Friday, January 1, 2016

The New Face of Horror: Meet Ti West

Horror is probably the hardest genre of film to do well. These movies are, for the most part, godawful. Really, just wretched. Ti West, on the other hand, is starting to revitalize the genre in a way heretofore unheard of. I hope that after reading this, you'll go watch both House of the Devil and The Innkeepers right away.

I remember watching The Ring when I was about 14. That is the last time I can remember being frightened by a movie. Now, upon revisiting the film, I roll my eyes at myself. Maybe it was just the zeitgeist that had me. I was living in Germany and that creepy-wet-girl fad was screaming its way through horror. I also tried to re-watch The Amityville Horror—the one with Ryan Reynolds?—I used to think that it was so cool... I don't know what I was thinking. Then, of course, came the gore-porn fad that won't seem to die. Did you know there's something like six or seven Saw movies? It's ridiculous. Hollywood money cannot make horror movies any good, only the trailers (usually the 1st half) hold my attention. I looked forward to Drag Me to Hell, only to find out it was pretty much all about oral fixation. Seriously, you could make a drinking game out of all the stuff going-in and coming-out of that girl's mouth. The characters are utterly unbelievable, provoking the scream-at-television syndrome that murders suspension of disbelief. As soon as most of these people do something stupid, I want them to die.

Cabin in the Woods understands this. The whole movie is pretty much about everything I'm writing. You should go see it, it's great fun—a horror movie about horror movies and their use of archetypes. Then again, Joss Whedon is a credited writer, so of course it rocks.

Another contemporary horror director worth his salt is Rob Zombie. He, too, is attempting to resurrect the genre. His movies are scary, for sure, but I never have a hard time watching them. His stuff is in your face, relying on shock value and obscenity. Which works, in a trashy way.

I do have a soft spot for Dogmatic Thrillers, but do they count as horror? The Exorcism of Emily Rose blew me away more on a psychological level—in my head, not on the screen. I think Those kinds of movies speak more to the fact that Christian mythology is still alive, and some part of me wants to be John Constantine. Say what you will about that movie, it won't phase me. It's awesome and there should be more of them. Peter Stormare plays the best Satan I've ever seen—he rocks that scene. He's one of the most underrated actors out there, but this post is not about him.

So, Ti West. Watch House of the Devil first, because it was made first. It's a pretty good movie with a simple premise, but notice how it's different than hollywood-promoted horror. Then, however long later, check out The Innkeepers. The two films are very obviously by the same person. I think of Quentin Tarantino; his knack for complex characters, authentic dialogue and slow-mounting tension are unmistakably present in West's work. The opening of Inglorious Basterds is a great example of this. You know what's going to happen, but Tarantino makes you wait for it—minute by minute, playing with you, increasing the rate of your heart by the beat.

The genre's inherent kitch is overt. The two films are set in the near present, one in the 80s and the other sometime in the 90s. The settings are subtle—evoked through small details like a walkman or dated-looking webpage. Everything's familiar, eerily so, but a little off at the same time. They serve to distance you from the events, as if everything has already happened, while drawing you in at the same time; A memory of something you don't want to happen.

West's movies are character-driven, versus plot-driven. The events take a back to characters' authenticity. As much, if not more, attention is paid to developing character through conversation. You know you're watching horror, but much of the movies are spent getting to know West's heroines. They speak and act like real people. They exist within the confines of their narratives. Claire, of The Innkeepers is inexorably tied to her hotel. She even flees from the introduction of problems occurring in the outside world, when trying to get coffee from a barista complaining about her boyfriend. She exists as the hotel exists. Claire reacts to being frightened as anyone would, as a horror audience would jump and catch their breath, embarrassed. The characters are quirky and weird, like normal people, and the movies showcase how realistic characters act in extraordinary circumstances, not how passive, hyper-sexualized women without agency are tormented by external forces (usually in the rain). Now, I'm not a girl, so I'll defer to Kalie for expansion in the comments section (forthcoming).

 I can't wait to see what he does next. The ABCs of Death and The Side Effect should be great.

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