Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Scotsman Abroad | The Horrors of Horror

We had a good chat a couple of weeks ago, I think, about horror, and how horribly it tends to end. That was a discussion in large part brought to bear by Nathaniel Katz's review of The Ritual, and the Caitlin R. Kiernan I had been reading... but also a couple of movies I'd volunteered to watch for review on VideoVista, The Zone's sister site for cinema. A couple of horror movies, of course, that I'd heard great things about. 

Alas. These films were assuredly not great things, and in both cases that had a lot to do with the way they concluded... or didn't.

Why don't we start with the show-stopper? 

The Silent House is a Uruguayan found footage affair ostensibly shot in a single take, about a girl and her handyman father who go to clean up a cottage in the countryside only to find themselves terrorised by something that goes bump and stab in the night. It's actually good shit, for the most part. Sadly:

The Silent House would have been a manifestly more memorable piece in totality without its ill-conceived last act, wherein Hernandez takes it upon himself to explain what should by all rights be left inexplicable. In so doing, the ambitious director overreaches at the last (but not least) hurdle, systematically it seems subverting the power of all the alarming happenings he bade us witness only moments ago, because sadly, the muddled rationale Hernandez spells out - the big reveal before the final curtain comes clattering down, ten minutes too late - goes wholly against the internal logic so deliberately, delicately established before. We are left, then, with not the intricate puzzle we had presumed, to be turned over and over in our minds after the fact - perhaps unpicked in the fullness of time, or perhaps not - but only... a trick; a cheat; an unholy hoax. 

That said, The Silent House seemed to me a masterpiece next to Julia's Eyes, the last film to bear super-producer Guillermo del Toro's name before Are You Afraid of the Dark? The problem with Julia's Eyes is as follows:

It is, at heart, a daft little horror film - proficiently executed on a technical level, from set dressing through effects by way of Fernando Velázquez's throwback Psycho score and Óscar Faura's exceptional cinematography, but narratively it is no more and no less than a nonsense - if not an utter nothing. Mistakenly, Morales approaches the film's story with such po-facedness as to render this ridiculous thing conspicuously ignorant of its own ridiculousness. He seems to think his themes far-reaching and his characters sincerely meaningful when they are in reality no more than cyphers, to a one; and how gripping his script?

I'll tell you: not... one... whit. Only in its moderately powerful middle third is Julia's Eyes even passing tense or atmospheric. In the erstwhile, it is limp, insubstantial, vastly overlong, and as obtuse as the revelation Morales attempts to pass off as a twist, come the dreadful dénouement, which only serves to underscore what an almighty waste of time Julia's Eyes is.

So we're right back where we started; surprise, surprise.

But stay tuned... all is not lost! Later this week I'll be reviewing the best horror film I've seen in some time, and certainly the most disturbing movie - genre or not - I've sat down with since The Human Centipede. So there's that.


  1. Ending aside, would you still recommend The Silent House?

    I'm a sucker for found footage movies and I've enjoyed some that I freely admit are of very dubious quality (The ending of Paranormal Activity 2 is pure comedy to me, and yet I can't say that I disliked the movie).

  2. I absolutely would, dude. In fact I have and I'll continue to. Short the last scene, which I gather was a surprise post-credits sequence in cinemas anyway, The Silent House is really a very effective spook story... deeply creepy.

    (Though I wouldn't put too much credence in the idea that it was filmed in a single take. The other half and I have a game of spotting continuity goofs - which she always wins! - and there are enough to cast doubt on the thought that it's the result of one continuous shot.)

    I'm a fan of the found footage form myself, and since you mention it, Paranormal Activity 2, for all its faults, might be among my favourites. I've never looked at my kitchen units the same way since! :)

  3. Can't think of single decent horror film I've seen for some time, but then I haven't been watching them since Drag Me To Hell left me feelilng so shit -like I'd fallen for the oldest practical joke in the book. Can't keep watching Silent Hill over and over. Any recommendations?

  4. Yes!

    I Saw The Devil.

    Also I enjoyed Drag Me To Hell. Silly, sure... but silly fun I thought, rather than stupid silly. Does that make sense?

  5. Rereading what I wrote, it may seem that I found Paranormal Activity 2 mediocre, but I also liked it a lot.

    The problem I had with it was that to me the true ending of Paranormal Activity 1 was not the one in the theatrical version, but the one on the Director's Cut, which ruins the ending of the 2nd movie to me (I'm being vague, but I don't want to spoil it for those that haven't seen it).

    Also, silly fun makes perfect sense when describing a lot of Sam Raimi movies.

  6. @Niall Silly fun is the majority of Raimi movies. I even could fit- should I say it?- the cheese filled emo-wreck that is SPIDERMAN 3 into that title. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (and its following sequels) are ok. I've always found the concept of found-footage films neat, but when they execute, I'm always prepared because it expects that I won't be. Does anyone get what I mean?

    I'd also like to mention another film I saw recently. It isn't horror, but it did have shock value, in the brutalness of Cronenberg-like violence. What I'm leading to is this: have you seen Refn's DRIVE yet? I think you reviewed VALHALLA RISING awhile back; seriously hovering on the decision to write a review on my own blog. You know why? Because it's fucking incredible, and if you haven't seen it Niall, I'd give a word to the wise and suggest you do.

  7. I've not, just yet - though I intend to just as soon as I can lay hands on the Blu-ray. So... not for a while.

    In the interim, you should totally write it up, Dan! Haven't heard practically word one on the blogs about Drive since its release - obviously it's been deemed not genre enough - and I'd love to, needless to say. Fucking incredible is not a recommendation I take lightly, so. You're making me hopeful here, sir!