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Above and Below the Surface

Banes at 12:00AM, Dec. 16, 2021

There are a couple of movies I've seen - only a couple that come to mind - with a very specific issue
that makes them not work for me.

It's when the THEME or below-the-surface meaning of the story holds together but the actual plot suffers for it.

Spoiler for The Babadook

The Babadook is an excellent horror movie for the most part. The lead character does a phenomenal, believable job as the haunted widow and mother who's coming unglued. The creature that is haunting/stalking them is mysterious and the glimpses or hints we get about it are very scary - I think think of the “Babadook pop-up book” scene and how terrifying it was to me, in anticipation of what might be coming.

Certain thematic meanings or ‘side-themes’ make the whole thing feel very realistic too - for example, a lonely adult stuck with a child, especially a troubled child has feelings of extreme isolation and hardship, even though she loves the kid.

But in the end, the story (for me at least) abandons the literal plot in favor of serving the metaphor. The Babadook is a symbol for grief, and the solution makes sense on a symbolic level. On a literal level, though, it wasn't cool at all. As a spirit/monster haunting and stalking these people…the ending on a surface/plot level was just…nothing.

The movie “Us” was similar. The trailers were terrifying, and the episode of the original Twilight Zone (“Mirror Image”) that seemed to be the inspiration behind it - that old episode was very cool and unsettling. The idea of doppelgangers is one of the creepiest horror concept to me.

But the film seemed more about its themes. In the end, as we learn what's going on, the sheer impossibility of the whole “conspiracy” took me out of the movie completely (despite the amazing Lupita Nyong'o as the lead actor. She was outstanding).

Cripes…there's another one I saw recently that made me want to do this topic, but the thing has left my dissolving brain. Don't remember what it was. Oh, I remember - The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. Cool concept, like “Us”, and making a worthwhile point, maybe, but the reality of the story makes no sense at all.

Hey, if people are liking it, what do I care? But it's something that crossed my mind, and I had a Newspost to make!

It's been a fairly rare problem in movies I think, but it's an interestingly specific one. Not something I've seen anyone else bring up but it takes me right out of a story.

Of course, sometimes unanswered questions are good, and sometimes even confusion about what's going on is good. Sometimes chaotic meaninglessness can actually work -

but those are topics for next week.




TheJagged at 1:49AM, Dec. 17, 2021

Haven't seen Babadook, but from what i heard it may fall into that David Lynch style of storytelling: Pushing the boundaries of reality, making the audience question what actually happened VS what is just in the heads of the protagonists. When it's done competently it can be a very powerful storytelling tool. When done poorly, it often feels cheap and unnecessary. And putting the theme cart in front of the plot horse rarely makes for an interesting watch. Personally tho, I LOVE surreal stories when done right. The way it was done in Annihilation or The VVitch for example (yeah the one with the stupid double VV title), was pretty darn effective.

Banes at 10:02PM, Dec. 16, 2021

Definitely agree on Midsommer. Hereditary I didn't loathe as much as you did, haha...but I didn't love it as much as some of my other friends did. Hereditary was much better than Midsommer for me; Midsommer fits into this list pretty well i think.

Ozoneocean at 8:34PM, Dec. 16, 2021

Same with those films Midsommer and Hereditary- very wanky, clunky, themes while the literal stuff was nonsense and frequently comical (in hereditary), while it was just a silly hippy dream in Midsommer. If there had been a LOT more thought put into the themes and the literal action had been much more subtle then maybe they'd have been better films.

Banes at 3:18PM, Dec. 16, 2021

@Dave Mire - I saw it when it was new but not a second time. What’re your thoughts on that one? I remember liking it pretty well…

Banes at 3:17PM, Dec. 16, 2021

@hushicho - that makes sense yeah. I know there are a few short horror films that were very scary but got diluted or destroyed when expanded to a longer movie. The doppelgänger thing is perfectly suited to short, ‘true stories’ (whether they’re true or not; doesn’t matter in this context). That’s where those stories are really effective. I think expanding a scary idea into some kind of commentary on society is a crap shoot for sure. I’ve seen quite a few slasher movies that start of great before hard-turning into social commentary. 🤮 not good.

Banes at 3:10PM, Dec. 16, 2021

@Corruption - things can easily get out of control if writers aren’t careful. I haven’t seen the new version of IT but in the book, and even in the original TV miniseries it seemed like the losers club was powerful because they had something special in them when they came together; a cosmic force was helping them. Cool story, iconic plot, a bit scattered but it mostly worked for me in both versions. Like I said, I haven’t seen the new movies but I’ve heard mixed reviews.

Dave Mire at 2:03PM, Dec. 16, 2021

Did you like/see Pan's Labyrinth?

hushicho at 1:57PM, Dec. 16, 2021

I feel like the problem with Us and many other similar works is that they have something perfectly effective in the simple concept of the doppelganger. They complicate things in a way they're not really able to convey well, and the simple horror is abandoned in favor of something too ambitious for the writer's ability. King's It is a similarly unsatisfying narrative for a similar reason -- it isn't consistent with itself, and the resolution ultimately makes every previous struggle and loss seem arbitrary and meaningless. Don't be tempted to try and "subvert expectations" or feel like you have to add more to something that's already just fine. It's often that the simplest scares are the best.

Corruption at 3:25AM, Dec. 16, 2021

There is a reason sub-plots are called that: they are meant to be subordinate to the main plot. When they take over then you can say the creators have lost the plot with it (sorry, poor joke.) I have encountered shows books and comics where a minor background plot suddenly takes over, even when it makes no sense. Another movie to add to your list in the article: It 2. The theme is facing your fears. Those whojust flee them die. However at the end the losers club managed to defeat a powerful cosmic entity that can and has devoured over a hundred people at one . . . by insulting it and refusing to be scared?

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