Singapore Film News Portal since 2006
GENERAL COMMENTARY

A Different Kind of Horror

7 February 2020

author:

A Different Kind of Horror

There are three kinds of people in this world, those who seek and embrace horror, those who stray far far away from it, and those who appreciate it only when there’s company around to suffer together.

I fall under the first category. My go-to genre of films is horror and I scour the internet to find gems to share with other horror weirdos. But don’t get me wrong, I DO get scared. It’s just that there is another category— which doesn’t classify under horror — that scares me even more than it should. I’m here to introduce to you a different kind of horror. Bear with me.

I’m talking about films that, instead of making you jump out of your seat, you remain seated in disbelief of what you’ve just witnessed. It’s the idea that you are actually watching horror without realising it. The reason why I think these films should be the ones that scare us more than the usual horror is because of how they address real social issues happening today. 

Here are some films that have haunted me differently.

Photo credit: CJ Entertainment


PARASITE 

For the one percent of you who have not watched it yet, there are lots of things you can miss out on but this is not one of them. This 132 minute film is worth the time and will be something that you’ll ponder on for months on end. 

The plot is straightforward — lower-class family who is struggling to survive in this cruel world lands a job opportunity with a wealthy family. Greed kicks in and they end up getting entangled in a big ball of mess. And I mean BIG.

I went in blind, not watching the trailer nor reading up on it and came out wide-eyed like I just watched something I wasn’t supposed to, looking around asking if we all just witnessed that.

Aside from the captivating cinematography, everything else – the brilliant production design, the haunting music, the whimsical banter, and of course the paramount acting – underscores the entire film.

Similar to his other films, director Bong Joon-ho doesn’t give everything away, and that should be the way. He knows too well to not spoon feed us for films like this. He challenges us to think further and come up with theories as to what this all means; all while in the back of our heads, we’re subconsciously thinking about how this resonates with our current living situations.

To find out that some are living in extremely different lifestyles far from what we have imagined, even though all of us are living on the same planet on the same timeline, terrifies me. Social stratification is very much real and we need to create more conversation about it.

Film still from Shoplifters

SHOPLIFTERS

Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters covers the topic of defiance and the extent of unconditional love.

Well known for his sorrowful films that mainly revolve around the theme of family, director Hirokazu Koreeda raises the question of what makes a family. He describes this as his socially conscious cinema and uses it to capture family within the society.

This film focuses on a non-biological family of six, all cooped up in the grandmother’s pension house. They mainly depend on shoplifting to get by. Each character has their own unique story that slowly unfolded throughout the story. 

There are several social issues implied in this film, one of which is the unfair child welfare system. A particular line spoke out to me. This is during an interrogation scene between the child welfare officer and Nobuyo Shibata (the mom of the family).

Film still from Shoplifters

Child Welfare Officer: “Children need their mothers.”

Nobuyo: “That’s just what mothers imagine. Giving birth automatically makes you a mother?”

This film gave the word family a new meaning. None of them have obligations to take care of one another but they learn to love and empathise. The dilemma the family has to go through towards the end of the film is heartbreaking to watch. You would frown upon them but let’s be real, you probably would have done the same if you were in their situation.

There’s a lot of assumptions on how people define what a family should be. There’s unsaid rules to follow and responsibilities that you automatically carry because you are bound by blood. Koreeda reminds us that not everyone is privileged to be born into a nuclear family that stays with you till the end. Just the thought of losing family members and loved ones, knowing that the dynamic could drastically change because of circumstances, gives me the shivers.

Photo credit: Netflix

MARRIAGE STORY

Noah Baumbach’s latest masterpiece, Marriage Story, tells a love story through the lens of a divorce. Charlie and Nicole Barber, played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, go through a gruelling divorce while Co-parenting their son, Henry.

Driver and Johansson give the best performances of their careers, not to mention Laura Dern, who plays Nicole’s divorce attorney.

The film is slow-paced but intense. Apart from the heart-breaking performances, the script and tone of the film exude an authenticity and originality that has been missing from cinema for some time. It includes several excruciating long takes that required the actors to elicit a dichotomy of emotions. The antagonising argument scene in the later part of the film involves a wave of emotions that flows seamlessly. It made me feel frustrated too just watching them.

For years on end, Marriage Story will be considered as one of the classics from the decade, being cited as references for film schools. We’re all on a pursuit to find love, which is either exhausting or effortless. Regardless, the journey of what happens after you find your significant other might not be the fairy tale you had in mind. Finding out that just because you’re in love with someone, it still doesn’t mean that you’re right for each other, is downright depressing. So for those hopeless romantics, this film will be a tough one to watch due to its painful and way too realistic subject matter. Talk about tough love.

Photo credit: The Triangle

BLUE VALENTINE

Unlike Marriage Story, Blue Valentine shuffles between two different time periods portraying a couple’s journey from the beginning. Though the first half of the film feels like a romantic Disney movie for adults, it is not a goodie goodie love story. The jump cuts back and forth from past to present seems as if it portrayed two completely different couples.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle William’s chemistry is unlike any I’ve ever seen. Most of the script was improvised as per director Derek Cianfrance’s orders. The dialogue is nothing complicated, the delivery doesn’t feel like it was forced, everything feels natural. Watching them in this film seems too real and intimate it feels almost invasive to watch on. It shapes the personalities of the two characters perfectly. 

This film is one of those films I wish I could watch again for the first time and just cry my eyes out. When you’re younger, spending the rest of your life with someone is a tremendous commitment. But with time and age, the possibility of the love turning sour is something that we all want to block out from our thought process, burying and praying that it won’t ever happen. 

It’s enlightening to have films like this and Marriage Story to show the ugly side of the romance genre. The characters in both films also handled their situation maturely, being honest and having a proper conversation about their feelings. Sometimes, you need these kinds of films to bring you back to reality after all those romcoms. And, this is better than The Notebook. Yeah, I said it.

Film still from Requiem for a Dream

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

Requiem For A Dream revolves around four individuals in their downward spiral with drug addiction. This is the most depressing film I never want to watch again. Though it’s been years since I watched it, I still can’t get myself to watch it in its entirety again for research purposes – I only managed to watch snippets which in itself is already a lot for me to take in. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.

The film stars Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans and Jennifer Connelly. Their acting was so convincing that when I see them in other films now, I die a little when I get reminded of their scenes from Requiem, they all just come slapping back to me. I’m officially scarred. 

That being said, I still highly recommend this to everyone. Whether or not you’re coping with not necessarily only drugs but addiction as a whole, this film depicts the snowball effects on an individual’s mental and physical state. But do note that it is extremely graphic, do not watch it openly in the living room, do so alone in your own room with headphones.

The way the film is shot feels like an extended drug trip, with split-screens, tight closeups, long tracking shots and time-lapse photography. The shots really put into perspective how the characters are feeling when they’re under the influence.

This film will change your perspective and crush your intentions to experiment with drugs. It is the greatest Anti-drug movie that needs to be circulated more. I watched the climactic sequence with my laptop half-closed from a distance. After it was over, I remember sitting in silence for a good ten minutes just in complete despair. It was incredibly haunting.

I’ve talked way too much about my experience watching it, now it’s your turn. I dare you to watch it without feeling frightened or any sense of pity for the characters. Good luck. Remember to pass it on to the people you care about.

Film still from Beautiful Boy

BEAUTIFUL BOY

Beautiful Boy focuses on a father and son struggling to come to terms with the son’s drug addiction. It is based on the memoir by David and Nic Sheff, played by Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet respectively.

(Easter egg: Steve Carell and Amy Ryan, who previously starred as a couple in The Office (US), plays a divorced couple in this film.)

Carell’s performance proves that he is more than a comedic actor, beautifully portraying an emotional despairing character desperately trying to save his son from misery. Chalamet is of no question one of the best actors in this generation. Both display dynamic performances that show off their special father-son bond wonderfully. This makes it even more heart-wrenching to watch them try to cultivate their relationship.

Sad to say that the subject of abuse is still very much relevant today and this film is not here to glamorise drug addiction but to rationally show the struggle of youths dealing with this issue. As a viewer, you are given a sense of understanding from both perspectives — the abuser and their loved ones. It shows that the people around them are as much victims as the abuser themselves. 

We covered the topics of poverty, love and addiction so far, not even close to a myriad of other social issues we are currently facing. Films similar to the ones mentioned above are the director’s take on social issues made in an entertaining way to get us to sit, watch and internalise it. It reminds us that although the stories in the films might not be true, the issue addressed is what we are dealing with right now. We should make use of these films to bring more light to the issues, to stir up more conversations which will eventually lead to more actions taken.

Horror films don’t always have to be visually haunting. The emotions that the director is trying to convey through his art is what we should be focusing on. In this case, its the social issues the world is working towards making right. Films like these scare you enough to rethink your lifestyle and could even change you as a person.

Whether you are a horror fan or not, do not immediately dismiss films that contain graphic or depressing connotations. Treat it as a form of tough love from the writers to get a point across to us. With a wider take on things, we can open our minds and hearts together to make the world a better place.

Just trying to survive like everyone else and avoid getting killed off at 72 years old in Sweden.
X