What Is The Meaning Of This?

[Note: This post contains mild spoilers]

Oftentimes, I find myself in a movie house watching a horror film, barely affected from
what is happening on screen. This is probably due to the fact that I’ve seen way too much formulaic horror films (this list includes pretty much the whole slew of films in the Shake, Rattle, and Roll franchise) that

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An iconic horror scene from Scream (1996), which sets off a number of ‘predictable’ events in the film.

I’ve acquired the ability to be able to predict or detect what is going to happen next, may it be a jump scare, which among the characters is going to die next, or any other trick in the bag. It is not to say that I do not enjoy watching these films regardless of the fact that they’re corny, or not at all scary, but for the most part, I’ve come to think of horror as this almost-too-predictable genre. In some ways, this is probably why I enjoy the genre so much, the thrills that it gives me despite already knowing what’s going to happen next, pretty much like how characters in the Scream franchise and the story Cabin In The Woods poke some intelligent and self-aware fun at the genre.

This is the mindset I had coming into the first Horror Film Seminar class – I was very much excited to see and experience more horror films, but at the same time, was quite adamant about whether or not these films will actually stand out among the already existing list of movies. But watching Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009) as our first film, along with the readings and lecture related to it, completely changed, or in the words of many millennials today: “shookt,” my perception of the horror genre as a whole.

The film in one sense, follows the tropes that John Clute has created as he identified a four-part structure and moves in a horror film.

The Story Begins

screenshot3sAs the first, and daresay most conventional, act of the film played out, I initially thought that its main premise would just be like any other lost-at-sea or ghost-ship type of horror film. It certainly seemed that way as we were introduced to the film’s main protagonist, Jess, who was off on a boating trip with a bunch of stereotypically American characters (it’s funny though how this film is actually comprised of Australian/Kiwi actors and actresses) that the audience would barely care for until they would die at some point in the film. At one point, the film was headed to this ‘generic’ direction, setting out some key elements and plot points that would be essential to the film as it moved further. This is where Clute’s move, ‘the sighting,’ begins, as the elements begin to give the audience a taste of what is to come, and in Triangle‘s case, to foreshadow the fate of its main protagonist.

It’s worth noting at this point that, at the very beginning of the film, I asked myself the questions “why are certain parts of the introduction being blacked out?” (remembering the commentary of one of my production professors on how we made a horror film that utilized the same effect in our edit, which to him disengaged the audience from the narrative) and “what happened to her kid?” These questions were somehow overshadowed by my idea that those might have just been oversights, but as is revealed later on, actually meant something in the grander narrative.

The Plot Thickens 

After what seemed to be normal horror fare came the second half, which led the characters into the ship and into a series of unfortunate and wild events. One by one, the writer (who also serves as the director) of the film drops even more hints to Jess’ fate, and slowly, the main problem of the film arises. The happenings in this specific act of the film act as some sort of revelation of the true nature of the film, and thus falls under both the moves of ‘thickening’ (or the deepening of the world) and ‘reveling’ (peeling of the layers) that Clute theorized. The entry to the ship definitely effectively signified and strengthened both tropes, as it served as a venue to bring out the pieces of the puzzle that both Jess and the audience would struggle to put together.

The whole aspect of everyone else but Jess dying so quickly (or so we think), alongside many of the initial reveals in this part of the film, honestly got me very, very confused. There were so many moments wherein I said to myself “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!,” as I constantly jotted out my notes, questions, in the hopes of figuring out what was actually happening on screen. Eventually, I caught on to the idea that Smith was trying to bring out, and darn, was I impressed.

…and We Start All Over Again

The use of the time-traveling or looping concept in horror is not entirely new to my consciousness, with the looping staircase stories often found in issues of Philippine Ghost Stories (one even featured a building in Ateneo Grade School) in giphymind. But this hasn’t been utilized in horror film, or at least to my knowledge, and Triangle really brought its A-game in bringing out its clever plot twists and reveals as it integrated time travel. What’s particularly interesting about this idea in particular is that although the concept of time travel (most evident in the film Edge of Tomorrow and the television shows Doctor Who and The Flash) has its own sets of ‘rules and regulations’ and conventions, the film is able to stand firm on its idea that no matter how much Jess tries to change her ‘timeline,’ she will eventually keep on coming back to the same scenarios all over again. This suggests that in the film, the central narrative that Jess herself is trying to change is a fixed point in time, and that therefore removes anyone’s capacity to change those course of events. Of course, we do not know this for sure, because Jess ends up repeating the events and trying to end the cycle, but it seems like she won’t be able to get out of there until she realizes that she must move on from the terrible event that ‘started’ the whole fiasco in the first place.

With this, it is even more interesting that, although there is what Clute refers to as the ‘Aftermath’ move for the audience as they realize the endgame of the film (or not), the film barely points to any hints to any definite and recognizable effect to Jess as the end part of the movie is essentially also part of the beginning of the movie. That in itself is clever storytelling and breaking the stereotypes that has plagued the horror genre for a long period of time.

The Triangle of Horror

Triangle utilizes many ideas present in other horror films, such as the concept of fatalism which the character is powerless to change – in the form of Jess and her situation), and another one of John Clute’s definitions of the horror film as “strange stories,” where the character experiences Otherness in their situation.

But more than anything, the film reflects the fluidity of the genre horror genre. What was once a stereotypical and predictable genre for me, though I enjoyed it, has opened up the gates (and my brain, I guess) to more unconventional types of horror. This further strengthens previous discussions in class, and Mark Janovich’s discussion on what a genre critique should be, specifically in the horror genre. As Janovich discusses the genre, he notes a quote from Altman saying that “genre categories are not necessarily about the presence or absence of essential, defining features, but are more loose and fluid sets of criteria” (Janovich, p. 16). Furthermore, he notes that “[Altman] is doubtful whether any sense of ‘collective belief ’ or consensual agreement over the definition of a genre can ever actually be identified,” mainly stating this because of the fact that audiences consume a wide array of material, which they then classify in accordance to everything else they have watched (Janovich, p. 17). In this sense, horror as a genre of film can be defined and executed in more ways than one can imagine – bringing forth a plethora of possibilities that will most likely scare many audiences.

Overall, Triangle is not without its predictable moments, but its use of these moments cleverly to reveal that everything was more than it seemed, made for a brilliant, mind-boggling experience for the audience including myself. The film is a telling tale of ironically, accepting our fate, and moving on to see what lies ahead. That may have been the case for the story of its protagonist, but conversely, the film made an interesting foray into the uncharted waters (no pun intended) of the horror genre – that which continues and should continue to evolve in the minds of both producers and audiences.

References:

  1. Clute, J. The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror. Cauheegan, Wisc.: Payseur & Schmidt, 2006. Print.
  2. Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.
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