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Monday, July 11, 2016

Paranormal Perfection

Greetings and salutations. There is a torrential downpour happening right outside my window, so I figured what better opportunity to flesh out some meaningless writing? A torrential downpour of scattered thoughts, if you will. Do you ever get the feeling that you have an ingrown fingernail? I do. Inspired by this gloomy, menacing weather, I decided to write about a genre I normally don't explore: horror. When I think horror, images of Michael Myers and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre come to mind. And blood--lots of blood. These facets of cinema have always repelled me, especially that creepy, murderous Chucky doll. I absolutely despise that ginger menace. No, the films I will be looking at share a characteristic that is not blood or cheap thrills. While they do feature jump scares quite frequently, the following films are true masterpieces when it comes to the genre of horror. They are, ladies and gentlemen, the psychological horrors.

I write this fresh out of the theater, and by theater I mean my at-home movie theater. I have my own projector, you know, huge screen and all. Anyway, the film I just finished is called Insidious. No need for introduction, I'm sure, as it was immensely popular among audiences, even some critics. Recall that most horror movies rife with jump scares are typically disregarded as "annoying" and repetitive. I quoted "annoying" because that's an actual review Insidious received: "It was far more annoying than it was terrifying." I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of the review. How can anyone define this film as "annoying," I truly wonder. I am going to say it right now: Insidious is by far the most terrifying film I have ever seen. Considering that I am not a savant of the horror genre, this statement is not very powerful, certainly not requiring bold effects. Not sure if "powerful" was the right word to use there. Then again, neither was "annoying" to describe this movie. Critiquing a horror film is a challenge because it requires the utmost subtlety and vagueness. I cannot go about divulging spoilers as it would caution you that much more before immersing yourself into the experience. How exactly does one go about reviewing horror "flicks" without giving a walkthrough of what to expect? Adjectives come to mind right away, as always, for they provide vague yet impacting declarations of what a movie can be described as. When I think of what I just experienced with Insidious, I think of exactly that word: insidious. The film oozes such malice, such utter terror that you never know what to anticipate. Nevertheless you are anticipating something, you cannot even predict what's lurking about or if there even is anything there. Just the mere thought forces your imagination to run free and once the actuality reaches your line of vision, you are confronted with fears unimaginable to what you foresaw. Let's be honest, one can't really force anything with this film. Unless I'm an amateur when it comes to horror films and I fail to see through the "annoying" facade the director presents for his viewers. He must prey on the gullible weakness of novice viewers such as myself then, for this film frightened any of my sources. By sources, I mean my close friends. Just kidding, I don't have any friends. The film was very unsettling. The visions that appeared upon the screen were expected yet unexpected; they tease you with their absence, then attack you with their sudden entrance. Again, no spoilers. All I will do is highly recommend Insidious. Be warned that the level of sheer terror is frighteningly steep. See what I did there with the pun? There was no pun.

The next film up for vague discussion is called The Conjuring, released three years after Insidious by the very same director. What is that you say? We have a skilled craftsman of horror that does not demand the need for senseless gore on screen? Other than Saw, James Wan seems to have a knack for original, genuinely chilling horror movies. I can actually watch and enjoy them, with my adrenaline levels spiking all the while of course. My craving for horror materialized out of nowhere, it seems. Perhaps I've matured to a point where films like The Shining aren't scary enough. Be advised that The Shining is one of my only experience with horror and that I very much appreciated that debut experience. The book was just as good as the movie, I reckon. Past horror movies I consider to be "horror movies" include Grindhouse productions, which were majorly bloody messes. Literally just a carousel of slaughters and cheap storylines. As a child, I was horrified by the onslaught of blood and guts, or at least that's what I recall from my youth. Since then, I've seen The Shining as well as 1408 and The Skeleton Key. The latter is worth mentioning for it was a truly creepy horror where the ending was everything. That's all I have to say about that. Though I will stress the importance of the ending when it comes to horror movies. A shitty ending will have you leave the theater with a rotten taste in your mouth, sometimes literally. The bile that formed was due to...unmet expectations? I thought I was going somewhere with that, some kind of metaphor. Oh well. Over the course of a horror film, you are left breathless yet your heart is pumping wildly--that's how it should be anyway--so when the ending is flat, you feel sick from all that wasted adrenaline. I feel my figurative language is all over the place there. Just like my train of thought. Let me return to The Conjuring now.

Aside from having an excellent title for a horror film, The Conjuring rests among the classics as one of the greatest among horror cinema. I hope that sentence wasn't too choppy. Loosely based on true events, the film follows famed spookologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. I definitely made up the word "spookologists," I'm sorry. Their official title is paranormal investigator, according to Wikipedia, which is a website that can be relied on when it comes to searching mundane facts, believe it or not. Ed is a self-taught demonologist (actual term), author, and lecturer, while Lorraine is a clairvoyant and light trance medium. Basically, he represents the clean-cut professionalism behind a case while she serves as the up-close and personal encounter with the haunting spirits. Personally, ghost stories triggered the shrug reaction for me, as I remained indifferent to these types of tales because I have never seen a ghost. I ain't afraid of no ghosts. I want to believe in ghosts because it implies prolonged life on this earth, which is somewhat appealing since I have a painstaking fear of mortality. But that's beside the point. Until The Conjuring, I steered clear of all things even remotely scary, including the frightful images of truly creepy ghosts. When it came to the paranormal, the most I've seen is Ghostbusters. The original one, obviously. Because the new one is a negatory as of now. I lose my train of thought so easily. For the last ten minutes, I was looking up attractive actors to see if they were single or not. As if I had a chance to hit up Bradley Cooper. Come on, get it together.

New paragraph. I watched The Conjuring before I watched Insidious, actually, because at the time of writing I had just watched Insidious so I figured it would be best to write about that one fresh from the mind. Therefore, a somewhat significant amount of time (about two or three weeks) has passed since I watched The Conjuring. Forgive me if my analysis and sentiments of the film are not adequately produced as they were for Insidious. What I really appreciated about The Conjuring was the time period; the seventies motif gives the film a vintage aura about it that makes the horror aspect a tad creepier because it conjures images of classic scary movies. Objectively speaking, this film was no where near as terrifying as Insidious; however, its period creepiness will cement The Conjuring in cinematic history nevertheless. I'm not saying The Conjuring was tame overall because it certainly frightened me multiple times. Unlike Insidious, this film relied more on the quiet tension that something might happen as opposed to blatantly horrifying jump scares. (I may have contradicted what I said earlier. What i mean to say is that, while there were moments of silent tension in Insidious, they were typically followed by jump scares. The Conjuring, on the other hand, gave less pay-off in terms of jump scares, as there were more moments of silent tension that were there for aesthetics, I think. Moving on.) The basement of the Perrons' home is where the chilling fear faces the shocking horrors you were anticipating. In other words, the most scary scenes happen down in the basement. Just a complimentary spoiler for the ill and weak-stomached. Oh, and the creepy tree with the noose hanging from a branch (pictured in the poster) is the setting for a heart-stopping moment of dread as well. That's actually a great word to describe the feeling I have when watching these two Wan films: heart-stopping. Not in the thrilling, roller coaster kind of way, of course. The combination of a score reminiscent of classic horror films; the tiptoe slow approach to the horrific reveal; the undeniable tension and shortness of breath; and finally the unsettling jump scare that feels as if the spirits reached from the screen and jolted you themselves. That sums up these two films incredibly well, in my opinion, explaining my newfound fascination with creepy-eerie horror films that do not rely on purely visuals and gore to get your attention.

Before I wrap things up, I would like to give some praise to the acting in each of the films because I just realized that I ignored that. Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson play the husband and wife in Insidious, where their son experiences the cursed art of dream traveling. In more technical terms, he "becomes a vessel for ghosts an astral dimension who want to inhabit his body." Thanks Wikipedia. As the mother of this special child, who gets lost in the Further and is therefore temporarily lost to the world, Rose Byrne gives an excellent scared-shitless performance. At first, you wonder if she is going mad since she seems to be the only one encountering the paranormal. This was a notion both my dad and I had, until "something" happened that I can't share for fear of TMI. Her performance was great in terms of the setting and the majority of her specific role, as she was just the right amount of hysterical. Patrick Wilson was fitting as the supportive husband of Byrne, though the significance of his role does not come into play until the "something" happens. (Editor's note: Wilson was phenomenal in the sequel to Insidious, which I won't go into because I need to finish this post. I've been putting this off for weeks. It's about time.)
Patrick Wilson returns in The Conjuring as the Ed Warren to Vera Farmiga's Lorraine. The pair gives an incredible duet as acting partners, more effective than Byrne and Wilson in my opinion. While both actresses have good faces for horror films (not an insult to their appearance in the slightest), I feel that Vera Farmiga is a tad stronger an actress. That's just my sentiment. Once again, Patrick Wilson delivers as a solid horror performer, redeeming himself as the douchebag in Morning Glory for sure. Vera Farmiga was superb as the clairvoyant Lorraine Warren, as she enveloped herself wholly in the role of a woman frightened by an other-worldly presence. Again, good actors give good performances. This time anyway.

For the past few days, I've felt utterly useless and despondent in this time of summer. When I have nothing to do, I regress into thinking of past regrets and mistakes I've made. This is a toxic habit, one that can be cured with accomplishment, even as simple as a writing a blog post. After I publish this, I will read over it and feel satisfied with the work and brainpower I put into it. Granted, it didn't require the same brainpower as a college thesis, but for me this blog is my sanctuary of creative output. Reading past posts remind me that I have potential to do something with my life while I stay dormant at home for the summer. I'm letting this out mostly as a reminder to myself so when I read this, I will hopefully be inspired to write. It can be about anything, I just need to write to feel something other than nothing. That's all I have to say about that. Have a good evening. P.S. It's not raining anymore.

Good night.