Jump Scares Do Not Undo a Good Horror Movie

If you ask any modern horror fan what their issue with the current state of the genre is, it’s almost a guarantee that the overuse of jump scares will form the core of their argument. Even more acclaimed mainstream horror films such as this year’s It will be the target of criticism from enthusiasts. The comparison is often drawn between jump scares and laugh tracks, whereby instead of laughter indicating to the audience when they should be laughing, a startling noise accompanied by a new figure suddenly filling the frame is there to remind them that they’re watching something scary. It’s an old trick that became much more commonplace during the slasher craze of the 1980s (although there are notable examples from the previous decade), that is met with disdain if one mentions the landscape of mainstream horror today.

It isn’t fair to form a direct correlation between poor quality and an established trope, though. The response to It is a key example of firmly establishing a tone that consumers can form a positive relationship with. The film does marry intense orchestral overtures with things that go bump in the night, but it wouldn’t be fair to break the film down purely to how it goes about creating fear. There is still well-written dialogue that connects and a sense of adventure to guide the viewer through the twisted world being presented to them. Dismissing everything a film gets right due to jump scares is unfairly ignoring the effort that has been made.

Get Out is the breakout horror film of the year and has garnered a myriad of positive responses from both critics and audiences. But it is arguably a thriller, with the most horror-themed scene of the film punctuated with multiple jump scares. Sharp violin strokes and sudden movement in the background serve to compose fear as protagonist Chris makes his way through an unknown house in the dead of night, and it’s unnervingly effective. Granted, the exploitation of such methods is sparsely implemented, but our recognition of them as qualifying the text overall as horror speaks volumes. The deeper down the rabbit hole alternative horror goes, the scarcity of jump scares increases. The Babadook and The Witch won’t throw them at you, but crediting the achievements of such to a lack of jump scares undercuts the high level of writing and production design that lends itself so well to the atmosphere.

A simple interpretation to ascertain would be that horror films are cheap to make and easy to market. Horror considered for mass consumption is typically geared towards a demographic that skews young; teenagers and twenty-somethings who are after some cheap, 90-minute thrills. It’s become more of a challenge to truly instil fear in an audience in this day and age, the real world is simply too horrifying for fiction to chill us. The classics played on the fears of the time. The Exorcist used single motherhood and the death of religion to evoke strong reactions from its victims, for example. In the subsequent decade, the rise of the slasher exploited teenage drug use and sex as a tool with which to extract our screams. What can studio horror provide now that can truly scare us? Television shows like Most Haunted are responded to as farcical by most, with the idea of the supernatural being a parody of its former self. The reason horror is subject to more praise on the independent side is because they’re exploring themes that resonate more, what worked for the studios 30 years ago has lost its lustre.

Ultimately, a wider cultural context must be examined before tarring poorly made horror films with the jump scare brush. The events that have formed the present day social conscience were once unknown to preceding generations, the people in charge of producing horror films don’t have the same societal inclinations as their target market. Jump scares are not an outdated element of the art, but when contextualised with a threat that we as a society can’t relate to, the intention of the work is lost amidst a sea of hard cynicism and desensitisation. There is little to be afraid of within fantasy when the reality is truly horrific.

 

 

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The Problem with Making a Movie About Vince McMahon

It was recently announced that the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Vincent Kennedy McMahon, could be portrayed by Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper in an upcoming biopic. As a lifelong wrestling fan, I think that Vince’s story is one that is suited to the big screen for obvious reasons. His story is that of the American Dream (and I don’t mean Dusty Rhodes), a working class guy who rose from nothing to create a corporate juggernaut. The man who laid waste to the old territorial system of wrestling promotions and monopolised the art into a billion dollar company that is floated on the New York Stock Exchange. A ruthless, cutthroat businessman who has been at the centre of scandal and controversy since the 1980s. But there is quite a large possibility that this film could be less There Will be Blood and more The Wolf of Wall Street, portraying Vince as a cool dude who just had a pretty wild journey.

The truth is that Vince McMahon has used his insurmountable position in the wrestling industry to fashion himself into a messianic figure. WWE’s propaganda machine will parade him around as a genius and a revolutionary, whilst conveniently glossing over his highly-publicised personal life. This is a man who has had to settle a litany of sexual assault cases out of court, has placed a gagging order on the ex-wife of one of his company’s top talents after she was beaten at the hands of said talent, and whose extramarital affairs are no secret to anyone. Vince is not a saint, he is an aggressive, controlling man with just as many enemies as friends. To provide some insight into the psyche of Vinny Mac, he once pitched a potential storyline to his real-life daughter, Stephanie McMahon (a long-running on-air character in WWE programming, as well as a behind-the-scenes executive), that would see her falling pregnant, with the father being a mystery. The resolution to this mystery? It would be revealed that the father was none other that Mr. McMahon himself. And when Stephanie put a hard veto on the idea, Vince then had the brilliant notion of pitching the father being her brother, Shane, also a WWE character and real-life member of the McMahon clan.

Now, can you really picture a movie being produced about the still-living billionaire delving into his twisted fantasies of incest without being slapped with a court case from WWE’s army of lawyers? Me neither. The WWE’s need to protect Vince so incessantly, despite most of his dirty laundry being out there for all to see, would influence the script of what could be a fascinating examination of someone who’s clearly not all there. All I can expect to see from this movie is a sanitised, WWE-approved romp that presents the Chairman of the Board as the most brilliant person since Jesus (did I mention that Vince and his son once wrestled Shawn Michaels and “God” in a tag team match once and won?). Even the casting tells you what this will be like; Bradley Cooper is a good-looking, talented, charming, and beloved celebrity who is nothing like the man he may be portraying. Vince has referred to himself in the past as a “genetic jackhammer” and clearly fancies himself as a stud. Now, I’m no prize myself, but Vince is flattering himself a lot if he sees a resemblance between himself and Cooper. And I can’t help but feel he’s playing a large part in the casting process.

This is the cynic in me talking, however, and I could possibly be writing off the production too soon. Cooper is only 42 years of age, so the film will likely cover Vince’s childhood through to his acquisition and expansion of his father’s wrestling promotion in his late 30s. Vince was physically abused by his stepfather growing up, living in a trailer park with no money or hope for a better life. That all changed when he met his biological father, Vince McMahon Sr. at 12 years old, and the seeds were planted for Vince to pursue a career as a wrestling promoter. It’s a fairly typical rags to riches Hollywood story, but there is certainly a real element of darkness to it. McMahon was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he worked his fingers to the bone to become a self-made billionaire. These are all details that could form a satisfying narrative, but purely telling the story of the rise and failing to acknowledge the sinister side of Vince is what I fear may happen.

I don’t claim to know Vince, nor do I know for certain what he’s truly like as a person, but the stories that are told about him haven’t come out of nowhere. Be it covering up a murder so one of his top earners could continue to wrestle, or burying rumours of one of his trainers molesting young recruits, it’s a yarn that reads like a Shakespearean tragedy as opposed to a Hollywood fairy tale. Knowing how protective Vince is of his image, the chances of this biopic exploring the horrors of the wrestling world and the part he may or may not have played in such are slim. I wouldn’t expect to see any kind of depiction of steroid-use, forcibly taking the territories of other promoters, or having a boat named “Sexy Bitch” (really) making its way into the final cut. I think what we can expect is a cliff notes version of the actual story, downplaying the negatives and giving us a Vince that is audience-friendly, as the real man is hardly a sympathetic figure.

Professional wrestling is rarely explored in cinema, and was at its best when shown for being the hell that it is in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. I doubt we’ll get anything that even approaches the honesty and candidness of that. This is going to be a case of us getting the movie we want, just not the movie Vince McMahon deserves.

Oh yeah, he’s also best friends with Donald Trump, just saying.

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Red Dead Redemption Still Stands as Rockstar’s Crowning Achievement

In the wake of the second trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 dropping, my anticipation for the game is already at a fever pitch. Fond memories of its predecessor have been occupying my brain over the past few weeks as I replay my all-time favourite video game for the umpteenth time. Red Dead Redemption was the first game whereby I closely followed the development process. As a fan of the oft-forgotten, cult favourite Red Dead Revolver, the spiritual sequel from by the minds behind the Grand Theft Auto franchise had me chomping at the bit. I distinctly remember being 14 and every single video game outlet in my town being sold out of copies. My mum had to phone my dad (who was working in London at the time) to get me one, my desperation to play was at such an extreme level.

Extreme is the perfect word to encapsulate the following weeks of my Red Dead consumption. I would get home from school, boot up the 360, and play all the way through to bedtime. This was a game I played so much, that I was banned from my Xbox for two weeks after failing to come downstairs for dinner one too many times. If anyone ever questions my love for the tale of John Marston, the fact it’s the only game that’s led to a flat out ban on me gaming should say it all. In truth, I’m an avid fan of Rockstar’s whole catalogue, having devoured most of it over the years. However, their cowboy epic is what I always find myself coming back to. I’ve invested the same amount of time into RDR as most people have in Skyrim or The Witcher 3, games far more notorious for racking up the hours on.

Despite the untouchable legacy of the heralded GTA saga, as well as the underrated Bully, Rockstar are yet to make a finer contribution to the gaming world that surpasses their tragedy-soaked Western. As a keen fan of the genre, Red Dead Redemption offers up everything I could ever want: a morally complex storyline, memorable and exaggerated characters, gorgeous music, stunning art direction, and a shit load of shootouts. There is a certain beauty and maturity to the game that can’t be found in the developer’s other offerings. Grand Theft Auto prides itself on wanton mayhem and destruction, it’s in many ways a self-indulgent, immature fantasy. And while I have praise for the wonderful mechanics and raw gameplay of GTA V, it ultimately tells a simplistic story, led by characters who are entertaining but one-note psychopaths.

Aside from the more nuanced storytelling of GTA IV, the bulk of the franchise can be broke down as doing bad things to get money. And while it is a fun little piece of escapism, we’re hardly dealing with narrative genius on the level of The Last of Us or Shadow of the Colossus. What was proven with RDR was that Rockstar wasn’t all about cops and robbers; themes such as moral conflict, governmental corruption, remorse, and family could be the anchor for a grounded, humanistic adventure. John Marston is essentially the aftermath of what we usually play as in a Rockstar game. He was once a criminal who murdered and stole, who must now hunt down his old gang to absolve his sins and be with his family. The player is thrust into Marston’s position straight away, his motives are easy to connect and empathise with.

What follows is a riveting plot that takes one all over the length and breadth of the West as it comes close to dissolution, with World War One looming on the horizon. Marston is both literally and figuratively in a race against time, with his own fate and the frontier’s left in doubt. The usual mass killing sprees found in other open world games are still possible, but the moral positioning of Marston’s character causes the player to take pause. Such level of engagement within both the narrative and the protagonist is more meaningful than, say, Michael from GTA V robbing a jewellery store to pay for a mobster’s balcony that he accidentally destroyed. There is an adult-oriented tone at play here, one which rivals the construction of any high profile TV drama or award-winning film.

This pathos and character depth is a key factor in Red Dead Redemption being the only video game that’s ever reduced me to tears. The heartbreaking climax of John Marston’s journey sees him betrayed by the government after doing what has been asked of him. John is unceremoniously executed to tie up any loose ends, and the emotional punch that is packed still affects me to this day. I’d never felt a deeper bond with a character, and all of my efforts to get him back home were seemingly for nothing. Even though one can avenge Marston’s death with his son, Jack, the wound can never truly heal.

The true brilliance in the game is that our actions took with the protagonist were not rendered enitrely useless by his demise. Despite the cruelty of his punishment, he did a lot of good that one could consider a part of his redemptive arc. Over the course of the game, you can help save a farm, play a part in the Mexican Revolution, help an old gunslinger find some purpose, and even wipe out the buffalo (okay, maybe that one isn’t so noble, the pelts are worth a pretty penny, though). There’s a real impact to be made on the game’s world, and your deeds can unlock certain perks as you continue to play. I haven’t even talked about the content element, as that’s worthy of its own entry. But in short, you can hunt, play poker, catch bounties, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The infusion of Rockstar’s sandbox environment and Oscar-worthy writing forms a perfect storm of gaming prowess. With the sequel on its way, I’m looking forward to re-entering this world of six shooters and horseback riding, as I’ll be revisiting my dearest friend who has new stories to tell.

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Autism and Us: A Collaboration with Jaime Rebanal

Being autistic and being in love with films only seems to have brought us a greater sense of connection with the films that we watch, but it seems that there’s another sense of difficulty that gets in the way: when a film addresses its own characters as being autistic and oftentimes, it feels like a stereotyped portrait that casts ourselves in a negative light. With all the Sheldon Coopers, the Rain Mans, and Forrest Gumps that have supposedly wanted to portray a “typical” representation of the autistic spectrum, it seems that we find more compassion in yet another area, characters that we read as having autism rather than directly being a part of the spectrum.

Take a look at Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener in Being There. He has lived his whole life behind bars, and only learns about the outside world based on what he sees on television. When he finally has to confront the outside for once, all he carries with him is his remote because it’s where he finds his own sense of comfort. It’s a film that I point to when it comes to defining characters that can be read as having traits much like autism because it questions how people outside his perspective see him, yet carries a sense of compassion for his own. Everyone thinks that he’s a prophet, offering his own philosophies to the political scene of the time – yet he’s only talking with gardening terms because it is all he knows. I only imagine myself to be a polarising figure among the many people I talk with and I’m paranoid about what they think of me, because much like Chance, all that I learn comes from a screen, watching movies and interacting via social media.

It isn’t just this that makes Peter Sellers’s performance resonate. It’s the fact that director Hal Ashby keeps locked into Chance’s own eyes so that everyone knows exactly what he’s making of the world around him. It isn’t just television he’s watching anymore, almost like it isn’t just a film I’m watching when I walk through the hallways of my college campus. I try my best to keep a straight face, and when I’m being pointed out to share something to say, I only utter out the layman because I know it’s what everyone understands. And it’s what I like to express when I write my own film reviews for others to read, just what I pick up from experience. But I stick to living my life as an introvert in the same way Chance does, because upon social interaction up close I feel overwhelmed to the point I even stop myself from saying what I want to, worried about embarrassment.

And how does the world see him? Some said he was a genius. Others were not so fond. But Chance doesn’t know much beyond what he sees on television in the same way I, as mentioned in the prior paragraph, don’t know much beyond the many films I watch and the way I always measure how I interact with others on social media. And how I talk with others just follows along with what I know everyone else seems to be fussed over, and I barely even have time to express myself properly. Because the “proper” me is behind this image of what everyone makes of me. And it doesn’t seem to instill a good sense in people who I wish to talk more actively with at my own campus, whether it be with other students or teachers. And once my own feeling of comfort is gone, I just feel stunted. I can only imagine it’s what Chance seems to feel, when he’s away from his television or his beloved garden, just as I would be when I can’t watch a film or have access to my phone.

A film that I consider to be defining of our generation (and one that anyone who’s met me will say I talk about way too much) is David Fincher’s The Social Network. A movie that not only succeeds as a snapshot of the development of human communication, but as a Shakespearean drama in which the protagonist is equal parts vindictive as he is empathetic. My main point at which an attachment is formed is the concept of Facebook itself; I am not a sociable man, communication is a concerted effort on my part that can cause great distress and upset. Facebook – and social media on a larger scale – has allowed me to talk with others on my terms, where I’m not struggling with words or eye contact.

In watching The Social Network, I see a lot of myself in Mark Zuckerberg, which I do not think of as a negative association. It is very much a film about obsession and defying those who are obstructing one’s pursuit of a goal. In Mark’s own head, Facebook is very much his and what he says goes, and I can honestly identify with him. When I have an idea that I like, it will become an obsession, an all-consuming flame that takes over my life for an indeterminate amount of time. And while I try not to alienate those around me, it’s not as if I don’t understand the thought process of those who do. Paranoia has plagued me for years, and is only amplified by my autism. Forming friendships is not easy, I have no natural inclination towards it. So, when I do have a friend, accepting it is not as easy as it should be.

A line from the film I particularly adore that resonates with me is Mark’s exclamation that everyone who makes a nice chair doesn’t owe money to the person who invented the chair. After hearing that, I was convinced Mark was in the right. He didn’t steal Facebook from anybody, he took an idea and “made it better”, in his own words. From there, I was sat in his position, rooting for him to succeed and finding anger in other characters not seeing his brilliance. While much of the film is fictionalised, the portrait painted through the writing of Aaron Sorkin and the performance of Jesse Eisenberg speaks to me as if I were watching my own biopic. Sometimes, I’m moved to tears just thinking about it.

It’s not that filmmakers shouldn’t strive to create characters who are representative of ASD, but it’s somewhat egregious when the mark is missed so spectacularly. Perhaps the best approach is to simply write characters who happen to be autistic, and not make that their defining characteristic. Autism does not define us, it merely aids in shaping us. Characters who are defined by a single quality, be it autism or otherwise, are one-dimensional at best and damaging at worst. So please, do not pigeonhole us as nothing more than “autistic”, we’re people, just like you, the creative process should not affect that.

 

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Writing for WhatCulture is a Scam

Earlier today, the Internet Wrestling Community was thrown into disarray as it was announced that practically every key YouTube personality for WhatCulture Wrestling was parting ways with the company. To put this into perspective, this would be the equivalent of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Holland just walking out of Marvel all at once. Sure, the franchise could probably survive due to its strong brand identity, but it would be a shell of its former self. WhatCulture is somewhat of an anomaly in the realm of entertainment websites. Its network of YouTube channels provides high quality, entertaining content, helmed by truly talented people such as Adam Blampied, Adam Pacitti, Ross Tweddell, Sam Driver and Jack King (who are all leaving). But their website is a soulless tabloid magazine, clogged up with intrusive advertisements and clickbait top ten lists.

This dissonance has always angered me, due to the perception WhatCulture’s public presence has. On the surface, it’s all fun and games, with funny videos that present the hallowed halls of their offices as a dream environment to work in. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Flashback to 2013, as a 17 year-old me is accepted as a contributor for their website, which seemed like a major stepping stone in a potential writing career. At the time, I still had my heart set on being an actor, but I’d fallen in love with the written word after exploring the realm of screenwriting for my film studies class. I was excited to be producing articles for such a popular site, and it started out well enough. My first article, detailing unintentionally “hilarious” (hyperbole is the site’s bread and butter) moments in movies that were supposed to be emotional, garnered over 150,000 views. If you’re up for some amusement, you can even read it and gain some perspective on the kind of stuff I was expected to pump out for them (my author profile is still active, not that I’m particularly proud of what I wrote during my time there).

At this point, I didn’t quite realise that I was in for a nightmarish experience that miraculously didn’t put me off writing for good. The first red flag waved when an article I had written about Nelson Mandela’s passing possibly aiding Idris Elba’s award campaign for Long Walk to Freedom was rejected with a laughable explanation. I’d written the article within less than 24 hours of Mandela’s death, and didn’t hear back for weeks about it being published. When I’d almost forgotten about the article, one of the site’s editors contacted me, saying that it “wasn’t current enough” to publish. I assumed this was their polite way of saying they didn’t think it was all that good, until I published it on my old blog and a professional freelancer who had previously written for The Guardian shared it on his Facebook. Clearly, thought-provoking content wasn’t on the site’s MO, so I played ball.

What followed was a dreary experience, as every pitch and idea that was thrown at me was another top ten list. The main issue, however, was communication. There was no clear structure or hierarchy, and different articles would be sent to seemingly random editors, meaning there was no consistency in what was published. Feedback for rejected articles was minimal, and at no point was I told how to improve as a writer. One such article, which I shan’t link to, as it was so heavily edited that I refuse to call it my own, was fully taken over by an editor. Upon submission, rather than receive a rejection with instructions on what could better it, the article went up with entire paragraphs altered from what I’d written. There were references in there to TV shows I hadn’t even seen, jokes that weren’t mine and even entire ideas that I hadn’t implemented. My work had been completely bastardised, but my name was still attached to it as if it were my own.

This is where my main point of contention with WhatCulture lies, the man behind the curtain, as it were, Matt Holmes. Holmes is the editor-in-chief of WhatCulture, and his is a ghostly spectre that looms over the site like some kind of elusive alien overlord. Twitter user @Crowtagonist unleashed a spectacular rant on the big boss in response to today’s events, which you can find in the replies to WhatCulture’s announcement of the mass departure. I can’t do the rant justice, but every word of it rings true. The head honcho is impossible to get into contact with, unless he’s rejecting your articles without explanation. He runs his site like some kind of cartel, enticing would-be writers to churn out lowest common denominator work for a fraction of the industry standard wage. There are promises of a career path, but no such path exists as their system relies on writers at the bottom rung kicking up content with no actual chance of a salary or true employment. It’s a glorified pyramid scheme. Earlier this year, I met the former deputy editor of The Big Issue at my old college, who responded to my explanation of WhatCulture’s payment system with horror, appalled at the pennies they offer for the thousands of views generated.

I joined WhatCulture thinking that they could help me on my path to writing for a living, but in truth, unless you want to make your living writing utter drivel, that’s unlikely to happen. They’ve unceremoniously removed me as a contributor on two separate occasions for mistakes made on their end. My favourite example being me missing a deadline after a glitch on my writer’s profile not allowing me to open my projects. Despite multiple emails being sent to their support address and their editing staff, I never received a response and had my account frozen not long after. So, I implore any budding writers reading this: Don’t fall into WhatCulture’s web. They are scammers who take advantage of young, tenacious people and pimp out their words while taking the lion’s share of the revenue. Their YouTube channel may seem like they offer the greatest job in the world, but what lurks beneath is far more sinister.

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Autism and Me (and Relationships)

I don’t really believe that everyone on Earth has a soulmate, hell, I don’t even believe in the concept of soulmates. My worldview has been called pessimistic in the past, but I just like to think of myself as a realist. Not everyone is destined to find somebody, live a full life with them, share beautiful experiences, all before reaching old age and passing on into the unknown. It’s a symptom of romance being peddled to us as if it’s something that is an A1 guarantee, as opposed to something that can break a person down before they build themselves back up again. Relationships and even that dreaded word, “love” are hard enough for everybody. It’s one long, laborious process of trial and error for most, and it involves putting up with a fair share of unpleasantness before finally settling down with “the one”.

Now, if you throw a disability into the mix that impairs one socially, disallows one from understanding facial expressions and social cues, and instils a fear of physical intimacy in one that is so crippling that just hugging a member of the opposite sex is a huge challenge, we can see where the problems arise. In less than a week, I’ll be 22 years of age, very much still a spring chicken in the grand scheme of things. When you’re in your 20s, you think you’re an adult and you must be doing something wrong because your life isn’t as together as a normal grownup’s. Really, we’re still children, the only difference is height and the chemicals inside us making our bodies do strange things. But, as I look back on my life up to this point and measure it against most neurotypicals in my age group, I am certainly far behind on the whole romance thing.

As I look to my Facebook feed, it seems that I have various peers who update their status to “in a relationship with…” every other day. Sometimes, couples I’ve known for a long time are getting engaged (although I’m not in any way bitter about that, I’m happy for them and hope it works out), and a shroud of doubt is cast over me. I’ve never had a relationship, not really, nothing that would match up with how I define the word. I’ve never been on a date, something even the most socially inept people that I know can say they’ve done. And while I think that society tends to put far too much emphasis on virginity being a big deal, when you’re rapidly approaching 22 having never had sex, you do start to wonder if having a girlfriend is just something that isn’t in the cards for you. It is frustrating when people I know assume that I mustn’t believe in sex before marriage and that’s why I’m still a virgin. No, I’m just autistic.

Expressing myself emotionally is a skill I lack, at least when it comes to talking in person. The Internet is a godsend for people like me, it’s a wonderful communication tool that allows me to choose who I talk to, and how and when it happens. I don’t have to run instructions through my head as I do with a real life encounter. I don’t have to weigh up how long it’s been since I last made eye contact, I don’t have to check to make sure I’m not coming off as rude because of my lack of apparent empathy. I’m very much capable of empathy, but I’m uncomfortable with showing it. So when it comes to communicating with a woman, the fear that most warm-blooded males feel is harshly amplified. Flirting is off the table, simply because it’s like asking me to walk on water. You can talk me through it as much as you like, but to quote Arnie in Terminator 2, it is something I can never do.

I’d like to clarify that I do not identify with those bitter single “nice guys” who moan about how they’re still not getting any, despite being kind and attentive to a female friend of theirs. Being nice is something that you do because you want to be nice, not because women are required to sleep with you if you are friendly towards them. It’s not a McCafé stamp card, you don’t listen to a woman’s problems eight times and get to go to bed with them. There does seem to be a groundswell of intense misogyny among bitter single men, who like to blame all of the women around them rather than themselves for the pornography-ridden wasteland that their lives exist in. I love and respect women because that’s what my mother raised me to believe. Women are strong, they are beautiful, they are essential. I was given life by a woman, fed by her, clothed and sheltered by her. For me to expect that every woman should want to be in a relationship with me because I’ve been single my entire life is just the kind of entitled attitude that leads to men becoming aggressive and hateful.

But do I want to be in a relationship? Honestly, more than anything in the world. I don’t believe in soulmates, but I do believe in romance, and I do believe in love. I want to have a friend who I can walk down the street holding hands with, someone who I can cuddle up to on the sofa as our heartbeats sync up while we binge on the latest season of our favourite show. I want there to be a person who makes me light up with unrelenting joy when I think about them, because I know that they feel the same way about me. But as I said, I’m a realist. The reality is that I’ve liked the same girl for around ten years now, but will never do anything about it. The reality is that I nearly have an anxiety attack when the thought of dating or physical intimacy enters my mind. The reality is I have no idea how to demonstrate my affection towards another human being and never will be able to. Autism is my blessing and my curse. I can memorise a wealth of information, which would ironically be helpful in a relationship. I’d never forget a birthday, a favourite restaurant, likes and dislikes. I view being in a relationship as something that people are lucky to have, and would cherish every moment I had with somebody, devoting myself to them wholeheartedly. But all of that is performing the marathon, I just have no way of training for it.

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I’m Sick of Cinematic Universes

Today, I watched Universal’s feeble attempt at kick-starting its new “Dark Universe”, The Mummy. Unsure as to whether it wanted to be a horror, adventure movie or Tom Cruise action vehicle, the muddled and overstuffed turkey left me feeling cold and fatigued with the modern plague of shared universes. Within the confines of superhero films, the concept makes perfect sense: Comic books have always took place within a consistent, single space that allowed for equal parts crossover and self-contained yarns. The negative knock on effect of Marvel’s staggering success with their own media franchise, however, is that everybody wants to hop on this gravy train. DC’s response felt like a natural one, the historic competition between the undisputed titans of the genre called for these two opposing sides to duke it out, with The Avengers on one side and The Justice League of America on the other.

Not even superhero franchises are safe from failing with their own universe, Sony were eager to announce their numerous Sinister Six and Venom spin-offs ahead of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. When ASM2 became the lowest-grossing Spidey flick in history, they were forced to reevaluate and lease the character to Marvel for Captain America: Civil War. After the overwhelmingly positive response to Tom Holland’s portrayal in that film, Sony have made it clear that they intend to press forward with their original plans, confirming the casting of Tom Hardy in a Venom solo movie. While not directly connected to Marvel’s money making leviathan, the common thread of Spider-Man will exist simultaneously in both worlds and factor into the web (this is where you laugh) of Sony’s plans.

If your head is hurting from trying to process how the same Spider-Man can exist in two separate cinematic universes that are not connected by continuity, then we’re in the same boat. The bloated mess of all this franchise synergy has caused fatigue to set in on a narrative technique that isn’t even ten years old yet. It is a sad indicator of such fatigue when I’m actually dreading the potential incoming universe that The Mummy is trying to usher in. The original Universal Monsters were the precursor of what we know as a cinematic universe, the blueprint, if you will. The crossing over of franchises was an unheard of exercise until the world was introduced to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, a groundbreaking film that deserves more credit for inspiring a commonplace trope today. There was once a time when crossovers felt special, a cinematic event that would unite characters from other worlds and have them either team up or test their mettle against one another.

I don’t want to sound overly nostalgic, but the pure overexposure of crossover movies had led to us taking them for granted. Ten years ago, we would have all collectively soiled ourselves at the prospect of Iron Man showing up in a Spider-Man film. Fast-forward to now, when we’re actually getting this fabled blockbuster, and the overall response to the marketing has been a unified shrug. What happened? Things like this should feel like the biggest cultural phenomenon of our time, instead it’s just another movie. Dr. Strange can have Thor cameo in the middle of the credits, and rather than being a mind-blowing moment, it’s just a funny little side gag that sets up Ragnarok. In 1993, the ninth instalment in the Friday the 13th franchise hit theatres, and was titled Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Despite the series overstaying its welcome and the movie itself not being good at all, I’ve read stories of audiences erupting with excitement, throwing their popcorn in the air and screaming at the top of their lungs at the final shot of the film. As the camera lingers on Jason’s iconic hockey mask, an equally recognisable prop in horror lore shoots out of the ground to pull the mask downwards towards damnation. That prop was the clawed glove of Freddy Krueger, as his chilling laugh is heard in the background. This was confirmation that Freddy vs. Jason was happening, and even though it would take ten years, just the thought of it had slasher enthusiasts chomping at the bit.

Had that movie come out today, it certainly wouldn’t have people at a fever pitch. The current climate of cinema has spoiled us with constant nods to other characters and events that have ceased to be Easter eggs to merely become commercials for the follow-up. This is one of the many reasons why Wonder Woman works so well, it is self-contained enough that someone with no knowledge of the other DC films can follow and understand it, but adds dimensions to the character of Diana Prince that the fan base can engage with in the upcoming Justice League. Our consumption of these blockbusters has made it so many of us will theorise over potential post-credits stings in the next Marvel movie, rather than what will actually occur in the film itself. People were legitimately mad over the Howard the Duck cameo at the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, despite the fact that it was tonally appropriate and served as a meta joke on the film being so far removed from the rest of the MCU that it could exist on its own merit.

I can’t deny the prevalence of the cinematic universe, as it’s undoubtedly the single biggest innovation in blockbuster filmmaking since the original Star Wars in 1977. But since Nick Fury first propositioned Tony Stark with the Avenger Initiative back in 2008, everyone seems to think that they can pull off Marvel’s once in a generation home run. Every other month, something will come down the pipeline about a new Transformers spin-off or fifty more Fantastic Beasts movies to link up with the incomparable Harry Potter juggernaut. It’s just gotten to be too much of what was once a good thing, and it has now inevitably soured. I’m all for seeing the Justice League on the big screen for the first time, or The Avengers fighting Thanos, but when it comes to connecting everything for the sake of it, can’t we just go back to letting a movie be a movie?

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The Public Perception of Film Critics is Ridiculous

Earlier this week, I found myself browsing the comments section of the link to the RottenTomatoes score of the new Baywatch movie and instantly regretted my decision. It still shocks me that despite RottenTomatoes existing since 1998, people still don’t understand how the site works. It is merely a collection of critical reviews that are then tallied into “Fresh” and “Rotten” scores, which provides an aggregate of what percentage of critics enjoyed the film. The 18% score for Baywatch did nothing but draw the ire of moviegoers, who lambasted the entire profession of film criticism. The usual barbs of film critics being “out of touch” and “only liking pretentious dramas” finally got to me, as I went on a mad tirade explaining how idiotic such assertions sounded. If the movie scores an 18%, then that means 18% of the critics that reviewed the film would recommend it (23 critics in total, in this case). So, if all film critics are such stuck up snobs, why is it that almost one fifth of them liked Baywatch? It’s almost as if they’re human beings with opinions of their own, perish the thought.

While there is just an element of failing to grasp the concept of RottenTomatoes at play here, the way in which general audiences choose to treat film critics demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of two things: 1. What purpose they serve and  2. Why they have to be as analytical as they are. First, I’d like to dispel the myth that film critics are magical gatekeepers to the fountain of film knowledge. They’re not old sages that hold some secret formula to understanding film on a level so deep that your brain will explode just thinking about it. A film critic is nothing more than another person with an opinion, an opinion that they are entitled to just like everybody else. The “Us Vs. Them” mentality that so many have towards film critics is problematic in that you’re essentially throwing an entire profession under the bus; a profession that has inspired many to look a little deeper into the films they enjoy and engage with them on a whole new level. The likes of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert weren’t elitists that dictated their opinions to the masses as if their word were gospel. They were national treasures who were beloved by millions, with a TV show that truly helped people to make a decision on what they wanted to see at the movies that week.

The hostility towards critics may very well stem from a form of bitterness. Many reviewers will have attended film school and engaged with the medium at an academic level, which will grant them with at least a slightly more informed opinion than your average film fan, like it or not. This doesn’t mean they’re better than you and it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the movies you like. Film critics can certainly enjoy a dumb blockbuster, if you don’t believe me, then look at the RottenTomatoes scores for Fast Five or Jurassic World. Most critics merely have a mentality of assessing what a film is trying to accomplish and whether or not it achieves that goal in a satisfying way. While film is completely subjective, if one has studied the language of film and is familiar with strong plot structure, writing, direction and the like, then I’m far more likely to listen to them over someone who just owns a lot of Blu-Rays.

This brings me onto the purpose a film critic serves, as apparently it’s a useless practice according to the people whose favourite films were savaged by someone that watches movies for a living. The fact of the matter is that for every one person that doesn’t listen to a film critic, there are multiple people who do. Just think about this logically, if nobody cared about what critics had to say, then the job wouldn’t exist. They provide a service to people who don’t consider themselves to be film savvy enough to research a movie for themselves. I work in a cinema and meet people every day who ask me what kind of reviews the film they’re going to see has received. The answer I give them often allows me to gauge what kind of expectations they then set for the film. In this exchange, I effectively become a middle man, offloading the product of a critical evaluation to a consumer, who is now more aware of what kind of a film they’re going to be watching. This is the kind of importance that a film critic serves.

But the most important thing to remember about how a critic’s opinion is formed is simple: It’s their job. A lot of people seem to forget that they have the freedom to see a movie and then say whatever they like about it without fear of repercussions. A film critic doesn’t have such a luxury. Their job is on the line every time they review a new release, they’re assessed by a superior just like everybody else. If a review is shoddily written or doesn’t provide an in-depth analysis, a critic surrenders themselves to the wrath of their editor. If a critic has established that a certain level of quality is to be expected from their work, then they stand to lose readers from a following that they have spent years of their life building up. These are people who have worked their way up the cutthroat world of journalism to get to where they are. They’ve most likely written for free on many occasions, or worked for peanuts as an unknown freelancer. Now, they find themselves in a position where their opinion is valued by thousands, if they screw up, they could be out of a job. If you don’t perform your job to an acceptable standard, then you know there’s a chance of being fired, a film critic is no different. Whether you agree with a review or not, insulting somebody’s craft is nothing short of plain disrespectful. They’re only trying to put food on the table, same as all of us, so please try to have a little perspective.

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I Miss Demo Culture

A few days ago, the always controversial (but never boring) Jim Sterling discussed developer Arkane Studios’ approach to its demo distribution of their game Prey. The latest Jimquisition episode examines the ludicrous practice of not offering a demo version of the game for PC users, as they can obtain a full refund from Steam anyway if they’ve played the game for less than two hours. While that situation itself is worthy of an entire discussion, Jim covers it about as well as one can, so I don’t have any interest in putting the studio under further scrutiny. The video did make me realise just how non-existent the culture of playing video game demos is in this day and age though. It’s not that demos have ceased to exist altogether (although offering demos for games has become a rarity as time’s gone on), but the entire quadrant of gamers whose playing experiences were shaped by them has disappeared completely.

The featured image for today’s post illustrates my point perfectly in regards to demo culture. In 2001, Zone of the Enders was released and became the sixth best-selling video game in North America for the month of March. Such a high chart position for a brand new intellectual property that wasn’t particularly aimed at a Western audience is an impressive feat. However, the game’s success came with a rather large caveat, a caveat so large that there were people who bought the game and never even played it. I’m of course talking about the fact that Zone of the Enders was packaged with the demo disc for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, one of the most hotly anticipated video games of all-time. Three years removed from Hideo Kojima’s stealth action masterpiece Metal Gear Solid, the sequel had an ungodly amount of hype surrounding it. So much so that people were paying full price for a game they had no intention of playing, all so they could have access to the first level of MGS2.

Casting my mind back to those early 2000s days of gaming and I’m filled with a sense of nostalgia. I know that it’s all too common to criticise the current state of the video game industry in favour of championing classics from our childhoods, but I feel like this organic and natural level of hype is more subdued nowadays. Now that we’re all older, with our own jobs and personal income, the magical veneer of video games has worn off for us. I bought Mass Effect: Andromeda not because of excitement, but because it was the new thing that was out and I wanted to be distracted for a while. When I think back to being younger, it starts to resonate with me just how much of a part demos played in my life. I didn’t have much money growing up, so my gaming growth was a little stunted as it’s such an expensive hobby. I was always one generation behind, I was making do with my PS1 when everyone else was revelling in the digital playground of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on its successor. By the time I got a PS2, everyone had yet again moved on to the seventh generation. Hell, I didn’t get my first current gen console until last year.

This lack of funds I feel humbled me as a gamer, relishing what I did have and learning to be grateful. This is why demos were so integral. My parents couldn’t afford the hottest new game out, so I’d have to use my imagination. Every month, a new demo disc would be released, containing a library of samples for upcoming games that contained so much content that I could make it last as long as the real thing. Even though I would only be playing a snippet of something, to me it was my training ground. Even though I knew that each session would be cut short once I reached a certain point, I would replay the same sections over and over until they were burned into my brain. Through constant repetition, I was playing the game in a sense. While I wasn’t making any story progression, I was mastering the mechanics and understanding the level design of each title. Now, the vast majority of these games were never played in full and I’ve long forgotten what most of them were, but every once in a while, I’d get to have my very own copy of one of those delicious samplings.

Playing the full version of a game that I’d already devoured in short form felt almost like using cheat codes. Like I’d been spying on another team’s training sessions so I knew exactly what they’d do before the big game. The element of stress in learning how to play a new video game had disappeared as I breezed through each level, every mechanic and AI attack pattern committed to muscle memory. The further I progressed, the easier it became as my arsenal was only bolstered via character and weapon upgrades if it was a game with such systems. All those hours spent slaying the Hydra in the God of War demo almost made me feel like a god, only I was omnipotent to the extent of murdering bundles of pixels as opposed to running the universe.

In a way, I’m glad that I can cherish these memories with such fondness. There’s a romance to it all, I was part of a generation that engaged with video games on an entirely different level. I can talk to friends in my age range about picking up the latest magazine and what demo disc was attached to it, as if we’re Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson reminiscing about when everything was shot on 35mm film. It’s an era that I truly miss in video games, and one that is sadly not likely to return anytime soon. However, I’ll always be able say that I experienced it; and if you love something, sometimes you have to let it go.

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Depression: My Own Personal Babadook

In 2014, Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, The Babadook, made a significant impact on the horror genre. Garnering acclaim for its unique blend of a genuinely terrifying atmosphere and psychology, the film would go on to be one of the best-reviewed films of the year. The story of a widowed mother slowly losing her sanity to the monstrous title character and being haunted by visions of murdering her son is as much moving as it is horrific. The debate that has raged on about the film since its release has been around one question: Is The Babadook actually real? Within the context of the film’s narrative, there’s a deliberate ambiguity as to whether the family are truly being antagonised by a malevolent force, or if it’s all just a violent manifestation of the protagonist’s grief.

My answer to that question is a simple one, and that is of course The Babadook is real. I’m not talking about the monster itself, but the entire concept. The Babadook is more than a silver screen bad guy, he’s a very real entity that exists for the characters in the film and for all of us in real life. We are all haunted by Mr. Babadook, some of us a lot more than others. At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and admitted into a secure psychiatric unit, where I would live for two months. Five years later and it’s not gotten any easier. I’m ashamed of my depression, I don’t harp on about it on my Facebook and I don’t get into “Well, I’ve attempted suicide this many times” contests with people. Depression is something that I despise, and this is really the first time I’ve ever truly talked about it on a public forum.

Much like The Babadook, depression is an all-enveloping creature with no remorse or pity, it gets to you in the night, crawls along your ceiling and makes you fear for your life. The constant state of fear that I live in means I am almost always fatigued and possess little interest in actually connecting with other people. I don’t have any vices to use as a portal for briefly escaping this nightmare. I’ve never drank, smoked or done drugs, and I don’t believe that casual sex would be a healthy (or even obtainable) option for someone as emotionally unstable as myself. I have zero romantic fulfilment in my life, I can’t stand my job, and I manage to convince myself everyday that all of my friends actually hate me. It’s not a nice way to live, knowing that I am very much the victim in a horror movie in which I am the lead.

This mindset always leads back down the same path, and that is that suicide is the only option. Now, before you call the police and have them sent to my house, this is not a cry for help or a farewell message. I am not suicidal, because I have the awareness to recognise that the negativity in my brain stems from a genuine medical condition, to which killing myself is not a solution. The mother in The Babadook realises this in the film’s incredible finale, in which she tames the beast and traps it in the basement. This metaphor of allowing your feelings to live with you and keep them at bay is a universal truth. You can’t get rid of your demons, it isn’t possible, the effects of trauma will be with you forever. The fact that I know my life may not end via natural causes is not dramatic, it’s a factual statement. At this point, I’m almost certain that I will be the one to take my own life one day, which isn’t something I say lightly. It’s nothing more that a statistical probability, I do not need or want the pity of others.

The only joy I can squeeze out of life these days is through writing, and it’s something I’ve devoted the majority of my time to in the past year. After being unable to cope with the stress of university and dropping out of my undergraduate course, pursuing my dreams of composing words for a living was the only option. In truth, I have to either make it or break it, because I want to do the thing I love full-time, not lie in bed every morning trying to muster the strength to drag myself into my dead end job. Every shower, brushing of teeth and conversation I have throughout the day takes more effort than it should. In university, I went a whole six months without brushing my teeth because I resented everything around me. The walls of my student accommodation were closing in with me inside, The Babadook was there and chipping away at my ability to cope.

Trying to make sense of the world of content creation is an infinite source of stress, but one that is far more manageable than studying a course that did nothing to nurture my spirits, where I didn’t like a good 80% of the people I spent the day with. The seemingly never ending search to make a decent level of income off of the written word is a quest that I will always have hope of completing. And that’s the real crux of any horror movie, that there is always a sense of hope. The Babadook ends on a surprisingly heartwarming note in which the mother and her child have a happy life, with The Babadook living below, needing just enough attention to be acknowledged without being granted the power of full control. The idea that I can control my depression is one that I firmly believe most days, and when I don’t have that belief, I know that it will pass eventually. I should never pretend that my illness doesn’t exist, as that is where it draws its power from. To paraphrase Mr. Babadook himself, the more I deny him, the stronger he gets.

 

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