Pontypool

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Pontypool is quite possibly the most ambitious horror film I’ve seen in a while, with regards to the “monster” of the film. I don’t quite know what to peg this film as, if we’re going to get specific. I suppose the closest thing we can call it is that it’s something of a zombie film, in that people get “infected” and infect other people. Only, this form of infection is different from everything else done before. Unlike practically every other zombie film where the infection is simply transferred through bodily fluids, and perpetuated by some mutant disease (the perfect example being 28 Days Later) in Pontypool, the infection is caught through words. Yes, that’s right, the invisible, intangible, but very much real force that is language.

Allow me to digress for a second to touch on two things I found quite funny in the film. First was that the main characters worked in a radio station, one of them being a DJ. They actually talked for a living. Talking was their primary source of income. It is so incredibly ironic because by the climax of the film, we learn that talking might actually kill them. But it transcended the matter of simply losing a job and not being able to sustain yourself, it got to the point where talking as a means of getting yourself out of imminent danger (like asking and explaining just what on earth is going on) becomes dangerous itself. The main characters are trapped in a situation where the only way out is also the trapdoor. I find this a very interesting aspect of the film, because it makes the situation a lot scarier, when you realize that there is practically no way out. It’s not like they’re trapped in a place and handcuffed to a pole. There’s still a lot of room for things to happen that could lead to an escape. Someone could come to the rescue. Or our heroes could find something sharp, destroy their shackles and free themselves. No, in Pontypool, the saw and the shackles are the same thing.

The second thing I found funny was how easy they made it for the main characters to escape this dilemma. They were just simply given the ability to speak and understand a different language – French. For me, it just seemed way too convenient for the film to be set in a place where a big percentage of its inhabitants are bilingual, thus, not necessarily eradicating the problem, but buying everyone a lot more time.

Understanding. In the end, this was the explanation as to how things were happening. The movie never explained why these things were happening, but it did try to explain how. Apparently once you understand the word that’s infected, you get infected as well. I liked the end, it threw me off completely, and I guess it tied up the entire film by having the last scene be something that doesn’t make sen, thus making it difficult to understand.

May

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May was a particularly interesting film because I’d always felt that a horror film was a horror film as soon as it made you feel anxious, uncomfortable, scared or at least grossed out. Although throughout much of the film, May was a very strange girl, with strange hobbies and obsessions, none of them really stood as as disturbing enough to give the film a horrific feel. I wasn’t at the edge of my seat, nor was I writhing in disgust. Instead, I was left with a sense of wonder. It was beginning to look like either a B movie, or one of those that didn’t exactly take themselves too seriously. In any case, May’s tone was different, perhaps a little less Takashi Shimizu and a little more… Tim Burton?

But underneath the stylistic difference lies a classic horror film story. That of the abject, a monster born of a person, a woman no less, marginalized for her “abnormality. Pinned down as a freak, May is monstrous even before she experience the heavy blows of life. Even before May starts going full-on Dr. Frankenstein mode, hacking other people’s arms and legs off, she is already marginalized as a child for having a lazy eye. From then on she has difficulty making friends, which leads to the development of her odd personality. As she grows older she becomes more and more detached as she deals with life alone, her only friend being a doll, and perhaps Polly, the promiscuous bisexual girl (who turns out to be a pretty bad friend anyway, but more on that later).

Something I’d like to point out now about the Polly character is the mere fact that she was made to be a very promiscuous bisexual woman (a pretty offensive stereotype for bisexual women, might i add) and thus she gets “punished” for this behavior in the end, when May decides she is a terrible friend, with a really great neck… and by that I mean May finds that the best punishment is to use Polly’s neck to complete her Amy monster, a collection of all the best parts of May’s worst friends. I think it is very important to note the way the film portrayed the handling of Polly’s promiscuity and sexual behavior that deviates from the supposed norm.

Another thing to note is that May as the abject was repressed by those around her for her strange fetishes. When she wanted to do strange things sexually with Adam, he refuses and leaves, and she suffers from this. May symbolizes those that we do not understand, and those that we fear, especially because she hits a little too close to home. Everyone’s been at a point where they thought they were a freak for liking a certain thing or a certain way, and so they’ve hidden these things deep down, for fear of being judged or ostracized. May becomes an example of what happens when you push the limit, and when you are pushed to the limit as well.

[REC 2]

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Ah, REC 2, quite possibly the best horror film sequel ever, in my opinion. However, as a standalone film, i can’t really say it’s a particularly exceptional one. I can say though that it has made its way into my list of top ten favorite horror films of all time. But i’ll get to explaining why I loved this film so much later.

What I want to talk about first is why it didn’t quite work as well as REC. I think one of the most integral parts of the REC films is the person in front and behind the camera. With REC, even though Pablo was behind the camera, it was Angela who was leading us through the events of the entire film. In that way, we could connect to Angela, but at the same time feel like we’re Pablo, walking the halls of the zombie-infested apartment. But what works with this dynamic is that Pablo barely ever speaks. Not only that, we NEVER see what Pablo looks like. In that way, it is easier for us to associate ourselves with Pablo, but still feel the raw emotions that Angela feel, and therefore the sense of vulnerability is doubled. With a woman leading us through the film, we feel a little more vulnerable, because it is somewhat ingrained into our heads that women are weaker, more vulnerable, more susceptible to getting attacked and losing. However, when it came to REC 2, the people holding the cameras were also a lot more prominent in that they were also being heard. Therefore, watching REC 2 felt less like experiencing the events of the film yourself, and more like you were watching someone film and narrate something. Aside from that, the people leading us throughout this whole mess were mostly men. And men are a little more difficult to connect with or to feel frightened with when it comes to horror films because we know men to be a little stronger and a little more powerful than women. If a man were to lead a horror film it feels less scary and more action-y, and i guess that’s what took away some of the scariness REC had.

What I did like about REC 2 was that, first of all, it was a direct continuation of REC. As in, there was almost no time in between the last scene where Angela gets dragged into the darkness and where the SWAT team goes into the apartment. This way, it’s a lot more thrilling because we can still feel the thrill of the mystery surrounding what happened with Angela. And then, the demonic possession is put into light further, which really adds o the creepy vibe of the whole thing.

Lastly, my favorite scene from REC 2 is the part where they explain that there is a different world when there is light and when there isn’t any. I found this very chilling. Horror films don’t usually stick to me anymore and leave me restless late at night. They used to when I was younger, and when I was still very gullible and wasn’t such a skeptic. However, when I saw this scene, all of these feelings came back. After watching the film I was almost too scared to turn the lights off, feeling like maybe there WAS another world when they were off. i don’t know what it is about that scene, but maybe it’s the feeling of the unknown lurking in the darkness. Of the monster being much scarier when you can’t see it.

Ginger Snaps

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Now this is a film i enjoyed. It could almost be your typical werewolf movie (then again, in horror what exactly constitutes as “typical” anymore?) save for the fact that Ginger’s transformation as a werewolf coincides with her getting her first period. I think this is really interesting for a couple of reasons.

In Gingersnaps, menstruation, and consequently “being a woman” is portrayed alongside the transformation into a werewolf. In this way, it seems that the film is using the werewolf-ism as a symbol for what women go through as they experience menstruation. The pain, immense sexual cravings, and even the crazy attitude can be attributed to both her werewolf transformation and her menstruation. I like how the film gets to the nitty-gritty of things, showing us that what women go through isn’t a particularly glamorous thing. But also, more importantly, it shows that as Ginger transforms, she gets more and more powerful, and more and more dangerous. In the same way, as she experiences her first menstruation she also experiences the power a woman holds in her hands. The power to bear life. And up to a certain extent, there is also that power she has over men. Suddenly, she becomes an object of sexual desire, however, being the object, she also holds the power to accept or reject the men that want her. she practically has control over men, and I see that as another power a fully-realized woman has. Well, that’s my radical feminist interpretation of the whole thing anyway.

I realized this through the part where after she has sex with Jason he begins to experience symptoms that should indicate a werewolf transformation, however, it just looks like he’s breaking out and going to have his period. This is a humorous representation of everything that has transpired, but can also be seen as a commentary on STDs. The symptoms Jason develop look a lot less blood thirsty monster and a lot more herpes if you ask me.

Another thing I’d like to discuss is the way the sister’s view themselves compared to the rest of the kids at school. They’ve deemed themselves social outcasts, not only refusing to interact with the “normal” kids, but doing things that aren’t considered normal. One good example is the slideshow they make for a school project. It is a series of pictures of the two of them acting out different ways that they can die. I don’t know if it’s simply there to add to the creepy horror vibe of the whole film, or to signify a deeper disturbance in the two young ladies. That maybe there are some underlying psychological issues in both of them. Add to that the fact they’re both willing to commit suicide together to escape from the world that they despise, and maybe there’s something even darker than the playfully macabre personas they exude.

I can say that Ginger Snap is one of my favorite films in class. It’s definitely different from most werewolf flicks out there, but it still retains a lot of the elements that a werewolf movie is made up of. This one though seems to say a lot more about other things too.

Grace

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I must admit, I found it very difficult to watch Grace. I enjoy horror films and I have seen some of the most messed up films out there, but Grace is something else. Of course, it doesn’t quite match up to A Serbian Film or Human Centipede, but I think what’s truly disturbing about Grace is that it doesn’t peg itself as a truly absurd film. You can say that Human Centipede and A Serbian Film have gone so far that the actions of the characters can’t be justified anymore. For me, Grace is a little different because you still feel the characters’ need to revert back to simpler, more normal times by rejecting reality for what it really is. I think that that is what is most terrifying in Grace, the inability of its characters to accept loss and tragedy and the inability to move on. I think that it can serve as a reflection for every human being who has reached their breaking point. when all they wanted was to fulfill their dreams and get what they want.

For me, despite a horror film viewing as one that instills a  lot of feelings of anxiety, anticipation, terror, and getting your beliefs and worldview a little shaken up, it is still enjoyable in the end. If it’s a particularly good horror film, i find myself smiling at just how well the director executed the representation of the weird and terrible things that could possibly exist in this world. However with Grace, I truly found myself wishing to maybe never see this film again. The experience felt similar to watching a documentary on a terrible event. It’s informative and it incites many heavy emotions, but I don’t think I want to see it ever again. It carries a heaviness found only in the most terrible of things, the human person driven to doing absolutely terrible things out of loneliness and desperation. I think the film says a lot more about the human condition than it expected to, or maybe i’m looking into it too much.

I do believe that the film works fantastically as a psychological horror film. It really digs deep and taps into what could happen when a woman who so desperately wants to be a mother finds the one opportunity to reach her goal, only to find it taken away prematurely. It is almost as if she wills the baby to life and now that it is a live, she wont ever EVER let go. No matter what. And it is this messed up kind of determination and inability to let go of what is obviously wrong, what is obviously not right, that is I think the very essence of the film.

Even the mother-in-law, who has so much love for her soon, reaches a point where what she wants goes past what is normal and right anymore, and we are treated to a very disturbing scene of “old-people-sex”. No offense to old people,    but I was really bothered to see that.

Grace was a filmy that was already gory and bloody enough, it didn’t help that it rode on some of the most unsettling psychological problems a woman can have.

[REC]

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I was ecstatic when I heard that we were watching REC in class. It has quickly become one of my favorite horror films of all time. I think one of the reasons I love REC so much is because I love its raw energy and its ability to surprise you. Now I know it sounds like it should be the most obvious thing for a horror film to have the ability to surprise, but sadly more often than not that isn’t the case anymore with a lot of horror films these days. And if they do still retain that certain ability to surprise, they are there simply as cheap, empty scares. Meant to do nothing but instill a momentary kind of fear in the viewer. It’s the kind of scare that doesn’t really have a purpose. In REC however, each delivery propels the story forward and also digs deep into your skin, as if we get continual wake up calls saying we’re here in the middle of the story. The way that REC is done never fails to keep you on the edge of your seat.

For example, when the fireman falls from the stairs and is found to be bleeding profusely, it is startling, and absolutely terrifying, because everyone in the apartment is now faced with the horrifying reality that something is up there, something evil and could kill them and that they are now trapped and must face whatever it is. It instills terror in the tenants, and that terror translates to the audience.We feel just as trapped and doomed as they are, but we can’t turn away because we are interested to see what happens next. I think the fact that we are viewing all this from Pablo’s hand-held camera also adds to the feeling that we’re in the film experiencing everything as it unfolds. I especially like how we are all just as clueless as everyone in the room. In that way, we really feel like we are more than a viewer, we are taking part in the situation. And the worst part? We have absolutely no control. It’s like we’re strapped onto that camera with our hands tied behind our backs. It’s almost literally like a roller coaster ride.

I suppose my favorite thing about REC would be that whole hand-held camera aspect. I’ve always been a little iffy about movies in the found footage category. For me, it’s either you do it well, or not at all. A favorite example of a well done found footage horror film would be the Blair Witch Project. For me, the Blair Witch Project is one of the most well done, and scariest films I have ever seen. And the most amazing part? The monster was never even shown. Which I think is a point of discussion, because sometimes it’s even better when we don’t see the monster. It’s a matter of familiarity deflating the horror. I’ve noticed that in horror films that weren’t particularly successful, the moment it sopped being scary was the moment the monster was revealed. I agree with what was said in class, that by withholding the monster you make the horror effective because there’s always that part inside your head that over thinks and comes up with all these awful pictures of what the monster truly is and what it can do. And so I think this was also successfully done in REC, wherein, although we saw many of the zombies run around and start eating everyone in the apartment, the scariest part of the movie was when we were trapped with Pablo and Angela in the attic, and we had no idea just what exactly was lurking in the dark. Those few minutes were some of the most heart-stopping minutes of my life.

All in all, I think [REC] is an amazingly scary film. And that’s something rare nowadays.

Cabin in the Woods

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How do I even begin to explain why I loved Cabin in the Woods?

After watching Triangle in class, which pretty much shook up my whole notion of the horror film and the genre, suddenly I came face to face with a film that did not take the genre too seriously. As a matter of fact, it played around with the most recognized elements of the horror genre and made fun of them by coming up with wild explanations as to why they have been existing. It was a funny and very interesting approach to dissecting contemporary popular horror films.

Cabin in the Woods, as the name suggests, takes off when a group of teenagers (how typical) go on a trip to, where else, a cabin in the middle of the woods. Two of the most overused elements of today’s teenage slasher/ghost/zombie flicks – a place totally cut off from the rest of the world, and a group of teenagers, each with their own specific, cookie cutter personality make up this film. And when the characters moved away from those personalities, even for a second, the film found ways to reel them back in and peg them as something that they should be in order for the whole thing to work and come together. It’s sort of meta in a way, because the sinister plot that lies underneath the character’s feet is that there is a group of people taking control of their fate because every so often a ritual has to be performed as a means of appeasing gods that are apparently in control of the fate of humanity. But at the same time, in order for the film to work, these characters had to be turned into the typical horror movie character.

They comprised of the jock, the blonde, the scholar, the stoner or the joker, and the virgin. Of course, the virgin dies last, or doesn’t even have to die.It is an homage to the “final girl” trope commonly found in many horror films – the final girl is usually the last man standing from the group of people the monster is terrorizing, and for some reason this girl is more often than not the kind of girl who starts off as the goody-two-shoes, the one who isn’t as sexual as the others. I think it’s important to note that the final girl trope is able to set up the whole notion of sex as something punishable, therefore killing off the more sexual characters and leaving the least sexual one alive.

Aside from this, Cabin in the Woods also plays with a lot of other common horror movie tropes and cliches. It also showed how big the horror genre is, and how many different kinds of horror films there are. However, most of them still all have a commonality.

Lastly, one thing i would like to point out in Cabin in the Woods is how it showed that despite being chock-full of evil creatures and monsters, the humans also had a hand in everything. We can even say that at one point, the humans were the monsters, agreeing to perform the ritual of sacrificing other people in order to keep balance. Although it was a matter of saving a number of people, or saving the entire human population, I believe that it was still rather evil, or at least a little messed up for the humans to agree to keep this up. I guess it’s a reflection of what humans can become, when driven o the point of helplessness.