The Innkeepers

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The Innkeepers is, at its core, a relatively simple ghost story. Claire and Luke are in a supposedly old haunted hotel. For the most part, The Yankee Pedlar Inn is a simple hotel, with nothing going for it except for suicide of Madeline O’Malley many years ago. Claire and Luke, as ghost hunting enthusiasts, are intrigued by her supposed presence and attempt to document her haunting. Very typical of ghost movies, the signs of a haunting start very small, but soon grow more and more terrifying until it culminates in Claire’s death.

I haven’t decided yet whether I like Innkeepers, or at least enough to recommend it to people, mostly because of the first half or third of the film. The earlier part of the movie was very slow. I found it really boring that I found myself fighting to stay awake, because it was merely documenting the mediocre lives of the two main characters. I don’t know if the two characters were made that way so that audiences could relate with them, but I find that, for the most part (and especially in the case of Luke), these characters exemplified many of the things we don’t like about ourselves – our laziness, mediocrity, lack of ambition, and cowardice. I found myself feeling intense dislike for Luke when he abandons Claire, even after he says all those things to her to get into her pants. While leaving the hotel was the logical, self-preserving decision, I believe his decision to leave Claire, his friend, was despicable. Claire, at least, at least didn’t abandon people. Even when she felt utter terror, she still returned for the old man on the third floor.

Regardless, The Innkeepers also did a a bunch of interesting things as well. Undoubtable, there is power in looking, in the gaze. The power lies in the beholder because he/she can, at a distance, scrutinize the object of his/her gaze. As a viewer, you start to understand your object more and somehow you gain power and control in the process. The object of your gaze, if it were alive and sentient, however would feel self-conscious and vulnerable. I think the reason why Claire felt so disconcerted in the hotel was not just because she felt something otherworldly there, but that Madeline was unseen yet watching her. As viewers as well, we feel helpless because we know there’s something there, but we’re kept on the edge. The tension grows and grows with the signs and sounds, but we see very little, almost zero of the ghost, yet we are made to feel that Madeline is furiously chasing us. The story, while I still hold is pretty boring, is structured very typically. Everything is built towards that climax, where Claire and Luke investigate the basement, Luke flees, Claire pleads with Leanne for help, the two encounter something terrifying in the basement, they decide to escape the hotel, Claire encounters the old man’s dead body and Madeline’s ghost, Claire flees to the basement, and finally dies of an asthma attack. The last twenty minutes or so are so terrifying and exciting because of all the build up from the earlier parts of the movie. The climax is so effective because the rest of the plot never tried to detract or prepare you for what you were going to face at the end. In this regard, The Innkeepers was definitely very effective at being scary.

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Pontypool

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Pontypool, I find, is a different kind of zombie movie. For one thing, zombie movies are known for its excessive blood and violence. Pontypool is odd in this respect that it barely has any gore. The characters (or survivors) are hardly in the middle of the action. They only learn of the infection through one of their reporters. Ken describes the rioting and the odd behavior of the groups he observes, but we never see anything. So, at the beginning, Grant, Sydney, Laurel-Ann, and the viewer, are never completely sure of what’s actually happening. Almost all the violence (with the exception of the suicide of Laurel-Ann) in the film is de-emphasized – the violence of the riots is never seen and when Grant and Sydney kill the little girl, the camera diverts from the action, leaving the audience with only the sound of them beating the girl. I find that this is, well, a strange move considering its subgenre.

Another way Pontypool is odd is in the way it constructs the zombie. It returns to the roots of what a zombie actually is and focuses on that aspect. A zombie is mindless shell of its The infected didn’t turn into zombies because of a disease, magic, or even possession, but the people turned into zombies through language. When Dr. Mendez explained that he believed that the transformation was because of a language virus, I found it absurd! Having taking up various science courses I’ve learned that virii are basically microorganisms that are transmitted through contact with the virus, whether though touch, fluid exchange, or the air. To have a virus that transmitted itself when a person understands a word goes against biology itself! Not to mention the cure, which is confusing the meanings of the words.

With all the strange things in the film, it almost seems like Pontypool is trying to be incomprehensible. This is not just clear in the movie, but even in the epilogue. So, I found myself wondering, how do you interpret a movie not meant to be understood, at least in the typical sense? A line in a podcast drama (False Ending from the podcast series The Truth) made sense in this context. To paraphrase a line of one of the actors, sometimes you have to let a story be, instead of trying to make it make sense. To try to understand something is an effort to regain control. That’s why they say that the person who holds the cards controls the game, after all. As viewers, ultimately, we have the most power because (typically) we know the most and see the most, if not at the beginning or middle of the movie, at the very least at the end. Pontypool, to me, seemed to be about not analyzing things (too much), to let a story go, and to not try to take control as we always want to.

Let the Right One In

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The movie is a romantic horror movie about the relationship between a vampire and a young human (boy.) In the wrong context (read: Twilight), that kind of description should warn a viewer (or potential viewer) that he/she is heading for the wrong cinema. On the other hand, Let the Right One breaks convention and makes a vampire romance something fresh and beautiful, without the the distracting (and somewhat nauseating) sentimentality. The film focused on the relationship between Eli and Oskar, rather the many other directions it could have gone if it had paid more attention to Eli’s vampirism and supernatural abilities.
 
Oskar is lonely because he doesn’t seem to have friends his own age (probably because he is bullied) and though he seems like he has a good relationship with his mother, a mother is not a suitable replacement for a friend at age 12. Eli is a vampire child who apparently moves from place to place with Hakan to avoid being discovered, so apart from this old man, she hardly seems to interact with other people. They find each other and form a connection when they meet in the playground of their compound. There is no cliche spark between them. Both of them are imperfect people; they didn’t get attracted to each other because one was astounding beautiful or charming. Their unlikely romance is not about sexual tension (although it seems Oskar is curious about that aspect of relationships), but the love and compassion between the two. Theirs is a simple relationship without ulterior motives or impure intents built on understanding, compassion, and ultimately friendship. 
 
Friendship between two young children is totally understandable, but between a human and a vampire? Vampires kill humans on a regular basis to survive. When Oskar learns of Eli’s true nature, he is unsurprisingly shocked, but Eli points out the similarities between their thirst for blood, Oskar is persuaded to refrain from judgement. At that moment, Oskar seemed to rethink his standards of morality. After all, can he say he is so much better than a vampire who kills out of necessity, while wanting to kill because of revenge and hate? Oskar soon truly sees what killing entails, and the undeniable fact that Eli is a vampire. From that moment on, against all odds, the trust between them grew exponentially. 
 
Although Eli is posed as the monster of the film, Oskar (and the viewer) never sees her just a monster. She may be young, female, dark, and obviously a vampire and if she were portrayed in a different way, I imagine a person could really isolate her and view her as an Other, an objectified being to fear and hate. Yet you can’t do that. You can clearly see that she has retained her humanity. Eli can still love and care for those around her. And this is what Oskar realizes. Even if Eli is a vampire, that doesn’t change anything between them. She isn’t a vampire out of an Anne Rice who charms her victims to play with them then drink their blood ones she tires of them. She never really pretended to be someone she wasn’t. They genuinely did connect and become friends.
 
This humanization of the other is one of the things that I really loved about Let the Right One in. Both Eli and Virginia are vampires, monsters and constitute the others in the film, but neither are shown are truly monstrous. They aren’t sadistic or cruel, nor do they wish harm on just anyway. In fact, when Virginia realizes what she has turned into, she would rather commit suicide than live as a monster. Watching the film, I felt that (apart from being a bully or the occasional meal) an average person should have no reason to fear her. Eli (and by extension Hakan) most likely avoids other people so they don’t catch onto her secret, because once they do, they’ll undoubtably seek to kill her, just like Lacke. Eli, in a way, knows that she is a monster. Her actions before she gets to know Oskar show that she has positioned herself as an other, but Oskar sees past that. He befriends her and stays her friend even after learning the truth. 
 
 

Voice

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Voice wasn’t a typical Asian horror movie, which have the reputation of being very scary, I think mostly because of its structure and imagery. The movie, while not a particular favorite, is interesting because of its story, its use of the unreliable narrator, and how the truth behind the whole event is played out. 
 
At the beginning, we see Young-eon and Sun-min, best friends in an all-girls academy. When Young-eon’s throat gets slashed, she seems to lose consciousness and wakes up the next day, totally invisible to everyone around her. She searches for her best friend and we see that only Sun-min can hear her. Here an interesting point about death is introduced. It is only Sun-min who hears her voice because she’s the only one who truly thinks about her, should Sun-min forget about Young-eon, Young-eon would become voiceless and alone in a sort of parallel universe. Her fear of becoming essentially non-existent is understandable. She’d only be able to see and hear the world, but never interact. This frightening prospect pushes them to find the truth.
 
As they investigate, curious things begin to happen, such as the death of their music teacher that another student, Choh-ah, who befriends Sun-min learns of Young-eon’s lingering, finds suspicious. Choh-ah reveals that ghosts only remember what they want to. This bit of information makes Sun-min and the viewer start to question the story so far. We soon realize that Young-eon isn’t as innocent as she looks. We get the impression that she is a shy and kind girl at the beginning, but through various flashbacks, we see that she has been very cold, cruel, and selfish. Right before the climax of the movie, we see her reconcile these two sides of herself – the victim and tormentor.
 
It was mentioned in class that one way to view Voice was as a movie about growing up. So, I thought about what growing up means. In a way, to grow up means to leave your childhood and transition into who you’ll be for the rest of your life. I find that Young-eon’s childhood, her innocence, ended when she realizes the truth behind her person. You could say that she repressed many things about herself, most likely because she knew how horrible they were, because she didn’t want to think of herself as a bad person. When she is able to confront her past, she realizes what she truly wants – to live. She then stops thinking of right and wrong and just takes what she wants.
 
In the end, I felt very sad for Young-eon. After all, to live again she betrays her (arguably) only friend and takes Sun-min’s body and life. I don’t believe this kind of the desire to be alive should be enough to kill your best friend. After all, what kind of life would you be living after committing all those horrendous things? At the same time, I tried to put myself in Young-eon’s shoes. It’s easy to pass judgement on her without considering her situation, but thinking about her ghost state, her actions become somewhat more understandable. She’s all alone in limbo, watching everyone around her live, yet deprived of something everyone around her seems to take for granted – life. She’s young and should have had an entire life ahead of her, but that was ripped away from her when she was murdered. Being in that sort of desperate situation might drive anyone to murder. As Laura from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or to paraphrase her at least, killing isn’t as big a deal anymore when you’re dead.
 
With that, I don’t know if I should think of Young-eon as evil for killing her best friend. Sure, it was a horrible act (and she’s done other horrible things before that), but it becomes difficult to judge her because of her circumstances.Either way, she took the bull by the horns and chose life, instead of remaining passive and staying a ghost, possibly forever. If you think about her actions this way, she becomes, in her own way, admirable.

Ginger Snaps

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Ginger Snaps is a coming of age story. It’s about Ginger’s transformation from a girl to a woman through menstruation. The disturbing thing is that her coming of age as a woman is indisputably linked with her transformation from girl to werewolf, from human to monster. This clearly reflected the idea put forward that women are seen as an other.
I think it’s quite clear that women come a far second to men in society. Masculinity and all the traits associated with it are ideals to strive for not only for men, but for women as well. On the other hand, many traits associated with women run opposite to those connected with men, and are considered to be faults – things like emotion, gentleness, and being quiet. In addition to that, women are thought of as closer to Mother Nature and bodies of more mysterious natures. To men (and pop culture and common language/speech perpetuate these), women are seen as being that they’ll never understand, as women are completely different from them. Coupled with the fact that women are forced lower down the social hierarchy because of patriarchy, it’s not a far stretch that women are seen as an other, even though there are few biological difference between males and females, and even though women are just as human as men. Because women are seen as an other, in a way someone/something that many men can’t understand, men strive hard to control women, most effectively (though this is debatable) through sexuality.
The ideal women is chaste, pure (and will quietly follow her man), and this is exemplified by a young girl. It comes of as very disturbing to think about, but being young is the standard of beauty and attractiveness nowadays; the disturbing part is that young girls are fetishized, when they are much too young to be seen that way. On the other hand, the other fetish of our society is the whore. The woman who isn’t pure or chaste, but sleeps around, totally accessible to everyone. It really bothers me because as a woman, you’re either a virgin (a good girl) or a whore. Before you lose your virginity, you’re pure, but after (even if it was a consensual act with a significant other, while both of you are mature, and took all the proper precautions) you’re immediately tainted and ruined. And this one factor about yourself can indicate whether you are good or bad, as if your morality can or should be determined by sex. This virgin/whore dichotomy is pretty solid because of the prescription of the woman as an other.
This whole ideology can be seen in Ginger Snaps. At the beginning Brigette and Ginger are late bloomers, girls who stick to each other and bond through their freakishness. When Ginger starts her menstruation (and becomes a woman) and gets bitten by a werewolf, she slowly turns into a monster herself. Brigette is obviously distressed because Ginger is changing in ways that neither of them expect. Her transformation isn’t merely biological though, her behavior (and sexual behavior), values, companions, dress, almost everything changes into the typical slutty girl, which she used to ridicule. While a certain amount of change is expected during puberty, the changes are exaggerated and terrify more than is reasonable. She becomes associated with the negative traits of being a woman – irrationality, frivolity.) Though Brigette and Sam try to reverse the process, there is no turning back for her. She is fully a vicious monster and a woman.
I feel like rather than trying to reinforce this ideology, the movie is more self-aware than that. We see this when we focus on Brigette. Although her sister has changed, she remains loyal to the sister she knows is in the monster. I think even though the transformation is undeniable, Brigette never gives up on her sister. Instead of rejecting her sister for turning into a bloodthirsty monster, she rejects the wolf because she knows in the wolf, Ginger still lives. Even though at the end Ginger-Wolf seems to be trying to kill her (her! The sister who has always stood beside her!), Brigette never drops the cure. She loves Ginger no matter what. This aspect really made the film for me. Brigette’s love enables her to be brave and stand up against the monster that Ginger is supposed to be and remain a sister to the end.

Rec 2

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In Rec 2, the makers introduced a new and unique concept to what was once a zombie movie series. Rec 2 sets out to explain the infection as, instead a rabies-like disease (which is typical of the zombie genre), but as the manifestation of a demon possession. Personally, I liked how the makers of Rec 2 combined these two popular horror elements and created something new.
One of the reasons why infection-based zombie movies are quite popular nowadays is telling of one of the things our society fears – disease. As opposed to the earlier zombie movies, which make either magic or a nuclear spill as the origin of their zombies, disease is a more modern fear. Fear of infection has replaced magic and nuclear radiation as contemporary societal fears. Magic or the supernatural are not as scary because of the power of science of demystify the unknown. Nuclear spills, wars, and fallouts are not as pressing as they were around of the time of the Cold War (though we may see more horror movies that create some sort of allegory for this with all the nuclear testing going on), so it’s not surprising that it has faded from media recently. The nature of current popular zombies reflects the kind of world we have now where there is great ease of travel across town, cities, and countries and a virus can infect a lot of people very quickly, like the epidemic scares we’ve had over the past two decades. Disease, although understood to a certain extent through science, is still pretty hard to deal with and can cost people a lot of suffering or their life. Scientists know quite a bit about the various disease and their strains out there and can find vaccinations and cures given time and money, but because bacteria, virii, and other disease-causing organisms are just that, organisms, they can also adapt and continue to infect people. Because we, as the non-scientist populace, know a certain amount about diseases to know the extent of damage they can cause, but not enough to be able to directly combat the microorganisms themselves, the concept of infection (especially by a very deadly strain) can be terrifying.
This brings me to the second important aspect of these zombies – they are demon-possessed monstrous shells of their previous selves. I found the attempt to explain possession in Rec through science very fascinating. The action of the Vatican in this movie if particularly interesting. Instead of relying on traditional exorcisms to purge the original girl of the demon, they study her and find a cure. The fact that they did this and how they carried it out didn’t seem to be in character for how I view the Vatican. Either way, their attempt to learn more of the scientific basis of possession shows that they are trying to regain control of a situation that never goes the exorcist’s way (at least in other movie portrayals). The Church took on a very scientific attitude in this movie (instead of sticking to antiquated ways of dealing with issues), and it was refreshing.
 Things that exist beyond our conceptual schemas can be terrifying because we don’t know what to expect from them and how to deal with. Trying to explain something totally beyond understanding is an attempt to bring it under control and make it less frightening; it’s akin to trying to fit it in to our current conceptual schema or developing a new one that accommodates this new information. Demons, spirits, possessions are still very scary nowadays because don’t understand much about them and have pretty much no defense against any malevolent action from these kinds of entities. There is this apparent helplessness against things not understood. Even when a fully-armed SWAT team confronts the possessed zombies, they get overwhelmed, partly because they aren’t told what to expect before coming in.
One thing zombie and possession movies have in common is their ending. Quite a few horror films get resolved by killing the monster and the whole adventure ending, so the characters, one way or another, can move on. Zombie and possession movies have a generally more pessimistic outcome. Though the movie ends with some of the characters surviving, the audience always gets the feeling that it’s not the end, and never will be. Zombies are always just around the corner and malevolent spirits/demons are either temporarily exorcised or are merely pretending to be normal humans so they can cause more havoc later on. And that’s the things about zombies (in terms of diseases at least) and spiritual aspect of the supernatural, we’ll never fully understand them, control them, or beat them, so it’s no big surprise that these things scare us.

May

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Even several weeks after watching the movie, I still cannot figure out whether I like the movie May very much. It was an extremely disturbing film, but had fascinating metaphors.
One comment before I get into anything else is that I find the way the film presents May’s mother as either ashamed or ashamed for May of her lazy eye makes the audience feel that her mother is largely for the way May grew up as an awkward loner, without friends. I find this unfair, because pushed the idea that mothers are solely responsible for a child’s upbringing and are to blame for a child’s shortcomings. Her father seemed to exist just in the background, and didn’t seem to offer any objections to what May’s mother was doing. Considering parenting is supposed to be an effort between both the mother and father (or mother and mother or father and father, or any other permutation out there), I find that if blame were ever to doled out, May’s father should receive his fair share as well.
May in all her undeniable weirdness wants friends more than anything else. Yet she is unable to, most like because of her disconcerting social skills. Her only friend is her doll, Suzie. This in itself is odd, but we soon see that her connection with this doll is way stranger than you’d expect. Talk to the doll, fine, I get that, but blaming the doll for telling her to do something? Bordering psychosis. In fact, the doll seems to symbolize the real May, or at least her state of mind. At the beginning, she is quiet, socially awkward, and repressed, but later in the movie, she begins to crack. I mean this in both senses of the word. Her “true” self, the one she seems to have projected to Suzie emerges after the class case shatters, and Suzie escapes into the world. To make the transformation even more apparent, May adapts the outfit of Suzie when she decides to hunt down the people around for their body parts.  She becomes, well, mad. After all, what sane person would take the phrase of “making friends” as chopping people up to make a morbid human doll?
The doll, already creepy as hell by itself, was unforgettable and mildly traumatic, but it also came to mean the secret, repressed, side of May that when let loose would wreak havoc on everyone around. Just like clowns, glass dolls (especially those with big heads, porcelain white skin, and large eyes that look like they’re boring into your soul) will never be same again. I find that last thing about creepy old dolls to be the main reason why people find dolls especially disconcerting. Like the cliche mystery movie portrait with eyes that seem to follow you, you get the feeling that the doll is staring at you. Undeniably, there is power in looking, in the gaze, and normally, you, the person, the viewer, have the power, or should have, after all you’re looking at an inanimate object. While trying to examine something and apply the power of the gaze, you feel its nerve-wracking power on yourself. But with the way Suzie is made, it’s as if she looks back impassively, unflinching and defiant. She is able to gaze back, challenging you to keep looking. It is a battle you will never win, because the doll (it is just a doll after all) will never feel uncomfortable or waver. When it stares back, it is just you, the viewer, projecting the feeling of being examined to the doll.
Finally, I have a hard time figuring why, compared to other bloody slasher movies, the violence portrayed in May was especially disturbing. I personally don’t mind excessive violence in film, but I had to cringe with the class when May sliced Poly’s throat. Maybe because they are perpetuated by an eerie, doll-like girl? Maybe because, as a viewer, I already sympathized with her as the lonely protagonist. Or maybe it was because May coldly killed all those people not in anger, or out of revenge, but because she simply wanted a perfect friend? Obvious at the end, May is demented, but I kept thinking to myself, how could someone kill people out of a desire for friends?