Friday, May 25, 2007
El Horror Existencial

I don't often watch horror movies, not because I don't like them -- I dig a good splatter flick as much as the next girl -- but because so many of them are so painfully stupid. I just can't bear to watch a venerable, dynamic genre reduced to extended video game ads pitched to particularly dimwitted adolescents; as far as I'm concerned, those movies constitute a betrayal of everything that a modern horror film should be. And I don't follow the current line of thought that says the Japanese are where horror cinema's at these days. I watched Ringu, I watched Battle Royale, and the ubiquitous pallid, stringy-haired Japanese girl just doesn't move me.

I know, I'm hard to satisfy. But you see my problem. Horror is a specialized artform that almost none of its current practitioners seem to have even understood, much less mastered. Horror, like comedy, has a unique potential to address the most basic elements of the human soul, and to deal with subjects too sensitive to approach directly. Horror film begs for depth and allegory, for a chance to mean something; it's tragic that it seems to have become little more than an excuse to watch some topless bink get her head chopped off.

Today, though, I saw a fucking brilliant horror film. Everything you've heard is true: it is indeed better than the original. And 28 Days Later was the film that convinced me the genre might yet have some life in it, so that's saying something. Like every good horror film, its plot is relatively simple and the emphasis is on visuals designed to engage your limbic brain and create a visceral response; the cinematography is utterly perfect and completely gorgeous, in exactly the way that a horror film requires. And while the film contains a generous amount of spewing blood and popping heads (as it fucking well should), the real horror of this film is existential. The real monster is internal, not external, and salvation is just the same grim, brutal death wearing a different mask.

And it's a smart damn movie, too. The director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, understood his story and his setting and joined the two organically on a deep level. The film was full of visual allusions to London's history of real horrors: the black plague, the great fire, and the blitz; and he tied it into recent horrors like the World Trade Center attacks, the war in Iraq, the aftermath of Katrina, and the Vietnam war. The particular source of fear in this story is simply a mechanism; the horror comes from the nature of being human.

I'm telling you, if you even remotely like this sort of thing, you should see it. It's a masterpiece of the form. And it's worth it to see it on a big screen if you can. Just trust me on this.

The other thing that gave this film some extra gravity for me was the location -- most of the first half of the film takes place on the Isle of Dogs, where I lived for a couple of years, almost within the shadow of Canary Wharf tower. I saw the three tall buildings near my old council block on the screen more than once; if I could've paused the film, I could point out my building, maybe even the very balcony outside my room. Every shot was someplace I knew, somewhere I'd walked or stood, the concrete ledge where I sat waiting for someone, the platform where I waited for my train, the dark alley I walked through every night on my way home. I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing London this way, playing a role in a postmodern-ish zombie movie. It makes me feel so wistful -- like someone who once loved a movie star and now has to spend the rest of her life watching him kiss other people's ten-foot-tall lips. Or die a terrifying, violent death on screen.

PS: Extra points to anyone who can correctly identify the (IMHO obvious) visual reference to Peter Jackson's zombie magnum opus, Braindead (aka Dead Alive). Hint: think whirring blades.

PPS: And what the fuck is going on with all these Hispanic filmmakers these days? You've got Cuaron, del Toro (Guillermo, not Benicio -- and make sure to hit Pan's Labyrinth while you're at it, it's jaw-droppingly good), Jodorowsky, and now this Fresnadillo guy. Spanish is apparently the new Danish in the film world. Take note.
8:13 PM ::
Amy :: permalink