I’ve always figured I’m easy to scare, so I’ve pretty much avoided horror flicks for a good while. I was hesitant to go see Black Swan the other day, because I’d heard was scary and creepy. In the end, I found myself less that impressed. I wasn’t scared. I was a little bored. So, logically, we’ve started a quest to find a perfect horror film (or one to make me scared). So far, no luck.
Sometime around elementary school, I was hooked on Stephen King novels, and some of the best horror films I’ve seen are based on his works: It scared the hell out of me for years; Pet Sematary worked well enough in elementary school; I both loved and hated the Shining (the version with Jack Nicholson. That face in itself is enough to scare, but the lady in the bath tub stayed with me for a long time); the Green Mile was simply beautiful (if not all that scary). I have been positively surprised on Final Destination (the first one) – possibly because my expectations were so low – and although I know the twist, I still love the Sixth Sense.
We’ve turned to Asia to find something new and frightening; gore is simply not enough to frighten, and the originals of the Hollywood remakes are just so much better; first one to spring to mind is Ring, but I heard the Grudge is pretty scary too. (I’ve yet to watch that one.)
This weekend, we’ve been expecting to be devoured by the following flicks:
Re-Cycle (2006, Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang; Hong Kong/Vietnam)
I liked the premise of the story: a successful writer (Angelica Lee) starts writing a horror story, and her imagination takes over. Upon reading the back cover, I thought it sounded like something I and my crazy imagination could identify with. To be fair, my companion warned me that he thought it was more fantasy than horror. As it turned out, Recycle was nothing but pretty pictures with very little substance. I definitely liked the visuals, but the film itself was neither scary nor suspenseful. I had no feelings for the protagonist, I didn’t care about the love drama, and even the little twist in the end failed to touch. Throughout the whole ‘running around and being kinda bewildered unless someone was telling me what to do ‘-part of the film I had a feeling that Re-Cycle would work beautifully as a video game; the artwork, the settings, the scenes, the archetypal character and the way the story was carried through would definitely work better in another format. As a game, the viewer/player would engage with the world and the character on a whole another level. So… Not scared.
A tale of two sisters (2003, Jee-woon Kim; South Korea)
A film about a strange little family with two mentally unstable sisters, a father who seems very absent, and a stepmother true to the good old Grimm fairy tales fashion. The entire story happens in a secluded house, where the family has gathered to recuperate.
During the film, the viewer was led around the nose, giving just enough of suspense to keep you hooked and letting you spot just enough disparities to give you the feeling of wrongness the characters must have felt. And it was wonderful… Except when it wasn’t. The look and feel of the film was claustrophobic, and I especially liked the way colours were subtly but cleverly used to create mood. On a first watch, nothing revealed the truth until the very end of the film… Where it all fell flat on the ground. What a disappointment! The mental illness thing has been done to death. (Was that a pun?)
The Eye (2002, Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang; Hong Kong)
Some years ago, I heard that this was a suspenseful, terrifying film. The idea is that a girl blinded at a very young age gets transplanted with new, working set of eyes. She starts seeing dead people, and the face she sees in the mirror is not hers. She enlists the aid of a young, handsome therapist-doctor to find out what’s happening, and the rest of the film is pretty much just like in the Sixth Sense. I’m not sure I liked the cop-out at the ending, but overall the Eye was a nice film. Nice. Not scary, and not brilliant. Nicey nice. I felt the dead people could have been a whole lot scarier and a whole lot less stereotypical, so on the scariness level the film was bland at best. I didn’t hate the film, I just didn’t think it was scary or even very interesting. Nicey nice nice. I think my opinion of the film is slithering lower the longer it is from seeing it. Hmm.
Antichrist (Lars Von Trier; err…
Germany? Denmark? Europe)
Somewhat surprisingly, the best of the lot is not an Asian production, but from the mind of a Dane. Antichrist is a story about a couple whose toddler dies while they’re having sex in the next room. Despite the ethic problem, the therapist husband (Willem Dafoe) takes his wife on as a patient to work on her grief and anxieties. Charlotte Gainsbourg gives a terrific performance as the depressed wife whose fears seem to culminate at the couple’s cabin. The couple goes to spend time at the secluded cabin in the woods., but the environment starts working against the both of them.
First off, the opening sequence is pure brilliance. Beautiful black and white images with amazing music set the story without a single word; I have never seen a sex scene presented with such grace. The prologue is a whole work of art in itself, and it is brilliantly completed at the end of the film. Right at the beginning, I was hooked on the story and the characters (and only slightly distracted by the presence of Dafoe*). Throughout the film,Von Trier’s freehand camera provided closeness with the characters – you actually felt with them. The gory, excessively realistic sequences merely made me cringe, although it should be understood that normally silver screen violence makes me laugh. (Come on! Violence is funny!) Without resorting to a hack-and-slash clichés of most horror flicks, Von Trier didn’t go for half measures on the violence. However. As a horror film, Antichrist was a little bit off-target. I felt the supernatural elements could have been enhanced more – the story was somehow lacking another element — the element of surprise. The story hints at the presence of some greater force, but it doesn’t follow through. For me, the mix of horror and fantasy was too bland.
Personally, I love the fantastic, supernatural more than just your regular violence (although it can be fun too), so I would have loved to see more of the otherness, more elements and more focus on the topic of witches. The film fell short both as a horror and as a fantasy film; it let the viewer off too easy. I was lost at sea, but not lost enough to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Perhaps the story was too unfinished or simply edited to death. I just wanted more! Not scared.
Oh, but the visuals on the film were nothing but beautiful.
So… Scary films? Which ones worked for you? Let us prove that I’m not jaded; I just haven’t seen horror films horrible enough. (Please don’t suggest anything from Michael Moore. I’m looking for escapism, not reality!)
*Who is no doubt a great actor, but I can’t help but see the Green Goblin every time.