, at least), but films rarely do justice to the horror of the demonic. The Vatican Tapes, a fairly average film, was no exception to this trend. If you like exorcism movies, it may be worth seeing, at least for comparative purposes. But, there was a small, hopeful part of me thought I might feel afraid during The Vatican Tapes. As it turns out, I did not. Read my discussion below (which, admittedly, has some spoilers) to find out why.
One year, at the suggestion of another teacher, I required my Advanced Placement Literature students to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Hamilton was a serious scholar who compiled myths from varied sources and combined them into relatively easy to read, concise packages that, lined up one after another, formed a fat, enticing book. I was so compelled, as a 25-year-old, by the magical stories in her text, that I’d sit in my bedroom all night, reading, underlining, and scribbling notes in the book’s margins. I’d set the book down every so often and take manic walks in my pajama pants around Montrose, an artsy neighborhood in Houston, Texas, while listening to Joan Baez on my IPod and letting my mind roam. My decision to walk around downtown Houston at night was not a product of common sense or concern for safety, but I suppose none of the horror movie’s I’d watched up to that point properly indoctrinated me with a rational fear of the dark, or of other people. (I was watching The Ring on repeat then, so I likely thought that it was more dangerous to sit in front of the television – lest an evil little girl crawl out – than it was to walk outside.) Then, I’d hurry back in the house, run to my bedroom with its deep, maroon walls and black and brown bookshelves from Target, and re-enter the world of myth. Continue reading ““What a Lovely Throat!” – Getting Nosferatu’s Ultimate Hickey”