Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Horrordork Part II

I knew I was in for a treat when I asked my buddy D for a good horror recommendation.  She's one of my oldest and most conservative friends, and she is also, for the record, a hardcore, old-school, Horrordork.  We bonded over many a SNICK (primarily because of AYAOTD, which is not responsible for my Baruchel crush but is, arguably, when I became aware of Canada as a sexual being), then moved on to X-Files in middle school.

Her eyelashes fluttered as she tried to describe May.  "That movie is fucked up," she gushed.  I was sold.  I plopped it on my Netflix cue and forgot about it until there she was, appearing in my mailbox out of nowhere, all dressed in red like Eve's apple.

It kinda sneaks up on you, does May.  You watch it and spend 90% of the time rooting for the main character, wanting her to claw her way out of loneliness.  That is the genius of Angela Bettis, and Lucky McKee--whatever other questionable habits he may have (see: The Woods)--is a genius when it comes to framing her deliciously delicate, supernaturally expressive face.  Right up until she destroyed her only viable option--right up until the very second she slits her sweetly passive victim's throat--you are desperate for her to connect.  It's right there.  Right there!  And what does she do?  She slits intimacy's throat.  She utterly derails.  And you watch it wondering how you clung to the idea that she might, given just the right push, come back from the dark--you watch it, peeking through your fingers, and wonder how you were ever fooled.

So I loved May, of course.  It has that new horror (there's got to be a term for this that a) isn't about French horror films and b) addresses domestic terrordramarama)* feel I crave; I mean, I love all horror.  But if you want me to rip my eyes away from the thirty other things I'm doing while I watch, I need a certain level of shock, fascination, revulsion, and familiarity.  You know.  Horror.  Fear is awesome, too, don't get me wrong.  But horror lingers.

So I looooooooved The Woman.

I learned about the reactions to it first.  Some people walked out of showings, because it was degrading to women.  Some walked out because it was degrading to men.  There's a bunch of reviews on imdb with "man hating" or "feminist" (meant derogatorily, so we're clear) in them; there's the regular 'I was bored' stuff too (much more valid, in my opinion, because it's a slow burner).  I get it.  It's the kind of film that makes people upset.  It's uncomfortable, squirmy, icky, and then, suddenly, it's savage, gory, and brutal.  If you're me, of course, you don't walk out--you do a self righteous, blood-thirsty feminist fist pump, motherfuckers, but whatever, it's not for everyone.

I've deliberately avoided the book it's based on.  I first encountered Jack Ketchum when a truly awful event became a point of cultural fascination several decades after it occurred, partially due to books like his.  I had absolutely no urge to read it after watching the film.  The story is a nightmare.  If the girl had survived, I could read it.  If there was an interview with the psychotic ringleader, I might.  But generally speaking I would rather lump the whole thing with Dr. Zimbardo's work on the nature of evil and take a scalding shower than ever think about it again, and that is because I already know real life is awful.  I watch awful movies to be able to cool down from awful reality... But I think I'm going to have to give Jack Ketchum a shot after all, because I'll be damned if I didn't love The Woman that damn much.**

Slow your roll, Jorja, you might be thinking.  I thought you liked domestic terrordramarama?  I thought you laughed at horror movies?  Wouldn't something like The Girl Next Door be right up your alley...  Or are you some kind of bullshitter?  Don't bullshit me, Jorja.

Ah.  Yes, it's true; I do like the dark side of domestic reality in horror films.  From House of the Devil to The Descent to Night of the Living Dead, sneaky ruminations on everyday life + the crippling awfulness of reality / murdermonster gorefestival = how I like my horror.  But as I've discussed before, I can handle a drama with darkness--if I know that's what I'm up against.  Don't serve me something called 'horror' and have it play out like the most dismal After School Special of all time.  On the other hand, give me a steaming hot plate of horror that is crowned with a vengeful blood price, and I will be happy.  Let's not dick around with the ambiguity of a drama if you're calling yourself Horror.

If you're wondering, that's what the Woman does.  It does not dick around.

The Woman is a feral cannibal.  She lives in the woods, and long story really fucking short, she gets captured by a secret rapist/incestist/misogynist/demon in khakis.  He is the embodiment of domestic terrordramarama.  I don't know what else to say.  And just like May, he sneaks up on you.  Right up until the very last scene, the depths of his depravity remain partially obscured.  Some people have been critical of the caricature-esque style of acting, but I think, just like Nick Cage, the choice is deliberate.  I would've given Sean Bridgers an Oscar, if I believed they meant anything.

I think the reason a story like this resonates with someone like me and not, say, a random dude at Sundance (and I am wildly speculating here, wildly), has to be the same reason I adored the controversial Deadgirl.  The pretext is that The Woman is the victim; in the end, this isn't quite the case.  She's a victim, yes, but she's also the victor.  The gore drenched, cannibalistic, totally unsympathetic victor.  And whether or not it makes people uncomfortable, monsters like the father character are real.  They exist.  Get over it.  In a drama, on the other hand, there is no Woman.  She's not real.  In a drama, or an After School Special, or an After School Special pretending to be a horror movie, there are only disposable women.  Professional victims (I'm batting this topic around a lot because of one of the millions of books I'm writing--can you tell?).  Sometimes there are villains who are also women, but we get mad short changed in film, and that's a fucking fact--like it or not, Sundance dude.

I'm going to stop there, because I want to think about the juxtaposition of the Bettis character and the Woman.  And maybe the Woman and the Deadgirl.  And that means I have to keep thinking and writing about horror (sorry, imaginary reader).

All of this, of course, is also a fine excuse to watch them all again.

*The New French Extremity movement is not always horror, in the strictest sense, and I don't know of a good American genre equivalent.  I'm sure there is a great list out there on Internet somewhere, so I'll keep digging.

**He also wrote a book which the film Red was based on; I don't do animal murder.  I can literally laugh out loud for hours as human corpses pile up (on film), but one dead dog and...  Fuck no.  For the record, I know the plot and I totally am rooting for vengeance, motherfuckers.