Oct 25, 2023

Method Of Modern Horror

source: Calendar Labs

I didn't get out to Regal as often as I would have liked to this Halloween season, but I was able to catch three modern horror flicks on the big screen over the past month.
The folks behind the Saw franchise have said that they regretted killing off Jigsaw as early as they did.  To work around this, the tenth movie in the series takes place at a point in time between Saw and Saw IIJohn Kramer is conned out of $250k by a team of scam artists who make him believe that they are able to cure his cancer.  He spends the rest of the movie making each of these folks regret their choice with a level of brutality that lives up to what we've come to expect from a Saw movie.  I'm not sure where I'd rank it in the series in terms of favorite to least-favorite because it's been a while since I've watched some of them, but I'm confident that it would be in the upper half.

This came across to me as misguided social commentary disguised as a horror film that is still pretty good despite its ham-fisted subtext.  The main character, Sam, is a high school girl from an Indian family who has adopted American culture after spending most (if not all) of her life in the United States.  That sort of thing didn't used to be controversial.  In fact, it was kind of expected that if you were going to uproot your life and move halfway around the world to live as a citizen of the United States that you were doing so to become a part of that country, and that every generation after you would naturally become more "Americanized" than the generation that came before it.  That's not to say that your heritage disappears, but it's only natural that a person's surroundings is going to have a greater influence on who they become than a culture thousands of miles away that they have never been immersed in. 

Sam's friends at school do not at all seem judgmental of her Indian heritage, but her mother is awfully judgmental of the fact that her teenage daughter (*gasp*) is pulling away from family activities to spend time with her high school friends.  Oh, the horror!  Sam also is judged in a harsh light throughout the film for spending more time with her non-Indian friends and less time Tamira, who is another girl of Indian heritage who Sam was close with when they were younger children.  Of course, no one ever grows out of the friendships that they had in elementary school and into friendships with a different peer group, right?  If anything, I think Sam is remarkably patient with Tamira, who walks around the school like the girl from The Ring clutching and muttering to a glass jar.  Yeah, I can't imagine why a teenage girl would ever put distance between herself and the weird girl to hang out with her crush and with friends who don't behave like, well, something out of a horror movie.

Naturally, the day is saved only when Sam learns to embrace her heritage to take on an Indian demon that feeds off of negative energy.  She literally takes the demon into herself to keep it contained and to stop it from hurting others, and they all lived happy ever after, I guess.  So... the moral of this story is what, exactly?  You're a bad person if you try to live your own life, and you must accept that you will be trapped by your family heritage to the point of allowing it to literally invade your body?  Um... ok.

Look, I don't mean for this to be a bad review.  It's a very good movie with strong performances from everyone in the cast and an engaging story that held my interest.  Maybe the subtext that I'm getting from this film isn't what writer/director Bishal Dutta intended, but in the ridiculously polarized climate of the United States in 2023, it's hard not to roll my eyes and think "here we go again".

Before we went to see this, I was pretty sure that we saw The Nun back in 2018, but I wasn't so sure after seeing this because none of the characters seem familiar to me.  I just went back to review a plot synopsis of the first movie and nothing I'm reading in there is ringing a bell either.  I'm not saying for sure that I have or haven't seen it.  Honestly, a lot of these demonic possession movies kind of run together in my memory and it's hard for me to tell one from another.

At any rate, I really enjoyed The Nun II.  I wish I had written about this right after I saw it because I've already forgotten a lot of the details, but I remember liking the fact that the story had a lot more to it than the old "bad demon takes over good person for no reason in particular" plot device that is all too common in movies like these.  The demon itself, its motives, and the ways that Sister Irene and Sister Debra fight him off kept me engaged throughout the movie.  Don't take my lack of detail as anything negative about the movie.  I just have a lousy memory, and as I said before, movies about this sort of thing tend to get all jumbled together in my head.

There are quite a few movies that we missed out on this month.  The most heavily marketed of these was The Exorcist: Believer.  I probably would have made time to go see it if not for one scene in the trailer that was so stupid that it moved this movie from "must see" to the "maybe I'll get to it if I have time" category.  The scene that I'm talking about is when the little girl walks into church saying "the body and the blood" over and over again in a voice that I guess is supposed to sound more creepy and ominous each time she repeats it.  This scene single handedly made me think that this entire film was going to be a waste of time, and from the reviews that I've read, it seems like that's exactly what it was.  Every time I saw this trailer, I laughed to myself as I imagined other people randomly chanting things in a failed attempt to sound creepy... like maybe a Raisin Bran commercial with a mother chanting "the raisins and the flakes", or a proctologist coming out to the waiting room chanting "the rectum and the sphincter".

Movies about exorcisms tend to fall flat in general for me because the storytelling is usually very shallow and inconsistent.  Some poor soul gets possessed by a demon, and then a white knight priest marches in there and shouts a bunch of prayers at it.  This usually results in some shit flying around the room that smacks the priest in the head.  Sometimes there's some levitation, or the lights flicker on and off, or the possessed person shakes their head around for a while, but the prayers never seem to actually do any good for the victim.  What are they expecting?  Is the demon supposed to say "oh, I get it... I'm the unclean spirit... why, goodness gracious, I never thought you wanted me to leave... let me just go ahead and grab my hat and find some other kid", or are they supposed to disappear in a puff of smoke or something?  All that ever happens is that they're seemingly killing the person who is possessed, which accomplishes what, exactly?  It doesn't kill the demon.  They can just go fly in to somebody else in the sequel.  That's not to say that movies in which somebody gets possessed are all bad because The Nun II was very good.  However, in general, the "exorcism" genre just doesn't work for me, and that includes the original Exorcist.  The best exorcism movie I've ever seen ranks alongside an average film in any other horror sub-genre, and it would take something pretty special and original for it to get a higher complement out of me than that.  By all accounts, The Exorcist: Believer is neither of those things.

I do regret not getting to see The Creator, The Boogeyman, A Haunting In Venice and The Expendables 4, and I'm still hoping that I'll be able to get out to Regal to see Killers Of The Flower Moon and Five Nights At Freddy's before they get pulled.  We should have plenty of time after closing weekend at the Mahoning.