“The Exorcist: Lighting the Darkness” a film analysis by Chris J.Patiño
There are many ways to paint a picture of fear. For some filmmakers, it’s all in the monster, in showcasing the boogeyman at the center of the story. Others rely on suggestion and mind games to get inside peoples’ heads. Whichever way you cut, it’s all theatricality, and presentation goes a long way into how an audience will react. The Exorcist stands as one of the greatest horror films because of the filmmakers’ mastery over the language of film. Perhaps the film’s strongest element is its depiction of demonic possession. Director William Friedkin’s grounded documentary approach lends the film a sense of realism that is uncommon within the genre. He pays careful attention to making sure the world and the people in it feel authentic and believable. But that does not mean the film lacks artistry. As it happens, it’s the combination of the real with the imaginary that sells the film’s realistic vibe and accentuates the horror of it all. Of the filmmakers’ many technical wizardries, the cinematography, specifically the lighting, captures the character’s internal landscapes of fear as they contend with great evil. It lends to the film’s overall themes of faith and uncertainty. In The Exorcist, expressionistic lighting is tied directly to the human psyche, portraying the inner turmoil of doubt in the face of evil.
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) presents a unique take on the slasher/stalker subgenre as it questions reality with the implementation of veracious nightmares throughout the narrative. Additionally, a door is opened with the underscored killer, Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund), as his supernatural origin opposes anteceding existential killers of the subgenre. Analogous to previous slasher films such as Halloween (1978), Craven’s film proves worthy of its similar subsequent laudable franchise. However, during the time of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s release, the slasher film model had been stretched thin with repetitive exploitation of the framework. From less recognized films such as Prom Night (1979) to highly praised films like Friday the 13th, the narrative of the film model was becoming more quotidian with each new release. It was up to Craven to resurrect and restore the viewer’s faith in the sadistic subgenre. Through Freddy Kruger’s introduction to the established slasher film structure, Craven provides his viewers with the antidote to their boredom. While Craven intermittently relies on special effects to construct his killer’s full transcendent potential, Jacques Haitkin, the cinematographer, artfully complements these effects by contextualizing colors and sound; pressing the significance of key scenes on the viewer. As a result, the terrifying film grossed $25 million in the United States box office while leaving the horror fan-base with a venerable killer who would be a mascot of the genre for years to come.
I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip. – Patrick Bateman.
Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000) is a captivating slasher film rich with intertextuality, allegories and novel slasher-film conventions. With the addition of Christian Bale’s mesmerizing portrayal of the deranged Patrick Bateman, the audience is gifted with a complex, psychotic killer, constantly holding the viewer’s interest.Straying from traditional slasher films, Harron immediately aligns her viewers with Bateman by presenting the film through the underscored killer’s perspective. Through incorporating cinematographic techniques such as frequent internal diegetic dialogue, various allegories and diverse camera angles, Harron immerses the viewers in Bateman’s methodical routine along with his unhinged, loathsome thoughts alluding to his psychotic condition which complicates the slasher film killer trope.
It’s no secret that I adore Jordan Peele’s debut horror feature, Get Out. Needless to say, it’s a film I immediately fell in love with due to its intricate details, stellar performances, and perfectly paced narrative. It went on to be my favorite film of 2017, and I would definitively declare it as being one of the decade’s absolute best films. Having watched it yet again just last month, I’m astounded at the fact that Get Out remains as impressive as ever, and I have been counting down the days until we would get to see what Peele had in store for us with his next film.
Finally, that wait is over. After two long years, Peele is again gracing cinema marquees with his highly anticipated follow-up, Us. I’m going to be up front here: Us is nowhere near as good as its predecessor. However, despite some glaring misgivings I have toward this sophomoric effort, Us is definitely worth seeing. It is, in the end, an extremely well-made and oftentimes very enjoyable horror flick. However, Us is also nowhere close to being as essential as Get Out was. But it should come as no surprise that Peele’s newest work again highlights remarkable acting and gorgeous cinematography, and is based upon yet another inventive, terrifying scenario that’s sure to not only get your blood pumping, but also stimulate your mind in the process.
At the center of Us is a family of four, the Wilsons, which includes mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), father Gabe (Winston Duke), teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and young son Jason (Evan Alex). We join them as they’re pulling up to their comfortable beach house for a summer getaway in Adelaide’s childhood home in Santa Cruz, and we’re allowed some valuable time upfront in order to better align ourselves with these characters and appreciate their relationships with one another. These early moments are breezy, funny, and memorable, as Peele makes it easy to become attached to his likable cast of characters.
After recently renewing my Netflix subscription, I thought I’d explore Netflix’s mystery genre, see what gems I could exhume. As far as Netflix mysteries go, I usually stick to Sherlock and Psych, even X-Files (which is no longer on the streaming platform, for shame Netflix!), but this time, I branched out to international films. When I saw 2014 Chinese film, The Great Hypnotist (also known as Cui mian da shi) and its premise, I was immediately drawn in. The film is an international drama, thriller, and psycho-mystery directed by Leste Chen and written by Peng Ren and Leste Chen that follows hypnotherapist Dr. Xu’s treatment with a puzzling patient. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept and treatment of hypnotherapy, of how the mind can be convinced to eat less, smoke less, be less anxious. While I was trying to vicariously live through his patients to understand this hypnotherapy experience, I found myself approached by a psycho-mystery with a plot and characters that appeared to be inspired by detective fiction formats.
The entirety of the film revolves around the practice of hypnotherapist Dr. Xu; the first minutes of the movie taking viewers through his hypnotherapy session with a woman who’s being mentally haunted by a young woman—whose styling was very similar to the TV-ghost-girl in The Ring—a young woman she believes is trying to steal her child from her. Actually, the whole movie begins quite horrifically as the opening shot shows the young woman looking through the glass of a door, trying to break in. She’s trapped by this door’s frame, giving the audience this sense of entrapment and claustrophobia. As we watch further, we realize that the young woman following the older woman and the child through dark and deserted buildings was all part of a trance of Dr. Xu’s patient. The silence and the empty, open spaces in these starting scenes assist in building a thrilling experience for the viewer. We get a sense that these patients who visit Dr. Xu feel haunted by their experiences and wrongdoings and that Dr. Xu, as their hypnotherapist, is meant to exorcise their inner demons. Continue reading →
A year ago I went on a YouTube binge of sci-fi movie trailers and somehow ended up viewing the trailer for Thelma (2017), a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier, that combines mystery, thriller, and drama genres for a contemporary twist. The trailer stuck out and was in my mind days after, as it was captivatingly creepy and stirred my fright. In turn of my inherent fear to watch anything that could be the least bit terrifying and weaponize my imagination against me, I hesitated to ever give the movie a watch. Yet recently, I went to the theatre with friends to see The Nun. The film included everything that I typically hate in horror films—ghosts and possession—but I walked away from that movie cracking jokes about the bad dialogue, movie makeup, and the plot holes big enough for a human to fall through. After watching The Nun, I figured if I didn’t go home worried about sisters decked in habits hiding in the darkest recesses of my closet at night, then I could make it through Thelma.
Blow-up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Palme d’Or recipient, subverts one’s desires and expectations while undermining typical narrative conventions. In Blow-up, Antonioni presents a murder that is “caught” by the protagonist’s camera, one which never actually receives its expected resolution. This subversion is well-executed as the audience sees their anticipation wither and torment them as a group of mimes engage in imaginary tennis.
Similarly, in Antonioni’s 1960 film, L’Avventura, it begins with a person’s disappearance — one whose subsequent search is void of resolution. Instead, Antonioni chooses to focus on a character who is weak and trying to cope in extravagant society. Antonioni subverts expectation and tests the audience’s patience, as well as narrative standards, in both films.
But is this subversion just Antonioni teasing his audience, or does it carry a deeper and more complex significance? In fact, yes, it very much does. Antonioni describes his intention of narration in L’Avventura as him wanting to “achieve the suppression of outward physical action” in the interest of a “greater interior realism.” Meaning, he wants to show the world in a manner that is true to life and realism.
Dogs have sat alongside humankind for generations, acting both as guardians and best friends. It isn’t uncommon today to walk into a household and be greeted by a furry, four-legged creature. Dogs can be the center of attention at any house party, and you even see people walking down the street lose their minds upon a dog sighting. The idea that dogs are one of the most trustworthy creatures on Earth has been instilled into the minds of millions of people around the world. But what happens if this trust is broken? Imagine a world where dogs are alienated and have become public enemy number one. In this edition of “Fear Needs No Translation,” we dive into the dark fantasy of Hungarian director, Kornél Mundruczó, where he makes this nightmare a reality in his 2014 film, White God.
Kornél Mundruczó isn’t a stranger to the film industry, having a variety of acting and directing jobs, including films such as Delta (2008) and Johanna (2005). Mundruczó surpasses the artistry that is film; his craft has become an outlet for voicing his opinion on many social and political matters. With the help of acting rookie, Zsófia Psotta, White God has been recognized for its technical cinematography, artistic aesthetic, and issue-driven allegory.
In a not-so-distant future, the Hungarian government has created a tax on mongrel dogs that would nearly bankrupt any mutt owner. As a result, dog populations have skyrocketed in shelters, as well as strays in the street. Mundruczó’s White God follows the story of Lili and her dog, Hagen, as the two face the struggles of separation, abuse, and finding acceptance in the world. Having been forced to living on the streets by Dániel, Lili’s father, Hagen quickly learns his place in society. Gaining an obsession of saving her best friend, Lili soon realizes that the innocence of her world is a façade. Literally being thrown to the curb, Hagen and the other dogs of this ingenious film rise up as the newest form of terrorists. With all hope seemingly fading away, Lili must take a stand against the beast she once considered her friend to find the light in his soul. White God is a beautifully crafted movie, comprised of the spectacle of a melodrama, while incorporating elements of contemporary horror. A true spectacle, Mundruczó and his cast spin together a tale that will have your emotions toyed with from start to finish.
If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many make use of timely social issues in order to convey powerful commentary on their respective subjects. The late, great visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his legendary Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to basically turn society into zombies. Recently, The Purge series of films delves into classism, the classic Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideas, and the cult-favorite They Live looked at the power of the media.
Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-horror director Jordan Peele, is the latest and greatest example of how horror films are often utilized to depict poignant social commentary. While we’re a year removed from the initial release of Peele’s debut horror subject, Get Out, it’s a film I still can’t seem to shake from my head. It’s never apparent as you watch it, but Get Out is Peele’s first time being in the director’s chair for a film, as well as his first foray into the horror genre. Get Out is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade (so much so that Peele actually was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.
Get Out’s central character is Chris (played by the excellent Daniel Kaluuya), a 20-something black man in an interracial relationship with his white girlfriend, Rose (played by Allison Williams), who plans to take him along for a visit at her family’s classical Northeastern estate for a family get-together. You’ll see that Chris is noticeably skeptical about the trip, and coyly asks Rose if her parents are aware that he’s black, implying that he believes he may not feel welcomed by Rose’s family because of the color of his skin. Rose’s on-the-nose rebuttal attempts to strike down his fear: “My dad would vote for Obama for a third term if he could,” she replies, with the punchline of the joke landing a handful of scenes later when Rose’s father recites this line verbatim to Chris.
And it’s moments like this one, I believe, that make up one of the best attributes of Get Out: it remains a biting satire plainly hidden beneath a rotten exterior. Peele has certainly looked at similar issues concerning race relations in the past through his various comedic avenues, such as in his former Comedy Central show Key & Peele, but here he takes a much more subdued approach to his comedy. While the film is foremost a psychological horror-thriller, and displays its fair share of horrifying scenes dealing with serious themes, Peele regularly intersects the built-up tension with well-timed jokes and often funny reactions from the characters. However, Get Out can and should scare you, especially in its final act when all of its cards have been laid out in front of you, and definitely after its credits have rolled and you’re allowed to reflect on its potent themes. But to Peele’s credit, you may find yourself crying from laughter just as much as you’ll be sweating in terror.
In our dynamic culture, the thought of looking back from where we came from is often overlooked. It’s humbling to take a second and remember that if it weren’t for the innovators that came before us, then we wouldn’t be in the position where we are right now. The philosophers that spoke up against the norm, the scientists that questioned the accepted reasoning, and the political leaders that stood for change are all cornerstones to the world we live in today. Not only does it humble us, but it teaches us why what we experience today is the way it is. Likewise, in horror films, we can look back at the greats and learn from them — these masters of fear that still influence the industry, and probably will continue to influence it decades from now. Today, we pay our respects to the great Mario Bava, with an analysis of his 1971 film, A Bay of Blood, in this installment of “Fear Needs No Translation.”
Being credited with establishing the Italian giallo genre, it’s no wonder why Bava’s legacy has lived on through the works of those both native to and outside the Italian countryside. This specific subgenre of horror is a hybrid of many, drawing its defining characteristics from mysteries, psychological thrillers, as well as slashers, making it stand out from its other horror conglomerates. Bava started off as a painter by trade, but had a great influence by his father, Eugenio Bava, one of the first Italian film directors. Eventually following in his father’s footsteps, Mario brought along his own artistic prowess, creating films with brilliant coloring and lighting. With many underappreciated works, such as The Whip and the Body (1963) as well as Blood and Black Lace (1964), Bava has branded the giallo subgenre for eternity, perhaps most notably with A Bay of Blood.Continue reading →