Last night I was home alone with my sewing and what did I decide to do on a dark evening all by myself with the cats rummaging around in the background?
Of course I decided to watch a couple of scary movies.
Very specific things scare me. As I have established in earlier posts, I am not a fan of alien abduction movies because when they are done properly, when the protagonist is sufficiently trapped, devoid of hope and forced into a shadowy version of their former selves, they really get under my skin.
Demon/demon possession movies also scare me.
I am a big fan of horror films that rely on the imagination of the viewer to bring the evil into focus. Your CGI ghost/alien/monster and your special effects blood/gore will never match an imagination running rampant of what something could be.
I think the best example of this in recent years have been the Paranormal Activity movies. Not only do the filmmakers trust the audience's imagination to fill in the gaps, they are masters at building tension, layering anxiety and the all important scare tactic, timing.
There is one excellent moment in Paranormal Activity 2 (SPOILER) when the mother (played by Sprague Grayden) is sitting alone in the kitchen. She is the only one home, and very much alone even though its the middle of the day. She feels more than hears a presence behind her, and she turns, looking for what has triggered that instinctual feeling we all have when someone or something is standing close to you. Seeing nothing, she relaxes slightly, and turns back. Just at the moment, all the cupboards burst open explosively and scare the poop out of Grayden and anyone watching.
This was an expertly executed moment. First off, she's home alone. The audience knows SOMETHING has to happen, so our eyes are already darting here and there on the screen to see what's going to move, where a shadow might appear, etc. Already, the tension is building. We feel that presence along with Grayden, and when she turns, our hackles are up right along with her's, we are so ready for something to happen and so ready to be scared. But nothing happens. As she relaxes slightly, so do we. Just as we are all feeling slightly relieved that nothing happened, hell breaks loose.
The timing on the actual scare is just perfect. Not to mention Grayden's reaction - I often wonder, watching that scene if the directors even told her what was going to happen. It seems plausible that they could have said to her, "Ok, go sit in the kitchen - something's going to happen, but don't worry, just act naturally." Which is mean, but makes for a great reaction from both her and the audience who needs to put on new underwear.
More traditional, religious possession movies are pretty terrifying as well. What I find scary about this situation doesn't have as much to do with the demon - although that does give me the jibblies. What is more frightening about that is if you are possessed by a demon, you have to rely upon the faith of another person to save you. The person performing an exorcism must have such strong, intense faith that the demon inside of you cannot stand to be in that person's presence. That is not an easy thing to find, even among priests and reverend's. An exorcist must also be very smart, very clever because he/she must force and trick the demon into revealing his true name in order to gain power over him.
There was a movie made a couple years ago called 'The Last Exorcism'. It begins in a relatively predictable way, centered on a preacher in the south who has been an exorcist for years and is convinced that demon possession lies in the mind of the victim and by preforming exorcisms he is providing a service. If you think you've been exorcised, then you have been. He takes a documentary film crew with him on his "last exorcism" to prove to them and the world the fraudulent nature of this work.
Of course, things are not always what they seem.
The moments where the girl in this movie (Ashley Bell) is possessed are actually very harrowing, and very uncomfortable to watch. Bell is quite adept at being supremely creepy.
Unfortunately, the film makers ruin the movie.
At the end, (SPOILER) the have the documentary crew and reverend come upon a ritual out in the woods, where the girl is on an alter surrounded by Satan worshipers with a great blazing fire behind her. She's being held down and it looks like an invisible force is raping her. Then, a large creepy looking lady pulls something out of her, and when the evil priest-y guy holds it up and you can see that its a demon-baby.
Completely ruins the movie. I was all on board until they pulled the demon baby out of her. I was all into this sweet girl being possessed by the devil himself, and then it turned out to just be some other random raping/abortion demon and a cult thing thrown in for good measure? When will people learn to leave well enough alone?
If this had been a story about a man finding his true faith through unimaginable evil, I would have been totally on board. The girl could have even died in it. That would have worked. Nevertheless, by trying to pull the ol' switcheroo on us and putting a twist in the end, it completely cheapened the story.
So for all you filmmakers out there - trust your audience. We aren't all idiots. And making a story simple doesn't make it bad. Even in 'The Sixth Sense' the twist at the end wasn't complicated. It aided and added to the story, it didn't detract from it.
So . . . yeah. Scare me properly, people.