Pontypool

When a person initially hears the idea of a virus being contained in our language, chances are that he/she will dismiss it as a pretentious farce of a reason to sound intelligent. Upon the reveal of the virus’ characteristics, I literally had to stop myself from laughing. I thought that the film was not witty or profound enough for such an idea to thrive but much to my surprise, it actually somehow worked itself out. Pontypool is a unique film which successfully detached itself from the monster but still worked well in garnering a good scare, one of the most unique yet effective scares I have watched in recent memory.

The film starts with an eerie monologue about a missing cat which subsequently ends with a theory about consequences and coincidences. Apart from the brief appearance of a zombie in the opening scenes and the short screen time of the zombies at the waning parts of the film, the film was highly successful in being detached to the monster. As a result, instead of relying on the presence of a monster to generate scares, it was refreshing to watch a film which worked on the different level. The main characters were never really threatened by the monster except for the ending scenes. On the contrary, what I liked the most about the film was its ability to generate scares through the idea of the unknown. It is important to note that the unknown in this film is different from the typical unknown which we might refer to in horror films. To elaborate more clearly, the typical unknown deals with the lack of knowledge of the monster’s capabilities and characteristics. With Pontypool, we are dealing with the literal unknown, we are never sure (until the ending scenes) whether the outbreak is really happening or not, and what caused the outbreak among others. Moreover, this was heightened by the idea that the main characters were trapped inside a radio station. This created a feeling of uneasiness and of claustrophobia which worked very well with the unknown factor.

Pontypool’s unknown fits in the definition of Wood’s monster. We are currently living in an era where access to knowledge is already not a luxury. Almost everyone can easily conduct research on whatever topic they please. As a result, whenever we are stripped of such capability, we are placed in an uneasy and rather awkward position. In a way, we feel helpless and powerless.

The scene after the credits of Pontypool is a rather interesting one to examine. It starts out in black-and-white but colors start to fill the screen bit by bit. One thing that most people can agree on is the idea that the two main characters died when the building collapsed. This leads to an interesting explanation for the scene after the credits. It was mentioned earlier by the doctor that the virus could potentially change the fabric of reality. In a way, the after-credits scene demonstrated the two main characters’ love for each other and despite their death, they are able to utilize the language to create a different reality, one that is slowly gaining color and life.

Halloween

From the get-go, I had the notion that the remake of Halloween would be a crap fest from the start to the end. To put it bluntly, I was not disappointed. It was really a cheap horror film that would only be watchable when you are not in the mood for thinking. Every idea explored in the film was shallow (Yes, even the pretentious mask metaphor) and the acting was probably the worst that I have ever seen. It seems that if you can shriek and fake sex, you can already act in the film.

I cannot literally think of anything good about the film except if you get turned on by lots of gore brought about by mindless hacking and slashing. Even if you like gore, I can still recommended tons of other films which have lots of gore but also do not assume that the viewer is dumb. I am willing to go as far as branding Halloween as the Transformers of the horror genre, a dull and a shallow film that pathetically tries to generate cheap thrills. I might sound too judgmental towards those who want a mindless roller coaster of a film but I stand with my personal inclination to films that make me think deeply.

On a scholarly level, Halloween falls smack in the horror genre. In whatever way you look at it, it is strictly a slasher flick. The film attempts to create a history for Michael because the past Halloween films did not dwell much on his past. With this, the film utilizes a technique in which the transitions are measured in years, showing only the pivotal scenes of every time frame. In a way, the film can somewhat be classified as a coming-of-age film but it fails miserably as such. A coming-of-age film should be able to explore all facets in a person’s growing up stages which culminates in whatever the person will do at the end. The film Halloween starts off by studying the childhood life of Michael, a typical miserable family with a prostitute mother and a drunk, jobless father. Things happen and he gets sent to a mental facility wherein he is examined, but to no avail. Up to this point, the film still had a certain sense of horror to it but when the second half begins, the film degenerates into a farce, a blood-spilling comedy show. Literally, instead of getting scared, I laughed in most of the film’s pathetic attempts to shock me.

Obviously, the monster in the film was Michael Myers. He represents our fears of a broken childhood and our frights of being left alone. Moreover, in a way, he can also represent our fears of a weak victim becoming a mighty predator who is out for the blood of the people who once abused him. We are all afraid of the idea that something weaker than us will eventually be stronger than us.

I understand that the horror of the film lies on the horrific acts by the main character but it did not work for me because I have seen much worse, much much worse.

The Orphanage

Out of all the movies we’ve watched so far, this has got to be the one I liked the most. There are so many things that distinguish this from all the other movies we’ve watched. One, it’s not a slasher film. The horror doesn’t come from the blood and dismembered body parts you see on the screen. Probably the only blood I saw in this movie is in the scene when Laura gets her fingers caught in the door of the bathroom and when Benigna gets hit by a bus. Two, a few people die (or turn into zombies) in the film, excluding those killed in the past. Well there’s Simon, Laura, and, as I’ve mentioned earlier, Benigna. Three, there are ghosts. This is my kind of horror film. I find the ones with ghosts and supernatural occurrences more interesting than those slasher films where almost, if not everybody gets killed. The supernatural realm has always been a mystery, and I’d like to have a visual on it even though it’s not true. Maybe it’s just something to excite me. Four, this one made me cry. Who cries in a horror film? Apparently, I do. And it’s not because of fear, but rather an overflow of emotions. I broke in that particular scene where the orphans started to come to Laura trying to figure out if it really was her. They’ve been like family, and I’m most emotional when it concerns family.

This movie somewhat comes from a twist of a certain children’s story, which is Peter Pan. This is not the first time a horror film was developed from a children’s story. There’s Red Riding Hood with different versions, one where she fights off the wolves that invade her town and another where she has sexual relationships with a bunch of wolves. This one is not that absurd, though. The film uses Peter Pan as some kind of epiphany for the audience. It is especially recognized in the part where one of the orphans compares Laura to Wendy, the character in Peter Pan who eventually grew up whereas all her other friends in Neverland stayed as kids. The orphanage was their Neverland. The orphans stayed there as kids, just like how the kids in various animal costumes stayed in Neverland. Also, even though Laura “left” them, they gained a new friend in her child Simon, which is the same as when Melody, Wendy’s daughter, joins the gang in Peter Pan. For me, it was fascinating to see this kind of analogy. When Simon brought up the story of Peter Pan, I thought it was merely insignificant, so it amazed me how it all connects in the end. This movie was totally unpredictable, but not in an absurd way where you think, “Where the hell is this all coming from?” Like I said, it was an epiphany—a sudden realization of how the small pieces of the puzzle fit.

El Orfanato

When we think of happy endings, the horror film genre rarely comes to mind. More often than not, one thinks of the more enthusiastic types of film that belong to comedies, love stories, animations, and genres of the like. Though we rarely associate horror films with these so-called happy endings, this does not mean that they are strangers to them. In fact, horror films do have a lot of ways in integrating happy ending to their story lines. What is different about their happy endings however, is how they present them and make audiences believe what a happy ending is, or what it should be. A perfect example that portrays this concept is the film, The Orphanage.

To me, the conclusion to this Guillermo del Toro masterpiece is one that says a lot about how horror films may portray happy endings. In this movie, what appears to be a happy reunion for Julia, Simon, and all the other orphans is actually quite tragic when you think about it. Julia is all smiles the moment her adopted son, Simon comes back to life. Likewise, all the other orphans are very excited to see the young Julia that they barely recognized, all grown up now. Although Julia seems all happy end exited with how things came to be, getting there was surely daunting. Having to kill oneself to get where you want to be is undoubtedly nothing to celebrate about. To me, the only person that benefitted from her decision to “reunite” herself with Simon was Julia herself. It is quite selfish of her to simply take away her life just so she could to terms with her guilt of being responsible for the death of Simon. To top it all off, her husband Carlos is left alone and dumbfounded as he faces the graves of both his wife and adopted son.

Other than that, it was also nice to see ghosts in this movie for a change. Given that all the other films that we’ve watched were all about zombies and psychotic individuals, I was actually satisfied to finally see ghosts as the object of horror in this film. Having ghosts as the monster of this film was quite interesting because it also invites the audience to a sort-of adventure that sparks curiosity along the way. The film utilizes a technique that takes the audiences on a ride as Julia practically searches every single corner of her home to find clues that will lead to the whereabouts of her missing son. Julia is driven to turn back the clock by rebuilding the elements that were present in the orphanage during her younger days. The ghosts of all her former friends of the orphanage are brought face to face with Julia when they play the game that ultimately leads her to Simons rotting corpse in Tomas’s room. (This turns out to be the most iconic scene of the movie) In the end, Iike I said earlier, I was left very disappointed with Julia’s decisive actions. Although the final scene of Carlos feeling “Julia’s presence” is supposedly enough closure for him, there is still no justice to her selfish actions. To me, I simply felt that there could have been a better way for Julia to get what she wants. Besides, Simon was bound to die anyway.

The Orphanage

Gulliermo del Torro’s The Orphanage, makes use of an already scary situation and brings it to a whole new level. The movie may have been broadcasted as a ghost story, but the audience fear comes from the sympathy they feel for the mother. Del Toro spent more time building the mother’s character than developing the ghost story and the antagonist. The terror comes from the audience feeling for the mother as she lives her greatest fear: losing her son.

The Orphanage plays more with the audience’s emotions rather than curiosity. Throughout the film, the main vibe was not, “What happened to him?” but “I hope he’s still alive.” The movie is unique as a horror story because it shows us that horror does not necessarily have to come from something chasing us. Sometimes, horror comes from us chasing something we cannot have. It is through that plot that we see the subversive element of the film. The film can actually be compared to Grace in the sense of the horrors that come with a mother’s fear for her child. Such protection may sometimes become damaging  to both the child and the people in the community. A parallelism to the mother in The Orphanage can be made to Tomas’ mother who tried to shield him from the world by hiding his face. This form of shelter turns around on them which causes her to poison all the children in the name of vengeance and love for her son.  

The film is by all means a ghost story. But it is the mother’s own fear towards losing her son that brings about the downfall within the relationship and his life. It is the void that forms within that mother after her lost that serves as the true haunting within the film. The ghosts just add a certain eeriness to the film that gives it a sense of spirituality and hope. The film would have been just as horrible and scary without the ghosts serving as a plot device. Del Torro’s ghosts actually serve as a beacon of hope within this film rather than as antagonists. In fact, in what can be seen as a Christian themed ending, we see the mother experience her only form of redemption. By finding life, after life the audience is given a dose of Christian doctrine as well as some closure for the film.

The film was good. It was provocative and it made me think about the genre of horror as a whole. What I couldn’t come to terms with was that it took the family and the police more than nine months to find the boy’s body. He was in the basement all along! Knowing what I know about biology, I’d say he would have started to stink at about day four of death. That would have prompted the police dogs to smell something if they hadn’t already. Their absence during the search was notably noticed. This may have been del Torro’s attempt to prolong the film as a means to get an in-depth look into the mother’s character. In the other hand, The Orphanage may be set in an alternate universe where dogs aren’t used by the police and the film is a commentary on just how scary that would be. 

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)

One…Two…Three…Knock on the wall.

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) was definitely a movie worth seeing. Knowing that it’s a movie produced by Guillermo del Toro gave me higher expectations and I am glad that I wasn’t disappointed at all. It wasn’t a movie that earned the horror title because of chase scenes or slasher type killings. Instead, it used simple shadows and close ups as well as the genius use of sounds that helps complete and confuse the narrative.  Complete because some sounds or details created the story and the horror but at the same time they caused confusion because it created alternate possibilities as the characters also debate about the origin of these sounds.

“Sounds are perceived as a potential threat in that they hang in uncertainty for the perceiver.”(Warren Buckland, Film Theory and Contemporary Hollywood Movies) The creaks and knocks on the wall in a creepy mansion after the disappearance of Simon was an obvious threat to Laura. Before Simon’s disappearance, random noises and odd occurrences were disregarded and were thought to be representations of Simon’s overactive imagination. But after his disappearance, these sounds created the story that Laura chose to believe. Using these sounds, she led the audience through the story of her haunting which turned to be much worst. I simply thought that she was being haunted by the ghosts of her past, her friends who just missed her because she left before all the terrible things that happened to them. But in the end, the sounds were more important. The sounds she heard were not haunting but a desperate attempt for help from her son which led to his tragic death. At the scene where Laura found her son, wearing the mask and devoid of life, a flashback of scenes where she heard the sounds was shown. And to her horror, she could have well been blamed for the death of her son. The knock on the wall was from Simon, stuck in the basement of the orphanage.

Setting aside the horrific death of her son, the presence of the house ghosts cannot be ignored. A genius stroke of leading and misleading scenes that created the eerier effect that revealed the ghosts. The movie definitely inspired curiosity and suspense through the focus on a specific detail only to bring back the memory of these details in the near future. For example, the scene where Laura and Simon went to the cave where Simon first met Tomas showed the significance of the shells. Laura collected these shells and Simon used them to create a path for Tomas to follow them home. A few scenes were shown to distract the audience from the previous scene and then later on, Laura opens the door to find the shells stacked up. This type of revelation was so simple yet so effective. It gave the audience time to process and find themselves wanting more and more information as shown in Noel Carroll’s theory for the horror genre.

Curiosity is even challenged by multiple answers as the movie constantly plays with the balance between psychology and the paranormal. The scenes reveal bits and pieces of Laura’s past which reveal her identity as the orphan girl in the beginning of the movie which creates the connection between her and the house and whatever or whoever is left in it. At the same time, her husband, Carlos, who doesn’t believe in all the paranormal activities and sides with the police psychologist bring in scientific arguments saying that all the events are attributed to Laura’s past, her grief and her unique connection to the house. But then interlocking scenes between the past and the present create the alternative explanation and the scenes even show the actual ghosts through the repetition of games. One…Two…Three…Knock on the wall…was by far the creepiest scene for me. It finally showed the existence of the ghosts but then the direction pulls away as Laura forces herself to “return” to the real world only to go back to her friends in her death. The back and forth narrative and the delicate balance was definitely a high point in the movie both in narrative and direction.

 

The Orphanage

Finally! After all the zombies and psychopaths we finally have a ghost movie. When I seek out horror films, I always choose the ones with ghosts in them rather than zombie or slasher flicks. I appreciate ghost films more because I can focus more on the movie since I don’t spend half the time with closed eyes, scared to see all the blood. The feeling I get when watching ghost films is that of fear while in zombie/slasher films, disgust is the dominates any other emotion. I think what makes ghost films more fascinating for me is that it’s more otherworldly. Zombies and psychopaths are somewhat supernatural creatures (psychopaths just won’t die) they are still so close to being human and it’s the blood and violence that makes it disturbing/horrific.

For almost the whole duration, the film keeps the audience at the edge of their seats. The eerie sounds and subtle movements are effective that it’s able to sustain the fear. It does a good job building up some scenes like the “one, two, three, knock on the wall game”. I like that it’s subtle scary, it’s more of a “hold your breath” moments than “scream like there’s no tomorrow” moments. Even though some scenes are predictable, the whole feel is still creepy. The story itself was nice enough to hold the interest of the viewers. In a way, this film illustrates how Carroll defines a horror film because it was able to hold the audience’s curiosity through the whole discovery process. Seeing how the mystery of Simon’s disappearance unfolds was satisfying. It deviates slightly to Carroll theory though because in his theory, the revelation of the monster is supposed to elicit revulsion but the opposite happens in the film. For both Laura and the viewers, the appearance of the monsters was somehow a relief because they hold the key to the mystery. Another thing that makes the film fascinating is the way it reveals clues not only to the character in the movie but the viewers as well. Some clues are explicitly given to Laura and the viewers join her as she goes through the process of discovery but there are also clues given only to the viewers when the shots lingers at a seemingly random objects. Aside from the satisfaction one gets when Laura uncovers something, there is also that satisfaction when the viewer is able to make sense of the events.

It is also interesting how the ghosts in the film are characterized. They are the obvious “the other” in the movie because obviously they are not human but even their human form had deformities. At first they were depicted as the monsters but as the story is told, they become the protagonists. They looked like they were evil ghosts who took away Simon but they were actually the ones who brought him back. It is not like other ghosts films I saw where tragic past life equals vengeful ghosts. It is somehow similar to the other films we’ve seen in class where the monsters provoke confusing emotions from the viewers. The ghosts evoked fear but it eventually turns into sympathy. Laura is also  “the other” because of how she seemed to go crazy. She embodies how much a mother loves her child but there came a point where this love looked like it turned into insanity. To society, she looked like a woman who cannot accept and let go of her lost son and when she started turning to psychics/mediums, they thought she was out of her mind. To the characters in the film, she was the weak one because she couldn’t let go but to the viewers, she was the toughest because she was able to connect the human and spirit world.

In the end, it was a happy ending for “the other”. It seemed like a tragic ending but overall I think that it was a happy ending (even for Carlos).