Saturday, August 7, 2021

Thoughts on Horror | Midsommar | Why I Hated the Fear Street Movie | Is the Metaphor Dead?

Warning: Here thar be spoilers! Arg!

In addition to a few others, I watched the movie Midsommar this weekend. It has been on my list for a while, and it's one of those movies that you can't really get a feel for by watching the trailer. I was interested in the concept of the midsummer festival and how they were going to use that material in a horror movie. I really had no idea what to expect.

Wikipedia calls it a "folk horror" movie, a term I haven't heard before. It definitely had an indie feel to it without an obvious soundtrack and low-key (not inferior in any way, but understated and not overly dramatic. It felt genuine.) acting. That being said, it was actually well-acted. I think that this type of acting works sometimes works better for the genre because the viewer doesn't really know exactly what the individual is thinking, and their inner thoughts seem hidden. It adds another layer of mystery. I tried to watch a handful of other movies this weekend and was pretty annoyed with the bad acting or bad writing and had to turn them off. The acting in this movie felt authentic to me, and it didn't come across as acting. I felt like I was watching real people going through some pretty traumatic stuff. I would say it was like a reality show, but it was better than that.

The movie was about Americans in Sweden, I think, so I do think that part of the horror did play on the "foreign" element.

Foreign can be a different country, different culture, different language, different species, or aliens from space. It's just the horror you feel by being in a strange place where things are unpredictable and people may exhibit different behaviors from what you think is normal. None of us ever really know what normal is. We think our behavior is normal and we marry normal people and then realize that their normal is not our normal. It's like assuming that being in London will be just like home because we both speak English. You don't know all of the contrasts that will pop up until you do.

In science fiction, the foreigners are aliens from outer space. We became entranced by Japanese horror, I think, largely due to the foreign element. You're in a place you've never been, and they have different histories. It's not xenophobia; it's just not what you're used to, like your first night sleeping in a really old house. Or when people who your parents swear are relatives come to visit, and the old aunt with the long nose and chin and gray frizzy hair who looks like a witch has to sleep in the other twin bed in your room at night. I mean, you’re just a kid and you have to sleep in the same room with a scary STRANGER! Not that that really ever happened.... The Ring, The Eye, and The Grudge were all very scary, and I have to wonder how scary they would have been if they were originally American material. Would they have lost some of the horror effect to the American audience? I think so. At the same time, that's only one facet of what makes them good horror movies. I also think that the Japanese are fantastic at compelling emotions, whether the subject is horror, anime, or romance. In fact I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn that they had a word for it, for which there is no translation in English. Is there a word for words that have no English translation? Is it English or a foreign word?
One of the things that stood out to me was the contrast with other horror movies that relied on darkness and other devices to set the mood. It was summer in this movie, and flowers were blooming everywhere. It wasn't the typical setting that screamed horror movie. They didn't use a filter that grayed out the bright colors while highlighting the color red, so none of the usual tricks. That's not to say that the movie had no special effects. In fact, it did have a few, and it did them very well. For example, when the camera pans over the dining table, there's enough of a distortion to make you wonder if the distortion is implying drug use, the heat from the bright sun, primitive magic, or that perhaps the blurred out food on the table is actually human remains. You lean in to get a closer look. The fact that you wonder and that the answer is never stated explicitly adds another layer of horror to the film.
And yet the movie is able to circumvent typical horror implements and leave you feeling raw. Without going into too many details, I'll just say that there is nothing paranormal about the movie. Everything that happened is something that humans do to themselves or others.
That's probably the scariest thing about the movie.
You had a handful of new adults who were totally okay with taking recreational drugs going to a festival where there were other varieties of drugs for ceremonial use, and this is just one example of how badly that could go.
At the same time, there are enough religious elements in the movie to suggest witchcraft and to make you think that the behavior of these people would have to be influenced by some supernatural force. It's like in the movie, The VVitch (AKA The Witch). One critic suggested that all of the paranormal elements in that movie were just metaphors for what this oppressed young woman was going through and shouldn't be taken literally. In this case, while on the surface, it all appears to be non-paranormal, I want to lean the other way and say that there was witchcraft involved.
At the onset, we have the main character who is totally vulnerable and coming unraveled prior to the trip. We see the awful horror she has already dealt with (also a result of bad human choices), and then she decides that going on this trip with a boyfriend who really wants to break up with her is a good idea. So, there is a lot of psychological horror going on with the movie. There is also a good bit of gore, which is my least favorite type of horror. However, at the start, I had pity for this character, and I was roped in. I knew this was going to be a train wreck, but I had to see how it unfolded.

I thought it was pretty funny that, in the beginning when the emails flashed up on the screen, there were two previous emails where her sister shared YouTube videos. I paused the screen to look them up. Then I found comments below like, "I just came here because of Midsommar." And, "I thought I was the only one who looked this up." There was a weird sort of camaraderie between like minds.

One review that I read compared Midsommar to the 1970s movie The Wicker Man. I was able to find it on Prime Video and watched it. Years ago, I watched the more modern Nicholas Cage version of it where they attempted to remake it for modern times but changed the setting from an island off the coast of Scotland, which I think was a mistake and deprived the movie of some of the original mystique. At that time, I don't think I had even heard about it being a remake. This was probably the Blockbuster Video years when you had limited choices and no "on demand" access and you had to wrestle dinosaurs for the latest releases. Lately, I've become somewhat interested in older movies, and I wanted to see what the older, more hyped version of TWM was like.

First of all, I can see why they compared Midsommar and TWM. Both movies had the the bright summer setting, pagan ceremonies, and an isolated group of villagers (AKA cult) who seemed to enjoy setting things on fire. To describe TWM even further, it's basically a mystery/thriller with music and dancing. Definitely R-rated material. But the contrast between a mystery/thriller and the singing and dancing is kind of mind-blowing and appropriately strange.

Still on an old-movie kick, I'm now watching the 1960s show Dark Shadows. I remember that they had a new one in the 90s, I think, but this is the old version and not in color. I think later seasons might be in color. It's a bit strange to watch because the film quality appears older than the 60s, and it appears that the film might have been digitally altered because there's a pronounced backlighting effect around people, like they have a dark aura or some evil, oppressive, parasitic shadow has attached itself to cast members and is in the process of leeching their life force. However, it's interesting to see how storytelling and effects have changed since then.

I also watched the first of the three Fear Street movies, 1994, so here is why I hated it.
Well, hate might be a rather strong word, but.... Nope, can't think of a better word. Hate pretty much covers it.

The writer spent far too much time focusing on politics. I didn't think that it reflected the spirit of Fear Street at all. The language, drug use, and sex were not things that were in the books. Besides not being loyal to the source material, there was a love scene--with MINORS--that was allowed to go on far too long.
Keep in mind that most people who read Fear Street were probably in the extremely shallow end of the "young adult" pool AKA early-to-mid middle school. So, here is the target audience of the R-rated Fear Street movie.

However, the thing I found the most horrifying about the Fear Street movie was that the unlikable "protagonist" BULLIED her ex into having a relationship. If this had been a guy-girl relationship, this would NOT have been okay. The main character was basically a horrible, selfish person with zero redeeming qualities who abused her ex until she gave in.

I actually really enjoyed the Goosebumps series and The Haunting Hour, both creations from R.L. Stine. I believe that the writers of the FS movie crossed a line several lines and that the material is inappropriate for the target age group. Had this been a movie featuring only adults, it would have mainly just been guilty of bad writing and promoting abusive relationships, but this movie seeks to normalize abusive relationships for minors. It sends a message, not that you should be who you want to be, but that your desires don't matter. "You should be who I want you to be." That seems to be the terrifying message behind this horror film.

Fun Fact: The Rob Zombie song, "More Human than Human," used in the 1994 scene where the main character's little brother played video games, wasn't released until 1995.

I'm disappointed because I had been looking forward to the movies, which I won't be watching. Knowing how they can now take a good thing and warp the crap out of it, I'm not looking forward to ANY movie at this point.

I take that back. I'm still looking forward to the next John Wick

When I was learning to write, I was told over and over not to preach. This current trend of overt agendas seems to be in complete contradiction of that rule. In the past, the monsters were metaphors for evil or bad humans or misunderstood humans or outcast humans. These days, the monsters are monsters and the humans are bad, misunderstood, or outcast humans. It seems that the metaphor, for all intents and purposes, is dead.
In the past, the story was the fable that subconsciously imparted the lesson. The message was embedded into an interesting story for the reader to discover. Now the story has been deconstructed and is only loosely suggested as a framework while the lesson is pounded into people. We pull the brake on the story to bring you this important news bulletin of what you must accept as being true. In the past, the story was like a sleek vehicle, taking the curves of the lesson without being jostled around a bit. In most cases these days, the story is barely a go-cart dragging a two-ton lesson with a frayed rope. Did readers suddenly lose the ability to understand the implied meaning of the text, or did the writers suddenly get lazy? I'm going to go with B, unless the writers were formerly part of group A, in which case, the answer could be C, all of the above.
So, writers, if you want to draw on the nostalgic past of a children's book series to get your quick buck, you might want to take a few lessons from the past. Respect the genre. Respect the source material. Don't broadcast your agendas like signs on the wall: "Big Brother Is Watching." And, please, pull up your pants!

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