CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Friday, November 03, 2006

Horror, The Descent, and Carrie

I know what you're thinking. Why am I writing about horror now? Halloween was a few days ago. It's November already. Well, you'll appreciate why I didn't post this for Halloween when I unveil Part 2 of 3 of my contribution to The Film Vituperatem's Hitchcock Blog-A-Thon aka my Hitchcock paper due Monday.

Let's get one thing straight before anything else. I'm not much of a horror guy. Fear is not a feeling I like to feel when watching a film. Now don't get me wrong. I can appreciate a horror film. I've seen some of the classics, and I've liked what I've seen. Alien, Night of the Living Dead, and Psycho are all great movies. And I usually appreciate why these movies are great. I can see the filmmaking, disect the tension, and love every minute. It also helps that since these are the greats, spoilers are up most everywhere. I'm able to remove myself enough that I'm not scared out of my wits. That said, my enitre view on the horror genre has been thrown out of whack.

It's rare that a film can change the way you look at movies, even a little. So what is this movie, that which will undoubtedly be a strong formulative experience in my filmic development? It's that box office flop from across the pond, The Descent. Was it scary? Absolutely. So how could a simple horror film in the vein of Alien completely change my perspective? It was not a pleasant viewing experience for me. It did its intended job, and it did it very well. I can very easily appreciate the film for being very scary, but I didn't like watching it.

If you look over at Jim Emerson's Scanners Blog, he has some great appreciation of the film. I recommend you not look at what he's written unless you've seen the film. Aye, there's the rub, for I'm not sure if I want to recommend this film. It is, to my limited viewing, one of the most frightening film I have ever seen. However, I didn't like watching the movie. I couldn't break down the film the way Jim was because it was so involving for me. I guess this is what it was like to be there at the first weekend and see that thing burst out of John Hurt's chest. So I guess this isn't my bag. I much more appreciated the second half of my horror double feature.

All I have to say is wow. I mean, yeah, my experience is limited, but I still didn't think De Palma had something as totally satisfying as Carrie. Before this, I had only seen Body Double and Scarface, and I didn't really like either one. I found Body Double's style suffocating, and I really need to rewatch Scarface, considering how much the 80's soundtrack bothered me. But Carrie worked both with its style and substance. Here, the gorgeous long takes, slow motion shots, and split screen effects worked within the confines of the movie, heightening the joy of the prom and the anguish of the aftermath.

De Palma has a penchant for drawing the viewer out of the movie by making it so stylish, yet here it only made me gawk at how beautiful he made the film, and how each touch, though unnecessary, adds to the value of the film. One sequence that struck me like this, besides the most obvious ones at the prom, was the scene in which Tommy Ross and his friends are buying tuxes for the prom. The argument over whether one of them has a body well suited for a tuxedo is literally fast-forwarded like on a VCR. The conversation would be completely useless if it were allowed to be played out, so De Palma lets us know the argument happens, yet we are spared the banality of hearing three guys arguing over the right tuxedo body. Were this, say, a Richard Linklater film, this conversation would be shown in its entirety, and possibly even lengthened. But this is lean, efficient filmmaking that awes as easily as it tells the story. De Palma has made a great film that is as effective as horror as teen drama. It takes horror from the back-woods of Texas and puts it where it belongs, in the home.

The Descent: ***1/2 / ****
Carrie: ****/****

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