Halloween (1978): The Horror of Framing, and Identification

A Frame is a single image of film or video. “Framing” consists of the composition of the subjects (people ,objects) within that image. Based on where the camera and the subjects have been placed,  we know where we are, as the audience, and that can make all the difference in a person views a film.

I have friends who dislike Horror movies. I know! Sacrilege, right? But I get it. I don’t pressure them to watch them, because I understand that such movies aren’t for everyone, but I often wonder what it is about such movies that they dislike, especially when they are unable to articulate this for me. I know for some of them, its the feelings of tension and anxiety that such films produce. But I also think at least part of that anxiety has to do with the nature of the visual media itself. The camera is often a stand-in for the audience. We see what the camera sees, and visual media is carefully composed to manipulate our emotions about what we see. Some people will find it very off putting, not just watching a scene, and being helpless to stop it, but based on how the images are framed, feel as if they are actually participating in the violence. 

I was watching the original 1978  Halloween, and comparing it to the new sequel that came out last year. I was thinking about why the new sequel is so effective, at being scary, whereas none of the other sequels and remakes, outside of  were scary for me, at all.

At least part of the reason the new sequel works is it successfully replicates the framing of the first film in ways that the others do not. This framing has the effect of making the audience a participant in the action. If you remember the opening scene from the original film, we see the suburban setting as if we, the audience, were operating the camera, as Michael stabs his sister to death. Afterwards, the camera switches the viewpoint to that of his parents, we pull back when his parents pull off his mask, as he stands on the front lawn. This is an example of the audience as not just onlookers, which is the viewpoint from which most films are told, but as participants in the actions onscreen. We are not meant to simply watch, but see through Michael’s eyes, as we participate in the killing. That we see the murder from Michael’s point of view can make some members of the audience feel complicit in the act.

After this opening, the camera neatly switches between Laurie Strode’s, and Michael’s, point of view. It is Laurie’s decisions that control the plot, but she and her friends are the ones being acted upon by Michael. The movie is framed in a classic Protagonist/Antagonist plot, of two (relatively) evenly matched adversaries, who play cat and mouse throughout the movie. Part of the movie’s tension is who is going to survive, and the camera shows this by switching between both their points of view. Switching between these two different points of view is a way to keep the audience off balance.

First, let’s have a discussion of camera techniques and film vocabulary, since I am operating under the assumption that a lot of my readers have never really given a whole lot of thought to the idea that what a camera is doing, doesn’t just tell the audience how to feel, or think, but often focuses the movie’s primary themes, and character dynamics.

It is the  composition of the characters, within the Frame, which tells the audience who is of primary importance in the story, and how the audience should feel about what is happening to them.The Director, and Cinematographer are the ones who decide where the camera is going to stand, what it’s going to be doing, and what that image looks like through the viewfinder (the colors, lighting, and depth of field). One of the things that makes horror movies so unsettling is that camera viewpoints can switch at any moment. The camera can be anyone at any time. One of the side effects is that the viewer is not given time to become complacent, or to feel comfortable.

Sometimes we see the world through Michael’s eyes, experiencing the emotionlessness of this character. The way the images are framed, give us a sense of Michael’s height and power, as the camera is often placed slightly above, or at head height during his scenes. When in Michael’s point of view, the camera is always a distant, and unemotional, observer, that moves slowly, and steadily, giving him a sense of relentless implacability. He is framed as a powerful machine, a thing  which cannot be stopped. This is the same camera effect that was used in James Cameron’s The Terminator, to convey that same sense of relentlessness, whenever we see the world through the Terminator’s eyes.

In other scenes, we see the events through Laurie Strode’s eyes, experiencing her terror, vulnerability, and bravery. The camera, from Laurie’s point of view, is handheld, and so it trembles in an uncertain manner, peering slowly around corners, and hedges, through doorways, and closets. In many of her scenes, the camera is below the eye-line, as it angles up towards a sound or image. She is framed as small, timid, and helpless in comparison to Michael.

In the newest Halloween, this is masterfully done by James Carpenter, the director of the original film. In  Michael’s scenes, the camera moves slowly and steadily, contrasted against busy, or frenetic settings, at head height. Laurie, whose mindset is now very different after the trauma of the first movie, doesn’t get a lot of viewpoint scenes, but when she does she is shown, unlike in the first film, as to be equally matched with him, as the camera is at head height for her, too, until the end of the film, when Michael, now in a vulnerable position, is placed below head height, looking upward, towards Laurie and her daughter. The two of them, having turned the tables on him, look down on him from their position of  power.

No discussion of framing would be complete without mention of the film in which it was made especially famous, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho, where we watch the death of the primary character, Marion Crane, from the point of view of her killer, in the infamous “shower scene”. Hitchcock is rightfully lauded for this particular camera technique, as it had never been done in that way before, and it rightfully shocked audiences. I think at least part of that shock is that Hitchcock makes the audience feel complicit in Marion Crane’s murder, as we see it from the point of view of her killer, Norman Bates. But that’s not what makes Psycho groundbreaking. It is the switch from Marion’s point of view, earlier in the film, to a sudden shift to the killer’s, that sets it apart. Marion goes from being the Subject, to being an Object, from the person who commits the acts that determine the plot, at the beginning of the film, and the person with whom we identify, to the person who is now being acted upon. At the beginning of the film, Marion is the Subject, from whose viewpoint we see the world, but while she is killed, she becomes the Object, and WE become her killer. For some people, the sudden shift from one protagonist to another, was simply too much.

What Hitchcock did in this scene is switch Framing. Based on the framing, the audience is meant to think, or feel, a certain way about, or towards, a character, and we, as the audience, had become comfortable with the idea of Marion Crane as the primary character. You’re meant to be as uncomfortable during the shower scene, as with Michael’s murder of his sister, as your eyes are forced to see your victim, and you cannot look away.

In Hitchcock’s scene the camera is initially placed inside the shower with Marion, as she looks outward and sees a shadow. We do not see Marion, in those instances, (she is “out of frame”), because we are seeing things from her point of view. Then the camera is turned, and placed outside the shower, facing Marion. We don’t see her killer now, because we are now in the killers viewpoint. This makes this scene much more intimate than if it was “framed” another way. For example, if the camera had been placed to see both subjects, at the same time, “Framing” both of them within the image, in such an enclosed space, it would have to be placed further away from them, which would have had the effect of placing us, the audience, at an emotional remove, and the scene would feel less immediate.

By placing the camera as the point of view of either character, and switching back and forth between them, we become a part of the scene in an unexpected way. We become each character, rather than an omnipotent third party, who are just watching a murder, as would have happened if the camera were placed at a distance. The moment becomes not just more intimate, but more visceral, than if the camera, or characters, had been placed elsewhere.

Most movies are framed in such a way as to make the audience a third but invisible onlooker, which is sometimes called the “god perspective”, or the “omnipresent watcher”. If the camera is close to the scene, such as when two people are having a conversation, and both of them are seen within the frame, (a medium shot) we feel like a third invisible observer, in the scene with them. If the camera is even further away (a wide shot) than we may feel like we are not part of that scene at all. We might feel like we are spying on the two subjects from afar. If the camera is placed within the scene, switching from the view of one character to another, (the medium closeup, the over the shoulder shot), than we become each character. Where the characters are placed in the scene is an  indication of the level of intimacy between them, and  between them and us.

For example, an extreme closeup of a woman, with the camera panning, (when the camera moves up and down, or from side to side), along her body, places us in the scene with her, as we look at her body. (This is what feminists are referring to when talking about “The Male Gaze”.) Sometimes the scene is meant to be sexually evocative, as the character is may act aware that we are there, and appears to be responding to our presence in the scene with her. But if the camera is across the room, while focusing on her body and legs, then we are no longer in the scene with her, but spying on her from a distance. The character doesn’t know we are there, and acts as if she is alone, which makes us voyeurs, in what appears to be a private moment, such as the scene when Marion Crane first gets into the shower. She is unaware of the camera, and she has not given consent to look at  her, and so, she is as unaware of our presence, as she is of the killer’s.

Contrast that scene, with the opening scene, from the 1976 version of Carrie. The camera is in the shower with Carrie, in extreme closeup. Closer than the Marion Crane scene in Psycho. This is framed as a deeply intimate moment, that we are intruding on, but not participating in. Carrie is supposed to be alone, as she does not react to the camera, and is unaware of its presence. But the scene isn’t without emotion, as shots of her legs, torso, and body, are interspersed with extreme closeups of her face, with its tranquil expression. She is separated from the other girls in the room, and we are intruding on Carrie’s private moment. She is one of the last girls still in the shower, because it is the only place she can find respite from her  bullying classmates. She is enjoying this quiet solitude, before she must re-enter a painful world. Here, we are voyeurs of a different sort, as we are meant to identify with Carrie in this scene. If we were not meant to identify with her, she would be objectified, by not having extreme close ups of her face, a perspective that emphasizes her emotions, and  humanizes her.

Framing can mean the difference between objectification, and identification for an audience.  In Carrie, we are meant to identify with her. It is her classmates, who appear at  a distance, framed as a raucous  mob of water nymphs, scantily clad, and in slow motion,  who are being objectified. In a sense, that is how Carries sees them, as happy, frolicking, young women, whose faces all blend together, and that’s something that will be shown explicitly, minutes later, during the tampon throwing scene, and during the Prom scene, when Carrie thinks they are all laughing at her. She does not differentiate them. They are all the same face to her, and the audience. Focusing the camera on Carrie’s solemn facial expression, during her shower scene, is in contrast to her classmates. We are shown her feelings, and her personhood. We are meant to be sympathetic to her, not her classmates, and for some people it may be difficult to watch a film where one is made to identify with the victim of bullying.

Let’s use another example of framing, in a different film. The 2011, It Follows. Halloween and It Follows, have the same basic plot, where young women are relentlessly stalked by silent creatures that want to kill them. Both movies frame the characters in such a way that we kow they are the protagonists, both films revolve around killing that involves sexual activity, and both involve the survival, at the end of the movie, of a Final Girl.

In It Follows, Jay is being pursued by a monster that can take the form of someone she knows, after she is infected by a virus that allows her to see it. In Halloween, we go where Michael goes, and see what he sees. We are the monster. In It Follows, we mostly don’t see the world from the monster’s viewpoint, except at the opening of the film. For the rest of the movie, we are almost always looking towards the monster, and seeing the world through either Jay’s eyes, or as third impersonal observer. We don’t spend the movie walking in the monster’s footsteps, so we are not meant to identify with It, and hence, the monster is the less important character. Unlike Halloween, in It Follows, Jay is constantly being watched by the other characters in the film, and also the audience, as we observe Jay during some of her most private moments, or we see the monster (always at a distance) from Jay’s viewpoint. Jay is the movie’s focus, and everything revolves around her. This is not like Halloween, where you have two separate, matching, adversaries. The monster has no identity of its own, and is given no point of view. Any identity we see, is given to it by Jay, and everything we see of it, is from Jay’s mind. 

Michael (who is often the audience stand-in) often watches Laurie and her friends from a distance. The camera’s distance from Michael’s victims creates a feeling of emotional detachment in the audience, while closeups indicate intimacy. We don’t get closeups of their faces, because Michael isn’t interested in them as people, only as objects, upon which he acts. We are not meant to identify with Laurie’s friends. However, as a third observer, we do get lots of closeups of Laurie’s face. We are meant to feel what she feels because, the closer a camera is to a character’s face, the more intimate the moment, and some audience members might have trouble with that level of both intimacy, and tension.

Such movies, which are framed from the point of view of the killers, as if the viewers were either ineffectual observers, or participants in the scenes, means the audience is meant to feel the tension and anxiety of the victim, or the excitement, or detachment, of the killer. I’ve never felt the latter, but there are those who watch such movies who find the physical power of such characters, thrilling. I’ve also heard people who don’t like horror movies, accuse those who do, of getting just such a thrill, and that was how I came to the conclusion that some of them were being affected by how  horror movies use framing.That they are uncomfortable with feeling so close.

Perhaps, especially for those who perceive themselves as “good” people, who would never harm anyone, horror movies might be especially stressful, in this regard. Seeing horror scenes from the killer’s relentless point of view is distressing, just as much as being a stand in for the helpless and vulnerable victim, or being an invisible voyeur to violent acts.

NOTE: This post has been heavily edited, to make more sense, than when I first wrote it.

Exploring Horror Movie Themes

Earlier, I talked about how, since most of the American Horror genre is run by White men, what we’re really getting is a glimpse into the minds of what scares straight, middle class, White men, and the themes they like to visit , and re-visit, over and over. These large scale patterns give us some idea what they consider to be important to have, or even to lose, and their close felt anxieties. Its not that other people don’t feel these anxieties, but these are movies told from a particular Western  male framework, while movies in other cultures  have a different set of tropes and patterns, that are reflective of the anxieties of those people.

Western style Horror movies are often about the loss of control, stability, and/or order, in that a status quo  is established at the beginning of the story, then some “thing” comes along to disrupt that status quo, a loss of control, and/or disorder soon follows, after which control and order is re-established, with the defeat of the disruption. The disruption could be anything from a comet (Night of the Comet) , to the return of a long lost brother, (Hellraiser), to malevolent frogs (Frogs), or zombies (Night of the Living Dead). This is white western men’s greatest fear: the disruption of the natural order from a malevolent other.

There are   few movies in which disorder wins, (The Mist), the status quo is not re-instated, (Dawn of the Dead), or there is the threat of more disorder at some point in the future, (Slither), but that too becomes part of the horror. Disorder often takes the form of “the Other”, usually a  monster, which is really just another version of death, something which is relentless, inevitable, and just like in the real world, deeply personal,  but usually the monster is just representative of change ,and a loss of order.

Here are some of the most common versions and themes about change, death, and disorder, found in Horror movies.

 

Grant Grant: Slither

Loss of Bodily Autonomy

Most of these films fall into the Body Horror category, where a person literally loses control of their body, and/or cannot stop what’s happening to it. In the movie Slither, a town is terrorized by an alien consciousness that proceeds to take over people’s bodies, using them for reproduction, food, and to grow itself. The top three horrors: extraterrestrial rape, being eaten, and the loss of bodily autonomy, are all covered in this movie, which encompasses every body horror film, from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers to The Thing

Image result for slither gifs

 

 

Zombies: Train to Busan

Being Eaten

Being eaten is always a popular topic, and is a classic “status quo does not get restored” type of film. In such films, the world has been so horribly overturned, that nothing will ever be normal again, and even those who don’t become flesh eating zombies,  are forever changed. These types of movies are often not about the zombies themselves, but how regular citizens cope with the disruption of civilization.

There’s more to this type of movie than zombies, though, which always includes elements of  “being hunted”,  such as any film where people get eaten by animals (Jaws), aliens (Under the Skin), and yes,  non-zombie people, (Ravenous).

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The Xenomorph: Alien

Women

We can conclude, with the success of this entire series of movies, that men are deeply afraid of women.  The Alien films are an example of what psychologist,  Barbara Creed, called The Monstrous Feminine. One aspect of the Alien films which is not addressed in other monstrous feminine films, like Teeth, and Ginger Snaps, is the treatment of the male characters as non-consenting incubators, by the alien.

http://fourteeneastmag.com/index.php/2019/05/31/celebrating-the-monstrous-feminine-the-legacy-of-alien/

https://www.swantower.com/essays/craft/the-monstrous-feminine/

This type of film, where female bodies are coded as sinful, painful,  and symbols of death, and/or castration for men, are fairly numerous, and include movies like The Exorcist, Hereditary, The Brood, Teeth, Jennifer’s Body, and Ginger Snaps.

Image result for xenomorph gifs

 

 

 

The Pods: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers

Losing Yourself

I wrote about this in an earlier post about Invasion of the Body snatchers, about how the movie isn’t just about conformity, but the loss of one’s unique sense of self. All of the Invasion movie remakes have subtle themes outside of this, but it’s a thread that can be seen throughout all of them. This theme includes any number of movies where a person’s mind is taken over, or controlled, by some outside force, which includes movies like Upgrade, Get Out, Scanners, A Clockwork Orange, and The Manchurian Candidate.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/06/26/invasion-of-the-bodysnatchers-1978-the-loss-of-self/

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Jack: The Shining

Family

That your home could become a source of pain and harm for you is also a very real fear illustrated in countless home invasion films, like Breaking In, Straw Dogs, Don’t Breathe, and The Strangers. But what if the danger doesn’t come from the outside, but is already living with you. What if the call is coming from inside the house?

Two of the biggest family themes in Horror is danger to the family, and danger from the family. The Shining is an example of both. Family is supposed to be the one group of people who  protect and nurture you. The fear that a family member might deliberately seek to cause you harm is what permeates The Shining. Jack engaged in domestic abuse (drinking and violence) long before he encountered the malevolent beings of the Overlook Hotel. The danger was always present. The  family’s isolated conditions, and the spirits in the hotel, just exacerbated it.

The danger from the family has been a common theme since The Shining’s release in 1980, in movies like Hereditary, The Amityville Horror, Hellraiser, and The Babadook.

https://www.playbuzz.com/roreyomalley10/21-things-people-get-completely-wrong-about-domestic-abuse

 

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What if the person who’s supposed to look after you became a threat, one that slowly isolates, intimidates, harms, and ultimately kills you? 

http://msenscene.com/2017/12/19/merry-scary-shining/

 

Seth Brundle: The Fly

Sickness

 

This fear is also closely tied to the fear of loss of bodily autonomy, as these are both fears that what is happening to one’s body is outside of one’s control. In the case of loss of autonomy, the fear is that an outside force controls your body, and is making it do disgusting, or abnormal things, like changing shape, or harming the people you love. In the fear of sickness, the fear is of one’s body going horribly wrong, or the body attacking itself from within, or just changing for some unknown reason.

That is a kind of fear that is seemingly universal. There’s not one person alive whose body has not undergone some change that they couldn’t understand, or which frightened them, starting with puberty, and this is especially true for women, becasue even when you know some change is going to occur, is occurring, the symptoms can still produce a great deal of anxiety.

In The Fly, Seth Brundle’s body starts to undergo changes he doesn’t understand, after an experiment in transporting objects goes horribly wrong. At first its a gift, and he feels wonderful, but we get the full immersion treatment of his emotions as his body begins to deteriorate. We experience his fear when he believes he has some form of cancer or leprosy, sadness when he realizes he is too far gone to ever be saved, the mordant humor of having his body parts drop off, and even that feeling of relief, when he discovers what’s happening to him. Anyone who has ever had a chronic/serious illness can resonate with Seth’s journey. His illness may be fictional, but the emotions evoked are all very real.

 

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 The Grey Widower: The Mist

Arachnophobia

I think this is a special category all its own, and I put this here becasue it happens to be one of my personal phobias. I don’t know what the cause of this particular phobia is, but I have experienced recurrent reinforcement of it over the years. Once when I was in college, I had a spider egg hatch in my bedroom, and I totally freaked the fuck out for three days. Luckily, I had friends who didn’t simply make fun of me, but took great efforts to calm my fears. Its been over twenty five years, and I still don’t think I ever fully recovered from that, judging by the number of times per year I have   bug bombed my house, in order to prevent just such a re-occurence.

Nevertheless, I will still watch movies about this particular phobia, and some of them have even become favorites, like The Mist,  Eight Legged Freaks, and my personal favorite, Big Ass Spider! And yeah, my all-time favorite superhero is indeed Spiderman. Obviously spiders and I have a complicated love/hate relationship.

Image result for the mist gifs

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience extreme, irrational fear about a situation, living creature, place, or object.

When a person has a phobia, they will often shape their lives to avoid what they consider to be dangerous. The imagined threat is greater than any actual threat posed by the cause of terror.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249347.php

Phobias are a really easy theme to make a horror movie from because the fear is already built into the movie. All you have to do is put your audience in a place where the phobia can have free reign. From clowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), to enclosed spaces (Buried), to snakes (Anaconda), all the film maker has to do is introduce the situation with the phobia, and you’ve got a scary movie.

 

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The Monster: It Follows

Growing Old

I talked about this movie’s monster at some length, discussing why the movies theme was about aging, and not necessarily the surface level theme of sexually transmitted disease.

This movie is not just about sexuality and STDs. That’s just a surface-level description, and the one most easily accessed by the viewer. Those  two subjects are merely the vehicles through which the meaning of the story is being imparted. The movie is actually about the existential fear of growing up, growing old, and death.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/it-follows-2014-more-thoughts/

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He Who Kills: Trilogy of Terror

Being Hunted

Image result for he who hunts trilogy of terror . gifs

This is a theme closely related to being eaten, although being eaten is not always the result of a “hunt” movie. Most of these types of movies involve humans hunting other humans (Race with the Devil), or animals, (Jaws), but this nasty little short from the movie Trilogy of Terror has an altogether different goal, and involves a woman being chased through her home, by an avatar of the hunt, a killer doll called He Who Hunts.

This is also  another example of how some films can have multiple themes, as this is also a  home invasion movie, and we’re not about to get into the racial connotations behind the images of a pretty, urban, White woman being chased by a savage, nonsense chattering, black doll, who eventually possesses her.

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Non Western Film

The H-Man: The H-Men

The Unexpected

One of the other easy themes  featured in Horror movies is when people encounter the unexpected. Trilogy of Terror’s Prey is an example of this, as are movies like, Friday the 13th, Us, and Annihilation.

I debated whether or not to add this movie, for a long time, because this movie still scares the absolute chittering bejeezus out of me. I made the mistake of watching this late one night, a few years ago, and I kept on my room light for at least a week. That should have been a lesson to me, but I tried to watch this movie again, in broad daylight, and couldn’t even get past the opening credits. There is an enduring and deep level of  creepiness about this movie that isn’t like The Blob, where everybody knows something horrible is happening and then they all take steps to remedy the issue.

This is a Japanese horror movie, and it’s a perfect example of what I meant about foreign horror movies having very different goals in their themes beyond the disruption of the natural order. Order and stability are not restored at the end of this movie by the killing of the monster. The goal here seems to be understanding what happened.  In fact, it is posited in the film that what has happened is part of the natural evolution of humanity, which gives it a close thematic resemblance to the 1988 movie Akira.

. In this movie, none of the characters are at all aware that anything untoward is happening until its far too late. I think the creepiness  factor is that the characters are all engaged in their rather sordid, but  mundane, criminal activities, until they unexpectedly encounter one of these blob men, walking around in a room, or office,  which promptly eats them. In some cases, the victims are unaware of its presence, or can see it, but don’t know what it is. And what’s even worse, these creatures are not entirely unaware of what they are, as they actively strategize to kill some, while deliberately skipping others, and may not actually be malevolent.

Image result for the h-man gifs

 

The H-Man rates as one of the most genuinely frightening Japanese horror films of the 1950s. When a minor-league drug runner completely vanishes, leaving only his clothes behind, detective Tominaga (Akihiko Hirata) investigates. Along the way, Tominaga makes the acquaintance of scientist Masada (Kenji Sahara), who theorizes that the missing doper was melted into a liquid “H-Man” as a result of being exposed to nuclear radiation. Sure enough, the H-Man soon resurfaces, seeking out victims to “dissolve” so that he can continue to survive. 
 https://www.allmovie.com/movie/the-h-man-v21230#OYzMaYBVpgL7kGcx.99

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Oh hey! Its October, AKA Halloween Month, so expect lots more scary essays and posts for the rest of this month!

 

Favorite Movies of My Life Pt. 5 (2011 – 2017)

Here it is! This is the final part of the movies of my life series, where I list my favorite movies for each year I’ve been on Earth. This has been an eye opener for me too, as some of these I hadn’t really thought of in quite this way before, and the realization that so much of my earliest movie watching experiences are the product of Mom, and nostalgia.

My tastes really started to branch away from hers in my teens, which I suppose is normal. I’m still a lot more adventurous than her, when it comes to choosing movies. I’ll go anywhere I think is interesting, while she likes to stay in her comfort zone, although I can occasionally talk her into watching new things.

 

2011: Attack The Block 

I did a review of this movie here:

 https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/why-we-love-attack-the-block-2011/

This movie is mostly notable for starring my precious cinnamon bun, John Boyega, in one of his first movie roles.

I had two other movies to choose from,The Tree of Life, and The Road. I would have chosen one of these but The Tree is such a complicated film to describe, it would take an entire post just to parse its meaning. The movie has no straight plot, and is really nothing more than a series of images and vignettes with voiceovers loosely strung together with a theme. I love it, not  for its philosophy, but for its mood. The imagery, and music are beautiful, and it has a lot of quiet moments where scenes simply play out to their conclusion, with no explanation.

http://www.scholardarity.com/?p=1361

I love The Road but I was never going to chose it as my top film for this year becasue while it has a hopeful ending, it’s really just  too bleak and depressing a movie to ever be considered enjoyable. I really like Viggo Mortensen though, and think this is very possibly one of his best films.

https://reelrundown.com/movies/The-Road-Movie

 

2012: SkyFall

This year saw the release of The Avengers movie, which was a lot of fun for me; the movie Chronicle, with Michael B Jordan, which I’ll be discussing in another post; The Amazing Spiderman, which I absolutely did not hate, but didn’t love enough to make it my choice for my best movie this year, and finally Django Unchained, which I defended in an earlier post.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/in-defense-of-django-unchained/

But my choice for this year is Skyfall. I wasn’t a big fan of the first two Bond movies but I like this one. I think it perfectly captures Bond’s  washed up nature, fighting for a corrupt  political system,  that sees him as expendable. I think David Craig does some of his best acting here. For me, the film was most enjoyable for the introduction of Ms. Moneypenny, played by one of my favorite actresses, Naomie Harris, and its development of M’s character, who does not come off looking too good.

 

 

2013: Snowpiercer/Afflicted

This movie was a tie between SnowPiercer and the movie Afflicted. I reviewed Afflicted here. I think it’s one of the best vampire movies I’d seen in a long time.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/geeking-out-about-afflicted-2013/

As for Snowpiercer, what can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said by better writers than me.:

https://no-award.net/2014/08/01/snowpiercer-the-revolution-cannot-be-trusted-if-its-white/

https://alanw2000.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/snowpiercer-analysis-bong-joon-hos-sci-fi-masterpiece-by-alan/

http://aldianews.com/articles/culture/film-television/snowpiercer-and-one-white-dude-rule-them-all/34908

 

 

2014: Captain America The Winter Soldier

I had a really hard time choosing between Captain America: The Winter Soldier, It Follows, and What We Do in the Shadows. Ultimately, I chose Captain America because  I really enjoyed all three movies in the franchise, and What We Do in the Shadows is such a lightweight, silly thing next to these other two movies. There’s nothing wrong with lightweight, but it just didn’t win out against these two heavyweight message movies.

I’ve done two reviews of It Follows, that’s how intrigued I was by this movie:

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/it-follows-2014-more-thoughts/

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/the-monster-it-follows-2014/

I’ve also done a review of What We Do in the Shadows, which cemented Taika Waititi as one of my favorite film directors, forever, and one of the main reasons why Thor: Ragnarok might make my favorites list for this year:

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/geeking-out-about-what-we-do-in-the-shadows-2014/

I am working on yet another post about Captain America right now, but I have done an entire series of posts on its characters, Sam Wilson, Steve Rogers, and Black Widow. i love it for its message,its characters,  the action scenes are top of the line, and its sentimental moments, which callback to the first movie.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/on-the-right-captain-america-and-iron-man/

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/black-widow-lying-liar-who-lies/

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/sam-wilson-to-be-rescued/

 

 

2015: Mad Max Fury Road

Most people think I would have chosen Star Wars Force Awakens because of my love for John Boyega/Finn, but really the characters were my only real reason to love it, and I’m also mad because Han Solo was killed, and I haven’t gotten over that yet.

No, the movie that did it for me, this year, was Mad Max Fury Road. I’m a total George Miller stan. His Mad Max movies were so influential,during the 80s, that every post-apocalypse movie since, has tried to ape his style…and failed! They simply could not capture the essential something in his movies, which were  combinations of intelligent writing and ferocious action, and Fury Road is no different. An action movie with a message that every post-apoc movie will try to ape in the future…and fail! For me, Fury Road was my Wonder Woman, (which is another reason why I wasn’t too impressed with that film.) One of the few woman-led actioners against which all others will be compared.

 

2016: Train to Busan

This was one of the best zombie movies in the past few years in my opinion. This is me, squeeing about this movie:

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/train-to-busan-2016-2/

I have another post on its comparison to World War Z later this year.

 

 

2017: Logan, Get Out, Spiderman Homecoming, and ?

I haven’t yet chosen a film for this year yet, but the three films in the running for my favorite so far, are: Logan, Spiderman Homecoming, and Get Out. I’m also greatly looking forward to the yet to be released films, Thor Ragnarok,  Justice League, and Bladerunner 2049. I might choose one of them. We don’t know! What do you think, I’ll choose?

 

It Follows (2014): More Thoughts

*So here I am, with more thoughts about this movie, because I just love thinking about it, and analyzing it. Its also a good way to exercise my brain and practice writing. Hopefully this post isn’t too much of a wankfest, and when you watch the movie, maybe some of this will occur to you, too.

For my earlier review of the movie, and the meanings behind the monster, see:

https://wordpress.com/posts/my/tvgeekingout.wordpress.com?s=it+follows

I’ve wanted, for some time now, to follow that first review with several more observations of the plot and characters. A lot of the meaning gleaned from the movie is through implication, but by looking at the movie’s details, listening carefully to what the characters say, and what they, and the monster, does, you can get a clearer idea of the movie’s meaning.

This movie is not just about sexuality and STDs. That’s just a surface-level description, and the one most easily accessed by the viewer. Those  two subjects are merely the vehicles through which the meaning of the story is being imparted. The movie is actually about the existential fear of growing up, growing old, and death.

Jay:

Jay is a pretty blond girl right on the cusp of womanhood. She is presumably attending some type of community college in her city, and is entering the part of her life where she’s considering leaving home, getting married, and having kids. These are major issues for her, and I think the monster reflects these anxieties about her present and future.

In Rockwell’s famous painting, we see a young girl contemplating her oncoming womanhood. She has thrown her doll to the side (ie. put away childish things) and is considering her  future, comparing herself to the woman in the magazine.

Image result for young girl in mirror/rockwell

Mary’s pose seems “apprehensive, as if she understands that womanhood is upon her and fears that she is not quite ready,” writes art expert Karal Ann Marling in her 1997 book, Norman Rockwell.

http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2013/03/29/art-entertainment/norman-rockwell-girl-at-the-mirror.html

I feel that the above is an accurate statement of Jay’s mindset. Several times we see Jay looking at herself in mirrors. In the first instance, she is just using it to put on her makeup. She is playing at being an adult, copying behavior she’s seen her mother engage in many times. But Jay is very young and not as sophisticated. The reason I say playing at being a adult is becasue of Jay’s visible bra straps. A more sophisticated, and experienced woman would know to wear a bra with straps that match with her dress. We can tell from this, that Jay is still new at this whole, dating thing, and is pretending at being an older, more experienced woman.

 

The second time we see her, in the mirror, is after Hugh has passed the monster to her. Everyone believes she has been raped, although  the sex was consensual. Nevertheless, this scene evokes the type of contemplation scene we often see in movies, where a woman has undergone some radical, physical experience (such as a sexual assault) and is staring, wonderingly, at herself in a mirror.

We’re not sure exactly what Jay is thinking here, as she carefully inspects her privates, but the idea being imparted,  is that she’s genuinely a woman  now, whereas before, she was only playing at being one. In the parlance of gaming, she has had sex with an adult male, of her own free will, and so now, has leveled up.  She is no longer a child. This has nothing to do with sex, exactly, because Jay was not a virgin when she slept with Hugh, but what happened to her does represent some type of  major change in her life that she is apprehensive about. When seen in the context of the rest of the movie,  for the first time, she may be thinking of her impending death, in some nebulous future.

It Follows Mirror

 

Time:

The time period for the events in the movie have been deliberately obscured, according to the director. There is no specific year, that it occurs, as evidenced by people’s clothing, the TV shows they watch, and cars they drive. People are dressed  modern, but all of the TV  shows anyone watches are more than twenty years old. All of the movies are in black and white. The cars are all older models, except for Paul’s car which looks slightly more modern at the end of the movie. Yara’s shell reader throws a monkey wrench into everything by being futuristic. That’s an object, that’s never been invented in this world.

Its also impossible to tell what time of year it is. The weather changes from sunny, to dark and cloudy, from day to day. Its cold enough for people to wear heavy jackets and boots in the evening, but warm  enough at midday for Kelly to drink cold sodas,  and  for Jay to swim in the backyard pool. One night, its warm enough for Jay to fall asleep on top of her car wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts, but earlier on her date with Hugh, she wore boots and a jacket. Detroit exists above the snowline, so its not winter, but neither is it clearly Spring, or clearly Fall.

Image result for it follows/shell reader

Another thing that adds to the obscurity of the time period is that we’re not sure how long it takes for any of these events to occur. We know that the events at the end of the movie occur very close to one another, because Jay is still wearing a cast on her arm, from when she crashed Greg’s car, but for the events that happen before that, there could’ve been a few days, weeks, or even months between those. For example, we don’t know  the time period from when Jay has sex with Hugh, to the time when she retreats to Greg’s lake house, or from the beginning of the movie, to its end.

Water:

Water is Jay’s safe space. This is a message reinforced throughout the movie which begins with an image of Jay floating in her backyard pool, just before her date with Hugh, after which her life is irrevocably changed.  Just before, or just after, each encounter with It, Jay retreats, or runs to water, and there are images of her in water throughout the movie. Water represents safety and childhood. Or possibly even the womb. Jay’s mirror is surrounded by photos of her in her pool, for example, and after she witnesses Greg’s death, she drives to the woods, next to another body of water.

Just after one of her first encounters with It, Jay runs to her room, and although there’s no water there, one of the first things she says to her sister, during her panicked reaction, is that she wants some water. When the monster invades her bedroom, Jay runs away, but only as far as the neighborhood playground, which represents, yet another, retreat to childhood.

Jay spends most of the movie, not trying to pass the monster on to someone else, but running from it. And in doing that, one could argue that she is regressing to her childhood, as she doesn’t want to think about what it means to be a grownup, even though she seemed happy enough to pretend at it earlier, and when she’s in the water she doesn’t have to.  One could also think of her backyard pool as a a kind of womb, from which she feels she never has to emerge. Later in the movie, there’s a shot of the pool, broken, with all the water emptied out, a not so subtle metaphor about birth.  After that, Jay can no longer retreat to her special womb, because its  been destroyed.

Image result for it follows jay

At the end of the movie we find that It does not like water, and will not enter any water voluntarily, reinforcing the idea that Jay is safe from death, as long as she remains in it, as long as she remains a child.

Image result for it follows jay

 

The Monster – Again

At this point we need to discuss the monster again, and why it appears to Jay in the forms she sees. Its interesting to note that It pays no attention to any of the other people in Jay’s surroundings. When she’s sitting on the beach, as It approaches, It doesn’t register the presences of her friends. I suspect that It can’t see anyone but its victims. This reinforces the idea that death is a specific event, for each individual, who has to grapple with their mortality alone. When a person walks through that door to the other side, they have to walk through it alone. So it’s fitting that Jay is the only person who can see It.

Throughout the movie, her friend Yara’s only quotes from The Idiot, are about the inevitability of death.

“The most terrible part of the whole punishment is, not the bodily pain at all—but the certain knowledge that in an hour—then in ten minutes, then in half a minute, then now—this very instant—your soul must quit your body and that you will no longer be a man—and that this is certain, certain!”        -One of Yara’s quotes that she reads from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

Image result for it follows/on the beach

When Paul attacks It with a chair, it pauses in its attack on Jay long enough to knock Paul aside, but otherwise, acknowledges no one but Jay, and the only time we see It register the presence of someone who is not its immediate victim, is when its pursuing Jay’s neighbor Greg, to whom she passed it, at the hospital.  Jay has followed It into Greg’s  house, and the creature, in the form of Greg’s mother, is determinedly knocking on his bedroom door, when it pauses long enough to notice Jay’s presence. This moment is especially chilling because, until then, It has not noticed anyone else in the movie. It notices Jay because she is the only other person who can see it, and she’s next, when it finishes its business with Greg.

The first time it appears to Jay is in the forms of strangers, who represent concepts of adulthood, that Jay has anxieties about. Later, after its been pursuing her for some time, these forms become much more specific. The first form it appears in, that she knows, is her friend Yara, then  her sister, Kelly. It appears to her later as Greg, while its stalking him. Its unclear if the creature took Greg’s form only because she can see it, or if that’s just a projection from Jay.

After Greg is dead, It appears in the forms of the dead, her father and grandfather. Its interesting that it doesn’t appear in Greg’s form again, as you would expect Jay to have  some anxiety about Greg’s death, and for the creature to exploit that, but Greg’s death is probably too immediate to register as a subconscious anxiety.

It never appears to her in Paul’s, or her mother’s,  form. Jay has no anxieties about Paul, it seems, and worries very  little about her mother. She feels secure about the two of them, in a way that she doesn’t, about Yara and Kelly, who appear to be closer friends to each other, than they are to her.

 

Mothers:

Image result for it follows/moms

There are three mothers in the movie, and no fathers. We never see Yara’s and Paul’s parents at all.  It appears to us, first as Hugh’s mother, and then later, as Greg’s mom. It’s interesting that it never appears to Jay in the form of her own mother, but it does appear to her as her father, which has led some people to speculate about the sexual component to the creature’s transformations.  As I said, I don’t think the creature’s appearances have anything to do with sex. I think that’s just the vehicle by which it’s passed on.

There are many theories about Jay’s mother. That she is an alcoholic after her husband’s death, or that her alcoholism drove the father away, and that she is neglectful of her kids. I  disagree. I believe her husband is dead, but I don’t think that’s her fault. She does drink, and makes no secret of her drinking. The day after Jay’s assault, she is seen drinking,  with Greg’s mother, in the middle of the day. But I don’t consider her a full-fledged alcoholic. After all, she is still working and paying the bills. According to Kelly she has some job that requires her to be up at 5AM.

Jay’s mother (she has no name) does care about her daughters, and what we see as neglect, is probably just the usual parental obliviousness to what’s going on in their kid’s lives, since the movie is told from their point of view. She is at the hospital after Jay’s car accident, and at the end of the movie, we can see her giving Jay a backrub. Her full face is never shown. I think that’s meant to illustrate how teens often believe their parents to be peripheral to their lives. Or that Jay has assigned a decreased level of importance to her mother. Greg and his mother are shown as being close enough to have conversations about their neighbors, and Hugh’s mother, although she knows nothing of her son’s extracurricular activities, is warm and friendly to Jay, when they meet.

Much has been made of the fact that for Greg and Hugh, It appears in the form of their mothers. I don’t necessarily believe there is any Oedipal component to this. Their father’s aren’t present. Their mothers appear to be the primary influence on their life, so it would make sense that the creature would appear as someone that they have anxieties about. Although, I do understand why people would think the above, because both of their mothers appear to them either entirely naked, or half dressed.

Paul and Yara

Image result for it follows/paul and yara

I said earlier that we never see Paul and Yara’s parents. (Also, I think Paul and Yara are twins.) Most of their time seems to be spent in Jay’s house. I think Paul and Yara represent the past that Jay is leaving behind as she grows up. I think Paul represents childhood, and Yara represents being a child.

For example Jay and Paul are almost always having conversations about the past. The two of them never have a full discussion about the future until Paul comes up with his plan to destroy the creature. When Jay and Paul talk later, Jay makes it clear there are no hard feelings about any of Paul’s past misdeeds, but once again she and Paul reminisce about some past sexual behaviors, like finding some porn magazines, or being each other’s first kiss.

When Yara isn’t quoting death passages from The Idiot, she mostly discusses past events. She talks about how, when she was a child, she wasn’t allowed to go the Fair, without her parents permission. She mentions this while all four of them are out at night, going to the Rec Center they visited as children, and this is meant to delineate the divide between childhood and adulthood. Adults go where they want, when they want, but children always need permission. She and Kelly both take turns mentioning embarrassing events from Paul’s childhood.

The only person Jay ever discusses the future with is her sister, Kelly. One of Kelly’s first statements to her is asking if she’s going on a date later that evening. And when the two of them go out for a walk, Kelly asks Jay if she’s going to sleep with Hugh. Kelly is in a place where she also play acts at adulthood, by smoking, but she’s still mentally in a child’s place because she tries to hide that from her mother.

The Ending

At the end of the movie, all of them believe they have defeated the creature. After Paul shoots it ,it falls into the swimming pool, where Jay believed herself to be safe. Using dream-logic though, there is no body left behind in the pool, only a giant bloom of blood. Some people have theorized that this is meant to represent menstrual blood, as across many cultures, menses is the moment that represents a young girl’s final ascent to  womanhood. Jay’s journey is now complete and her existential wrestle with her mortality is over. She isn’t any safer than she was before, because death could still come for her “in any form”, but she has now made peace with that.

Image result for jay and Paul/it follows gifs

I think this is  illustrated by Jay finally agreeing to have sex with Paul. During their sex scene, its raining heavily outside, but not storming;  keep in mind that water means  safety. Instead of fearing the future, she has decided to find some kind of future with Paul. The last scene, in the movie, is of  the two of them, walking down a sidewalk, hand in hand. Jay is wearing the same dress she wore on her date with Hugh, at the beginning of the movie. She’s no longer pretending at being grownup, now. Jay looks mildly apprehensive about her relationship with her childhood friend, but seems like she ‘s okay to live with her curse, as long as she has Paul by her side. And this is how most people deal with existential dread. They form relationships, they love each other, and hope, by doing so, to keep their “demons” at bay, which Jay may well have done. Far in the background, can be seen a figure, walking slowly, keeping pace with the two of them.