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REC 2 is pitch perfect as far as its predecessor is concerned. It embraces its sequel status by expounding on and exploring the mythos already established in REC while retaining all the great elements of the first movie.

That said, I found myself surprisingly bored with REC2. It was inherently fascinating to me, I love it when follow up stories aren’t afraid to explore their own pre-established worlds, but the fact that it was so similar to the first one in tone seemed to drown out the newness of, well, everything else. It became Angry Spanish People in a Confusing Situation Part Two (with teenagers!), which is a pity because the new bits are actually really exciting in retrospect, like Angela Vidal’s transformation from victim to monster.

REC 2, by picking up from where the first movie left off, introduces main characters that are “armed”, both with some prior knowledge of the situation and with literal guns. Thus, the encounter with the monsters becomes a bit more rudimentary, to the point that they go out of their way to encounter them themselves. However, the situation is still so deadly, and the main group’s original purpose so important, that the story isn’t at all undermined by this. And the strange new revelations, staggered artfully throughout the movie, at least managed to keep my interest long enough to get me through the duller parts of the movie.

I thought the concept was airtight and that REC 2 made for a satisfying sequel. Knowing that the creatures are more demon than zombie doesn’t take away from my original assessment, since a lot of the elements (infection, disease, hunger) easily play along to the zombie genre.

Even if there were shadows of a deeper message hidden within the layers of screaming and shaky camera footage, REC2, for good or for worse, sticks to its guns and keeps in line with the spirit of the original.

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Before taking this class, I always privately wondered about horror movie’s fascination with women. I suppose we could be seen as an easy source of mystery for men (and, let’s face it, pretty much all of the filmmakers prior to the 21st century were men) but that sort of statement underestimates the creative prowess of a lot of people while only really scratching the surface of the matter. Women in horror seemed to take on roles that men couldn’t be seen starring in—either as a matter of pride, or because stereotypes made it so that they couldn’t be seen a certain way—which pretty much amounted to: the victim, the exploited party, the lost and confused, the seductive monster.

Interestingly enough, Voice didn’t have much to say about men. They were absolutely removed from the context of Voice, which actually didn’t take away from the story despite only really having female characters cast in traditionally female roles. Instead this somehow made everything less creepy and more… sad? To me, it seemed more like a suspenseful/supernatural whodunit than a proper horror movie because despite the paranormal elements, the murders, and the general nature of the story, there was something familiar and predictable about it. But, then, Asian horrors always feel a bit different to me. Possibly I’m just suffering from being overexposed to Western movies and underexposed to (good) Eastern/Asian horror but anyway…

Lacking the male element, Voice exists in a vacuum in which the female gaze is allowed to exist without anyone chastising her for it, though curiously enough sight is one of the senses least important to the whole thing. Maybe it’s this shift in focus that allows for some of the more unconventional moments in the film. Of course, there is a focus placed on the importance of one’s voice and of making oneself heard, which is tied into the emotional bonds one has to other people in the world. The voice here seemed to speak of an ability to come back to life. Or, at least, as a way to cling to the world of the living. The issue then is the person (or ghost) becoming the abject, the thing which lives on the other side of “the border”, which is in itself a frightening thought for anyone.

When speaking of abjection and the abject, I can’t avoid speaking of homosexual relationships, especially as it appears in Voice. Homosexuality doesn’t seem to be much of an issue here past its role in the bullying that lead to Hyo-jung’s suicide, but that was presented as a matter of many different factors closing in on the girl. In fact, the greatest tension in the movie seems to come from the fact that Hyo-jung, even as a ghost, could not let go of the symbolic mother figure (the music teacher) and was angered by losing this as it meant that she would lose her voice. As Choh-Ah says: the dead only remember what they want to remember. Their memories, selves, and identities are tied into the fact that someone still remembers or loves them. Hyo-jung’s identity was heavily threatened by the maternal figure symbolically abandoning her.

I don’t have much else to say about Voice, except that I hope I understood it right. It was a bit of a confusing movie and I’m still re-thinking some of the details until now.

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I have a lot of feelings about May. On one hand, I loved it and wish I had known about it a lot sooner. It speaks to the little weirdo inside of me, the one that would have been terribly fascinated to see a dog’s suture burst open in the yard. On the other hand, I loved it, and there is a big difference in principle between the two. Both sentiments are governed by completely different schools of thought, the latter of which is driven by an emotion akin to an experienced reader finding pleasure in a good book. It’s deeper, less visceral, and allows me to reflect on the movie as a student of horror films.

Fascinating in its ability to turn the serial killer genre on its head, May struck me as an attempt to explore the idea of the feminine in the context of a typically male type of monster. May’s characteristics leave no question as to her femininity. Thin, pretty, and a talented seamstress, she embodies all kinds of classical female qualities, right down to her doll collection and slightly childish looking bedroom.

As evidenced by Halloween, male serial killers tend to be more visceral. When men start hacking and slashing, nobody asks questions; motives are secondary, almost as if it’s universally accepted that all men have the same innate capacity for violence and all they need is a little push, a bit of bad luck, mommy issues…

May at first appears to be more a product of her outside rejections than some internal dysfunction. Mike Myers (and many, many other male serial killers) tend to be arguably sociopathic from the get-go. May got a whole movie about her slow descent into monsterhood but Halloween couldn’t even spare Mike Myers an hour. Even the famous Mrs. Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame owed her mad murder streak to an external motive (as opposed to a natural love for hunting kids in the forest).  So what does it say about us that it feels more “real” for a woman to grow into her monsterhood?

Generally speaking, May is actually pretty successful at being a functioning member of society: she’s good at her job, clean and physically attractive, and she is obviously capable and independent. There are no dark, dank cabins in the woods for May. In fact, as far as her social awkwardness is concerned I’ve met people who were far worse. If so, if she’s actually not all that bad as a person, doesn’t that mean that her propensity toward violence is just a natural little something that bubbles forth from people who are pushed too far? Is there just a thin, fragile line between being a functioning member of society and going full-on serial killer?

I guess it can be said that May’s main problem is in her inability to repel abjection. She allows her fascination to overcome her and it manifests in her as “weirdness”. What’s funny is that while abjection is said to exist in immorality, May herself is not necessarily a bad person, but like a perfectly good jar of mayonnaise left open in a fridge full of fish she came out seeming, tasting, and smelling a little… strange. I think the movie actually did a good job of showing its titular character’s internal dysfunction. May’s affinity for blood was a good example of this, as it didn’t seem to have direct grounding in any of her personal experiences. Her capacity for murder, or even her instinctive need to synechdochially reduce the people around her to the sum of their parts, can probably be put into context when thought of this way.

Admittedly, I expected May to become the victim either of something supernatural or otherwise. I guess I technically wasn’t wrong, since May is pretty much a victim of her circumstances. With everything else that happens in the movie, I’m actually just glad that she ends up making a friend.

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At first I was dreading the conflict between the girls. Stories about the breakdown of close female relationships are always tinged with judgment about each girl’s respective personalities (“this wouldn’t happen if she was more outgoing”, “this wouldn’t happen if she was less of a slut”) and many attempts to flesh out deeper motivations tend to fall a little flat. Even just the fact that one of their sources of conflict was inevitably (inevitably) going to center around a boy made me want to zone out right from the start. But I’m glad I didn’t. While the movie didn’t fail to act on the trope (known as The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry, which I’ll expound on later), it managed to do it in a fair, thoughtful, and surprisingly believable way. You know, despite all the lycanthropy.

The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry, society’s way of simplifying the relationship between two girls/sisters/BFF’s who belong or grow into radically different or opposing life philosophies, is a development that is common in media because it is an effective caricature of female personality types. This trope makes it easier to explore the nuances of a relationship between specific character types without taking too much time or effort to communicate the distinction between the two. Sir mentioned in class that the relationships between women are known to be some of the deepest, most intense interconnectedness that a human can experience in her life, but sometimes society makes it so that being a woman brings to mind the saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. While I don’t generally agree with the stereotype that women generally backstab each other, it’s an attitude (even expectation) that has permeated to the core of modern storytelling. If media is to be believed, girls will fight over (clothes, shoes, men, wedding dates) sometimes to ridiculous extremes because that’s just the sort of thing that happens when two women who otherwise get along come into direct conflict about an issue they are both passionate about. They fight, and there’s something eerily primal about women fighting over resources.

Now, Ginger and Brigitte go through the motions of this odd rivalry at both deep and shallow levels. The girls struggle against each other, needing their individuality but trying to cling to their deep bonds of sisterhood. Their respective growths into womanhood are stories that are, at their core, separate but intertwined.

But the story also tells of another, larger dysfunction that exists in the world of women. The violent and sudden nature of Ginger’s transformation, an obvious if not heavy-handed metaphor for puberty, and our having to watch her struggle through it only accentuates the pitfalls of female-dom. The right way to act, the right way to feel, the right way to be and, in the context of our horror studies, the right way to gaze.

This reveals the state of the aggressive woman: she is either not allowed to exist (and therefore must be destroyed), or she is seen as someone who can’t function in society because the idea of an aggressive, sexually domineering woman defies comprehension. Ginger’s boy-toy, someone who never had to worry about openly lusting for Ginger, shows fear and uncertainty when his advances are met with eagerness and aggression.

There is a stereotype about sexually aggressive women, which is that they come into and wield their power effortlessly. Maybe it’s an idea born of male perceptions (“I can’t stop thinking about her. How is it so easy for her to trap me like this? Witchcraft!”), or maybe it’s a product of how women are generally seen as the fairer/more attractive sex (“She’s in a t-shirt and jeans! How does she manage to look so hot? Witchcraft!”), but whatever the reason, every logical human knows that these assumptions are false. Ginger Snaps plays on that by showing the nitty-gritty grossness of a terrible, transformative type of adolescence.

What’s wonderful about Ginger Snaps is that the sisters don’t fall prey to their tropes. At least, not in the ways that count. Both girls hold fast to their love for one another. They come into conflict because that’s what happens when people grow up, and even the closest relationships can’t escape badgering by the great hammer of puberty. It’s just that much worse when shark week takes an all too literal twist.

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My idea of disgust (or, at least, of repulsion) can be characterized by a sick feeling in the stomach, akin to the bubbling sensation in your throat when your realization that you just bit into a rotten fruit is proceeded by the image of half a worm’s body squirming around your bite mark. It’s something simple but gross and deep and foreboding, and it sticks with you long after the initial horror has passed.

So to answer the question posited during class: which part of the movie horrified or disgusted me most? To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. The scenes of animal slaughter led to some strange moments between me and my lunch (crispy bagnet), which is a pretty big reaction for the person who thinks the comic Elmer would have been more interesting if people just went on eating fried chicken. I did make a face when Madeline’s mutilated breast was revealed at the end, but that was more an initial shock reaction than it was the feeling of something deeply disturbing settling inside my soul. As a woman, the movie’s concept of motherhood affecting me to the degree that it does Madeline frightens me somewhat, but at least it’s a madness that makes inherent human sense and even the slight disgust I had for Vivian’s rather odd way of preparing for the baby’s arrival was tinged with a bit of “oh, let old people do what they want.” Her actions even made some sense to me in a twist-your-head-to-the-side, practical sort of way.

So. What, exactly, disgusted me the most about Grace? Madeline feeding Grace raw cow blood, if I’m talking about a literal scene from the movie. I could almost taste the cold, watery blood trickling down my own throat, and if there’s anything I hate its raw, icy, coagulated dinuguan. That part stuck with me, if only because I’ve been goaded into swallowing my fair share of balut-vinegar-dinuguan shots and even time isn’t as effective as 190-proof Everclear.

A more serious choice: the use of silence was another thing I found disturbing in the film. The long, tired scenes and the disruptive noises in between stuck with me long after the other shocking scenes faded away. And I could hazard a guess why.

Grace could have easily been drafted as a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby only without all the Satanists around to help her raise the baby. Personally, I would almost prefer the latter situation. I could feel Grace’s horror coming not (only) from the fact that her baby was a flesh-eating monster, but from her having to grapple with the various pitfalls and mysteries of raising her child on her own. All parents at some point find themselves struggling with the frank and frightening uncertainties of parenthood and it was that quiet desperation that elevated the movie from paranormal horror to a general sort of horror story about life. True, the source of the desperation here is a little different (instead of a bad diaper rash, it’s an inexplicable need for fresh blood), but in a world where a new mother can’t even trust the so-called experts, I can only imagine how terrifying that can be.

Grace has some other, more familiar themes to it: horror existing in the familiar, or in the distortion of the familiar. For example: breast feeding, an entirely normal and natural act, was taken to several not-entirely-awesome extremes. But isn’t that what it’s really like in real life? People frequently extol the virtues of “the natural”—breast feeding is beautiful! menstruation is a special honor! giving birth does not involve feces whatsoever!—only to turn around and tell mothers to cover up when they realize just how strange it can be to see a child suckling in the middle of a mall.

Throughout the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder if Paul Solet was the kind of person who’d been utterly crushed watching a pregnancy because he grew up being told that it was a magical event full of sunshine and rainbows. Maybe Grace was his way of working through the issues the experience left him with. I’m sad that I’ll probably never know.

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As a horror enthusiast, one of my greatest passions (or guilty pleasures, depending) is the zombie movie. Many people say that it’s overused and boring and that there has been no fresh material since Romero, if that. Sometimes I’m inclined to agree. But sometimes a movie crops up that’s true to the spirit of the zombie genre without sacrificing any of the basic, core rules. It’s familiar, you know what’s going to happen and how, but it still somehow makes your toes curl. It’s a movie that turns the already familiar ride into something fun and exciting. That’s what REC was for me.

I actually saw Quarantine first and, while I was generally a bit ambivalent about the concept, watching REC has actually made me appreciate it better. I have a marked fondness for the found film (sub?)genre despite the fact that I only like a very small percentage of them, so for me it was less a question of taking pleasure in the tediously predictable than it was an appreciation for it hitting all the right notes at the right times.

As I already mentioned, zombie movies have a reputation for being a bit redundant. As a result, even its underlying themes have been over-analyzed to hell and back. When speaking the language of monster metaphors, it’s clear enough that zombies represent our fear of the mundane or of becoming part of the mindless masses (see: Dawn of the Dead, consumer capitalism.) To veer more towards the realm of repression, zombies can and have been used to talk about the effects of uninhibited human “hunger” (impulse urges will lead to the collapse of society!), and are also, among many other examples, used to fuel less socially acceptable survivalist fantasies. Interestingly enough, the latter sort of story tends to bring with it strong female characters. I guess it’s hard to keep repressing female creativity when society is stuck living in the ruins of its former glory. But boy do some stories still try (looking at you, Walking Dead.)

Moralistic issues are also a staple of the zombie genre: at what point do we stop being human, what is the right way to balance survival and humanity, is survival the most potent justification for our actions, and on and on. Dead Girl took place outside the typical apocalypse scenario, providing credence to its status as a movie made horrible by the conscious actions of its human characters as opposed to any true scare brought about by the existence of zombies. Along those lines, we have movies like The Zombie Diaries that pits survival against morality and argues all the usual things you would expect from a zombie movie re: organized social structures, “monsters”, and matters of survival vs. morality.

These things just highlight the great thing about REC, which is: by forcing its characters into a deadly, claustrophobic situation it pushes past the need to question itself and instead focuses on the nuances of the narrative. It’s a story about survival, without the requisite need to step back and look at society and wonder. There’s simply no time for any of that in REC and I, for one, appreciate it.

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Dead Girl presents a Cabin in the Woods-esque question about monsters and their origins while pulling together character studies in the tradition of Triangle’s Jess’ descent into darkness, yet one of the most striking things about it lies in its function as a movie about the male gaze. Or is that all there is to it?

At the risk of over-intellectualizing the movie and shunting aside all the big, humanistic issues, I like to think of Dead Girl as more of a macrocosmic metaphor for the human condition, as opposed to an anthropological sort of observation on human behavior. As already mentioned by multiple sources, the women weren’t the only ones forced into rigid generalizations. The movie was patently unfair to men, as well.

There are many ways of looking at Dead Girl: as a very basic pseudo-study on human behavior (boys will be boys?), as a question of sexism/feminism and how society forms and perceives women (“it’s just like in a magazine”, “like a porno”), or even as a commentary on the differences and effects of socioeconomic norms on the consequent actions of a generation born into dead-end level strife. There is enough evidence in the movie for any of these theories to hold water. For example: while both literally and figuratively hidden away in the margins of polite society, J.T. defends his actions by asserting that the three main boys “[didn’t] have far to fall.” But the film doesn’t argue that only the lowest common denominator can be monstrous or horrifying: one need only to have a very small lack (say, a blowjob) to feel that there is a hole that needs filling gross pun intended nor does the movie try to delude us that only women suffer from the effects of sexual objectification. These considerations have helped me conclude that there’s more to the movie than each of these individual messages. Sexism, human behavior, morality, and even social strife; these all serve as brushstrokes helping paint the picture of the greatest uncertainty in the film, which is also incidentally the most basic one: the question of enslavement and what is, exactly, human.

As a woman, I can’t leave the obvious points untouched. By turning the Dead Girl into a creature that is less-than-human, into a simple sexual object, she is enslaved not only by the chains binding her to the bed but also by the mismanaged perceptions of the boys who put themselves in charge of her fate. Even Joann couldn’t escape this, either in the way Rickie thought of her, in her actually being turned into a zombie, or even in how she was presented as a character. Or were we never supposed to think of Dead Girl as human, considering that she is technically “just” a corpse? How then does that translate to Joann, who couldn’t escape the ties that bound her to the movie’s title character?

The men share in this treatment, though not as obviously at the start. The Dead Girl struck me as a metaphor for female sexuality, at least in the way most societies today still perceive it as dangerous. In J.T.’s attempts to control her, he ends up enslaved by it, guarding it as the main driving principle in his life even as it inevitably leads to his death. In fact, the women in Dead Girl are all hazardous creatures: craving the love and attention of the idealized standard (Joann) leads to beatings in the schoolyard. Trying to force a “real” living woman to submit to their whims earns the boys humiliation and pain. Only the model-like dead girl is controllable, though ultimately the deadliest thing of all.

When speaking of identifying the familiar in horror, it’s galling to realize that the actions of J.T. and Co. reflect various psychological studies and, worse, true stories that pop up in the news once in a while. While I have no intention of generalizing the male gender, the movie does make its argument based on several observations about teenagers, specifically boys in this case; the importance of sex in their development, questions of practicality vs. morality, and peer-pressure. These things only add to the sense of discomfort that characterizes the movie.

I’m not going to say if I think it’s a good film or not, or even if I enjoyed it in any particularly sordid sort of way (for the record, I didn’t), but I will say that Dead Girl was very interesting and that it’s the sort of movie I would love to sit down and discuss in greater detail someday.