As usual, Mark Kermode has some pretty interesting things to say about cinema, in this case the Conjuring. I went to see it the other day. My feelings were:
- Beautifully made film. Great colours. Great sets. Good camera work. Decent enough acting. Nice music.
- Why are ‘fright films’ called horror films? Horror is far deeper than just a fright. David Lynch has probably made my favourite ‘horror’ films, Eraserhead (on the fear of parenthood), INLAND EMPIRE (enigmatically, ‘about a woman in trouble’), Fire Walk With Me (I forget, but there is so much spooky about the entire Twin Peaks universe, and I seem to remember this being a fairly scary film).
- It was based around fear rooted in religious belief. For those without religious belief, that makes the fear a little disconnected, hard to relate to. This was even alluded to in the film, with some fairly absurd bureaucratic scenes around the church ‘authorising’ exorcisms. Erm…
I’m totally ignorant of modern film criticism, but my feeling is that horror films should be about helping us explore our fear, which can help us understand what drives us. Old fashioned horror films are a laugh, comic horror films are a laugh, but films that really try to scare us should be playing to modern concepts of fear. Maybe those are rooted in technological developments, or international/intercultural/interpersonal issues or whatever.
On the other hand, mainstream horror will be like mainstream anything-else, generally pretty shallow (fright film = horror film… oh well).
It was interesting watching the conjuring as it showed a few themes:
- an incredibly patchy understanding of the world around you, combined with real and present dangers can easily lead to superstitious thinking and a sense of horror. For many people in ‘developed’ countries today, there are relatively few real and present dangers, and horror films are a poor standin.
- a dark, ugly, coercive side to various parts of some religions. (Believe, or you’re in trouble.)
- that it’s possible to make a fairly consistent logic around ‘possession’ (based around psychologically breaking a person until they do what you* want), that’s even consistent with things that people could experience (*’you’ is more likely to be a person or institution than an actual supernatural being…), without their explanations being true (in a scientifically observable sort of way). The film did that rather nicely.
Anyway, worth a watch, but now I’m going to seek out horror films that help me explore my fear, rather than sociologically and historically interesting fright-films which are interesting occasionally, but not really worth that much time…