Martyrs: Unexpectedly Philosophical

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I thought that Dead Girl was cringe-worthy up until I saw Martyrs.

For the most part of the movie, I felt so lost. It seemed at first, like one of those movies about exorcisms. Then it felt as if a retribution story. And finally, it seemed philosophical to an extent with its finale.

It was such a long struggle to understand just what the monster was in the movie. It had me thinking that it was some sort of invisible entity that would be visible only to a few, just like in It Follows. As we later find out, it is but a conditioned monster imbedded in the minds of those experimented upon by a cult of old men and women, in search for what the other side of life would have in store for them.

The torture scenes from the film felt so unbearable for me. Just the thought of something like this being done in some part of the world made my stomach turn. The more I wanted the violence and gore in the film to stop, the more it fed me with nightmares to remember.

As with the concept of the damsel-in-distress, we find ourselves pitying Anna and the other torture victims in the film. Each passing day shown in the film felt more and more excruciating for the audience. Despite the horror we feel however, there is still this nagging feeling of what all of the torture is for. And we are introduced to the secret society who intends only to find out what comes after life of martyrdom, while lambasting the dignity of these young girls. We find that true martyrdom is found in Anna who willingly risks her life to save her troubled friend from the monsters in her head. This blows over into a full-on torture cycle that almost kills her, but not before she achieves “enlightenment.”

Repeatedly, her troubled friend is shown to be motivating Anna to just let go of her resistance to pain in order to find her peace. Having been murdered by her captors, she only wanted Anna to experience the least amount of pain as possible even in the afterlife.

In the scene where the old lady finds out what’s in store for her in the afterlife, we see that she is readying herself for the proclamation of what it is that Anna had told her. What we did not expect was for the old lady to take her own life. I think that this was such a good move for a last scene because it leaves the audience wanting to know what exactly Anna had told her. Whether it was a trick for the old woman to kill herself or whether it was that enticing to want to keep it to herself even at the cost of her life.

The film makes the audience curious about the “secret” but is the viewer ready to face the tortuous cycle that this comes with? Of course not. That’s exactly why we have the horror film. We want to entertain our darkest curiosities without having to risk anything of ourselves.

The Monster in May

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May was such a peculiar movie.

Seeing as though it wanted to depict this disturbingly awkward and eerie character, I think the film was successful in making its audience feel unsettled. If in most movies, we notice the creepy factors of the film in flashing neon signs like for example in a psychopath or in gore, in May, we see it characterized in a character one would end up feeling sympathy for. We knew from the very beginning that May had  a problematic upbringing. Her mother had this very iconic line which is more or less saying that May needed to “make” her own friends if she cannot find real ones. This dictates whatever else kind of interaction, amiss social cues, and personality May would have towards her journey as a growing adult. She seems to find comfort in the same doll given to her by her mother which is enclosed in a glass case. From this point on, we start to feel sorry for May as even as a child, she could not grasp fully what her condition would be doing to limit her social interaction. Instead of getting their child the therapy and briefing she might have needed in order to understand her condition and to socialize well with others, she was just given a bandaid solution that unfortunately carried over to her adult years.

Although we see may as a capable adult who does her job well, we also see how impaired she still is as a social creature. We see her try her best to interact with her coworkers or passersby but she ends up hurt if others don’t become as understanding. In the end, she is found to be fascinated by the body parts of those around her because maybe that’s just how she can feel or talk comfortably around those people. I think it is very hard to portray such a complex character so I really applaud the actress who had given life to May. We all seem to be able to think of one person in our high school class who might end up having the same personality as May if we were to put the quirks at a larger extent. And often, they are outcasted by the entire class. This is discussed in a number of readings since “the other” may very well be the outcasted, the weird, the socially inept, not because they choose to be but because they are not supplied with the necessary skills to do so. They are at a disadvantage because sometimes they do not choose to be this way, as with her condition.

This is what makes the finale of the movie so much more satisfying. The moment May had adorned herself with the same attire her broken doll had worn, she went into full on go-getter mode. I could feel everyone in the classroom excited about what she is about to do with her sudden change in stance. I find this satisfying feeling similar to what I felt when the formerly utilized Mia in Evil Dead finally gets her revenge on the “monster” who killed all her friends. May goes on this psychotic pilgrimage in order to gather the dismembered body parts she needed in order to make her own friend.

After watching the film, I felt a mix of repulsion and sympathy for the character because even after all the crazy lengths she took in order to make her “friend”, and thus, killing people in the process, we also note that this act was simply within her logic that she only wanted a real friend. A friend who will not make fun of her idiosyncrasies. We see how she wanted to please Adam by copying the film he made. All of her actions are in order to make her lasting relationships, something she never acquired outside her family members.

I think the film really tries to tell its audience that there might be people we encounter that we do not fully understand, resulting in them being outcasted. It is a lesson on how easily we could misinterpret someone’s actions without understanding where they are coming from.

Even at the very end, May tried to give a part of herself to her “doll” in order for it to feel like a true relational interaction.

Pontypool: Interestingly Unique

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Sir mentioned in class that Com majors will either love the movie or hate it. I loved it.

Although there were parts of the film that I felt were unnecessary, I really liked how different and creative it was a horror film. I didn’t quite get why they made use of zombies in the films but I think it would have had a creepier and exciting vibe if the words were transmitting cannibalism instead of Zombies. I find the zombies in the film deader than they already are so I think I little more aggression on their part would have made this film a lot popular. I really liked Grant Mazzy’s character because he was such a breath of fresh air compared to the usual damsel-in-distress or psychotic lead that I would usually find in horror films. He was funny, smart, and strategic. He was the one who cracked the code, along with his supposed love interest in the film.

I like the whole concept of semiotics being used as the  “monster” in the film, mainly because you know that a lot of thought has been put into the curation of the concept. I’m not entirely sure if the film was based from a novel, but it would probably be an interesting read if this is so. What I find disappointing is that although the concept it original, the film’s plot could have been executed better. There were a lot of characters that I would did not appeal to me, like the performers they invited to the show. I’m not too sure if this was for comical relief or not? But I don’t think it was very helpful for the story. The doctor could have been of better use to the plot as well but he was just an annoyance in the film in my opinion. I don’t think his purpose should have stopped at telling them the source of the contagion in the film. I really appreciate the part where they were trying to locate which words are infected and which are not because although it is a very abstract concept, it still provided the same feeling of suspense. Neither the audience nor the character knew which words were indeed afflicted, making the viewers feel nervous for the characters in the film. I find particularly annoying the character of Sydney. I don’t think anyone in the state of panic and fear of her own life would willingly get drunk for the sake of “running away” from the issue. She put her life and Mazzy’s at risk and it just had no reason behind it whatsoever, coming from a film with a concept that seems to be well-calculated. I think that the story itself could have been enriched if there was more depth in characters aside from Mazzy.

While I was searching for Pontypool online, I was a bit taken by surprise by how Pontypool was an actual town and not just some made up place for the film. The very name of the town sounds like wordplay.

I think that the film was successful in making the concept something the audience would be interested in but not too successful in marking it as horror. The zombies in the movie seemed distant to its viewers because they did not seem to pose a real threat to the characters, or at least with how they were portrayed. I do not like how the doctor conveniently was able to enter the radio station in his efforts to escape the zombies. There was no challenge to seek the radio jocks in order to make a public announcement regarding this epidemic. Laurel-ann’s character was very engaging and I think that gave me a lot of expectations to the kind of zombies we would be faced with once the doors of the station have collapsed.

But ultimately, I think Pontypool is a good break from the usual horror flicks I end up watching and I only hope that I am able to stumble upon similar creations in the future that are maybe developed further.

Evil Dead: A Blockbuster Ballbuster

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This film was the most enjoyable to watch with the entire class because of all the jump scares and the chase between the monster and the final girl.

Putting it side by side with Cabin in the Woods, it’s essentially the same movie only Cabin was sort of a parody on Evil Dead. I really enjoyed both films because although they both have the cliche plots, it’s still the kind of film that would be entertaining no matter how predictable the story may be. Honestly, these are the kinds of films to watch on a cozy night in with your barkada if you are looking to find some excitement while staying indoors.

Of course, everyone would agree that the guy with the glasses was at fault for even trying to pry open that demonic “bible” of sorts but I think the only wrong move he had done was to actually say it out loud. I don’t think a sound-minded guy would want to recite those things, and instead would be researching about them online before doing anything with them. Probably an archeologist would not be bashed for uncovering a dangerous book but the mere action of saying the words out loud just puts the poor guy in a compromising place. Throughout the movie, Mia was the annoying focus of the whole film, one would think that her brother would be the “final girl” since it would be an emotional tug at the audience if the sister herself would kill the brother and the brother would be powerless if tasked to kill his own sister. I have not seen the original film but assuming that it followed the same plot, I enjoyed the twist at the end wherein there was a sudden switch of power with regards to the characters. I liked how Mia, although very annoying as a lead, was able to take charge and I specifically liked her lines in the last few scenes. The part where she has to dislodge her own arm had me digging my nails into my palms but at the same time I felt so ecstatic as I was rooting for her in the end.

Although the film was just another one of those blockbuster horror movies, I think still think that it was pulled off quite well. I’m not too familiar with its reviews online because I didn’t really feel the need to check what the critics had to say because that’s just how much I loved the film. Cliche backstory, setting, plot, and characters but the execution and stylistics are just beyond I have ever hoped for.

I was never into slasher films before but Evil Dead may just be the exception I needed. Kirby mentioned the same idea I had thought of  when she said that the psychopathic killer usually comes from a dysfunctional family, shown with how Mia is an addict who seems desperate with her going clean and yet failing in each attempt she makes. There is also the mention of how her deranged mother had passed without the presence of her brother, making a problematic relationship with her kin all the more a motivation for the demon in her to annihilate her brother with her own hands.

 

Although I am not a huge fan of gore, I think this was portrayed well in the film. Instead of leaving me disgusted and cringing like in the films Dead Girl and May, Evil Dead’s depiction of body dismemberment was artful. It was like the Mad Max of slasher films for me, with the rock music playing in the background and everything.

Side note: I find it kinda funny that the actress in the film reminded me so much of Emma Stone with her expressive eyes and similar features. True enough, her namesake in the film was found in this year’s La La Land lead.

Paranoia: An Analysis of It Follows

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It Follows was such an exciting film to watch simply because of the feeling of not knowing. this may frustrate some viewers but I find it all the more exciting when I see myself rooting for a certain character that is in pursuit.

The film somehow reminded me of Dead Silence, in a way that it makes you feel so uncertain in such a normal occurrence. Not knowing if the silence is shared is similar to not realizing whether the person next to you is the monster in It Follows.

It annoyed people how slow the film is at the beginning but I think this was necessary in pacing the film especially in terms of the very theme of it, which is constant, yet slow pursuit. The mere fact that the monster portrayed can take any form is terrifying already. The monster may be slow, but the idea that a being may be following you at any time, anywhere, and in whoever’s form can really drive a person insane.

The reading that applies most to this film is Linda William’s When a Woman Looks, seeing as though the film plays so much on the female gaze. At the beginning, Jay is portrayed as the typical popular girl who is sought after by multiple suitors. Even during the sex scene, there was one clear message: She only existed to be “looked at.” Hugh only used her as a way to escape the treacherous monster who is constantly following him. And even when she was the one who had the “power” to transmit the disease, we see that her gaze was punished. She could not seem to escape the monster because those who she transmitted it to had all fallen victim to the monster, and the whole cycle goes back to her.

Once she takes charge in wanting to transmit the curse to another, like the boys in the yacht, she shows us her power to mutilate and transform the vulnerable male. It is here a recognition that she poses a similar if not equal power to the patriarchy. She uses the two teenagers on the boat instead of the other way around, as a either a recognition of her power or the acknowledgement of her desperation.

Having been assigned to this movie for the presentation, our group was able to deliberate on what the monster or “it” may be a metaphor for. First, it is important to note that the mode of transmission of the “curse” is through sex. This makes the film a sort of metaphor for the stigma of AIDS in societal standards. We see individuals with AIDS as being outcasted despite it not being an airborne contagion. This is show with how Hugh had isolated himself in abandoned house, only having to take care of himself by arming the windows with cans and the doors with bolts. Second, the monster may be a psychological concept as only those who have been intimate with one another can be afflicted by it. It is similar to being exposed to an idea. For example, if one is presented with an idea one cannot grasp completely, it stays with the person. You mull over it until you try to make sense out of it from your own terms. It follows you even when you only think about it in the subconscious. Lastly, it can refer to the unknown, which is a very familiar concept in horror. We as the audience are repulsed or are terrified by the unknown yet we are piqued by our curiosity to want to experience or at least look at it.

I did not know exactly what the last scene had meant but I might just watch the film again to be able to make sense of it. My groupmates and I agreed that there is a collective frustration amongst us with regards to the hesitation repeatedly shown by the characters in the film. We also think that the prostitution idea was very powerful since it showed the kind of desperation the character had in the film, leading them to selfishness.  The film overall was a joy to watch, and it is a bit overwhelming considering that it was a low budget film. There were a lot of beautiful cinematography in the film, especially at the first few scenes but overall, I think it’s a very innovative film, making use of both the male and female gaze and utilizing well the appeal of the unknown to an audience who thrive from the feeling of uncertainty.

Relentlessly Disturbing

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Dead girl set new heights for what is disturbing in my honest evaluation.

Probably the closest narrative I’ve been exposed to regarding Necrophilia would be the poem of Edgar Allan Poe entitled Annabel Lee, up until I’ve seen this film at least. I don’t think I would willingly search for films depicting necrophilia even if I wanted to understand it simply because the thought of it was extremely repulsing. Carroll gives an answer as to why anyone would want to watch horror films depicting the very themes that disturbed them. Carroll suggests that our general affinity for horror, especially for those who willingly chose this course, is because of our curiosity. We enjoy uncovering these obscure themes that we might never encounter in let’s say, an academic book or even young adult fiction. We are hooked on discovering just how such a supernatural idea can come to be, without really going out of our way to research or try to experience the impossible ourselves. It’s sort of like a cheat code in a videogame. You don’t have to do the dirty work because you can just watch it unfold in front of you.

The film started out slow, introducing the two seemingly contrasting personalities of Rickie and JT up until they discovered the shackled body of a zombie woman. From there we see the divergent choices of the two regarding the zombie girl. JT, exuding a more powerful male presence in the film, obviously sees the woman as an object of pleasure, and later on, a means to fulfill his other desires: money and power. He utilized the dead girl for his own sexual desire. He then moved to making profit out of the zombie girl by inviting Wheeler to do the same deed, in exchange for money. Later on, he uses the dead girl on order to seek authority from the bullies / jocks in their school by tricking Johnny into having his penis bitten off by zombie, which creepily seemed to please her, as shown in the photo above.

Even moving past the desire for power and wealth, JT makes use of the dead girl in order to produce more “slaves” for him to make money out of. I think he might be planning to make a prostitution den out of the abandoned psychiatric hospital when he tried beat up  that curvy woman from the gasoline station. And when they failed, they found Joann.

I think that Rickie’s character doesn’t stray too far away from JT’s in the sense that he also has these pleasures he desperately wants to fulfill. Even when Joann was just his schoolmate, the way he stared at her would probably warrant a restraining order if she were not his childhood friend. At this point, I would assume that Rickie’s feelings for Joann would be that of infatuation bordering on obsession rather than the fondness one would associate with love interests. I think that JT had triggered the inner desires from Rickie despite his trying to veer away from it. It was not incited, but amplified. When Rickie was seen to be touching himself, he fantasized about Joann yet he saw the dead girl in his dreams. I think this is hinting on the fact that he sees both women as objects rather than people in  themselves. Yes, he is the typical good guy for not wanting to partake in JT’s business but the fact of the matter is that he did not seek help for the woman immediately after he witnessed what JT had done to her. He was concerned, but he put his own interests above the common good.

Rickie showed us this male gaze during the last few scenes of the film. Rickie is seen to be living a normal life, with a very dark secret. He made Joann into the very thing he “wanted” to save. He used her as an object, despite having “feelings” for her at the very start. One would expect that the end would show us Rickie living a normal life after having Joann brought to experts for possibly finding a cure. Jancovich suggested in his discussion about the Silence of the Lambs that there would come a point wherein “contradictions are resolved” and “incompatible elements are tied together”  but this does not hold true for this specific film. We are presented a problematic resolve, in the form a criticism of the male gaze, with respect to the portrayal of the “good guys” in the films of today.

Innkeepers: Not For The Impatient

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West’s The Innkeepers was so difficult to watch and sadly, for all the wrong reasons.

I was a bit lost on what the film wanted to reveal to the viewers since I don’t think it was successful enough to pique the interest of most. My friends in the class thought that it did not engage them as a viewer and I have to agree. I was a bit thrown off by the overall style of the film, especially the sequencing of the movie by chapters. In class, it was discussed that the purpose of the division into chapters could be giving emphasis on the importance of a horror story, since Sara Paxton in the film had banked on the story of Madeline O’Malley to get her through a very boring job as an all-around staff of a small hotel / inn. I was hoping that the story of Madeline would be developed but I was left unsatisfied. The film instead, delved more into the character of Claire who had become very annoying towards the end with her nosy and self-serving character. I find that the film tried its best to bring depth to Claire’s character but it was unsuccessful since the audience members did not particularly feel for the character at all. Luke was a bit more entertaining compared to Claire but he was also not too relatable and some viewers were frustrated with how he led us all on the story of Madeline.

What would have been interesting enough for the audience to remain engaged by the film I think was if for some reason, the old man that checked in had been related to Madeline O’Malley and if the spirit of Madeline had a chance in being given a life to. I found it as a opportunity because the psychic (Leanne) did not really give much value to the film and just served as an adviser to the every selfish and stubborn Claire. One thing that was consistent however, was Claire curiosity. Noel Carroll had explained in “Why Horror” how curiosity is why people keep watching horror films despite being fearful, scared, bored, and whatever else negative feelings they get from watching Horror. In the very end, even when one does not want to see gore, or be subjected to jump-scares, we still end up asking ourselves, or the rest of the audience on what happens next. That is exactly how Claire is as a person. She was convinced that she would be able to find the spirit of Madeline O”Malley that she was willing to put off sleep or even dismiss her real job just to try to record and capture the spirit in motion. She was curious, as show in the photo above. She was persistent even when she was already experiencing the horrors she had been anticipating all this time. When Luke was terrified about what Claire was looking at at the basement, he ran away. He realized that his made up stories had come to life and jumped at the first sign of the supernatural. He feared what he could not even see, simply because it is more terrifying to not know where it is located and what it looks like. Our imaginations sometimes play tricks on us, and it definitely made a fool out of Luke. Madeline O’Malley’s spirit and story, which he intentionally made up and wrote about in his website, had come to life and he feared of knowing anything more about it.

The film does have the regular factors of a horror film. A seemingly decent home with a terrifying backstory. A curious girl who falls victim to the spirit’s wrath. An older character who warns of the evils of the spirits if they were disturbed. All of these are familiar but somehow I still feel like I just watched a documentary on Claire’s life, which is not at all interesting. I feel like the film could have focused less on the character of Claire since she was quite hard to relate to. The movie failed to capture our interests even if there were monsters shown in the film. On the last scene we see that Claire’s curiosity is what actually kills her. However, we also see that Claire becomes one of the ghosts she looked forward to seeing each day in her job. Was that her resolve? Is that the goal of the film? Until now I still feel like I wasted some hours of my life watching a white girl complain about her life. I wish I could see the film in a different light but I just can’t. Hopefully, the rest of the films in the course will be better.

Noel Carroll, “Why Horror?.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).