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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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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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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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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Wonder Woman, Feminism, and the Two Most Important Women in my Life

The word “feminism” seems to be the single most offensive word in the English language if you’re to believe any Internet thread you might find yourself reading. Just bring up that dreaded F-word and the comments will light up with a stream of misogynistic vitriol that makes me wonder who hurt these poor people. Call me crazy, but I was raised to believe in the equality and inclusion of both sexes by my mother, and was told that this belief is called “feminism”. Obviously, silly old me then decided that I must be a feminist, but apparently, all feminists hate men and want to murder anyone with a Y chromosome so they can then dominate the Earth. Strangely, I’ve never met anyone that holds such a belief, clearly I’m running with the wrong crowd.

I proudly call myself a feminist, as does my mother, so our joint excitement for the upcoming Wonder Woman film is palpable to say the least. Wonder Woman is nothing short of an icon, and possibly the most significant contribution to feminism in the history of modern literature. She gave female comic book readers a Superman of their own, someone to relate to and idolise. I do find it outrageous, then, that of the five most popular superheroes of them all (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and Wolverine), the Amazonian goddess is the only one without their own movie franchise. All she’s gotten so far is the 1970s live action Lynda Carter TV show and an appearance in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The fact that the only mainstream superhero movie to be released with a female lead is 2004’s Catwoman honestly makes me a little sick.

Wonder Woman’s success is important to me and the women in my life, I want my mum to have her hero done justice on the big screen and I want my little sister to have that hero. The happiness I felt when seeing my mum’s reaction to Wonder Woman’s appearance in Dawn of Justice made me realise just how important this movie could be. As she drops down to confront Doomsday, leading the charge while flanked by Batman and Superman and being led by one of the best superhero themes possibly ever, I could hear an audible squeal. Looking over, I was treated to seeing my own mother jumping up and down with glee like a kid on Christmas morning, exclaiming, “Yes! She’s here! She’s my favourite! She’s my favourite! Show them how it’s done!”

Given that my mum is a fan of superhero movies and comic books in general, this was the most invested I’d ever seen her in a single moment from the genre, which is when it clicked for me. She’d never had her Captain America kicking the shit out of Nazis moment, nor had she fully experienced the majesty of Christopher Reeves’s Superman reversing time itself to save Lois Lane. For the first time ever, she was seeing a woman march into battle in a comic book movie, taking on the enemy at the front of the pack and stealing the spotlight from the two figureheads of the medium. It became apparent that it had been too long, the world needed its first Wonder Woman movie.

Then I look to the future generations of women, the age groups populated by people like my sister. In a time where America’s President can freely brag about sexually assaulting women, the empowerment of a female superhero is what young girls need right now. About a month ago, I saw a little girl staring up in awe at the Wonder Woman poster on display at the cinema I work in, a single image of the central character with the word “power” accompanying the title. This small child was being shown that there is indeed a power and a strength in being a woman, that she could grow up to inspire awe in girls her age. This experience stuck with me and put a smile on my face, this is the effect this film can have.

As my sister settles into the middle of the hell that is being a teenager, she is discovering more each day about the history of feminism. She’s learning the valuable lessons of independence and that it’s not okay to be treated as an inferior being because of your sex. The impact of Wonder Woman was felt when she asked me if I could bring home a poster of the film from work for her not long ago. I’d already reserved a poster for myself months in advance, but I knew that she needed it a lot more than I did. For me, it was a poster to have for the sake of having it, another cool design to add to my collection. For my sister, it was a symbol of female empowerment that she could draw her own might from. She’s never read a comic book in her life, and the only superhero movie she likes is the universally accessible Guardians of the Galaxy, so to see her take such an interest in one of my personal favourite characters touched me.

All of this is why I’m frustrated with the publicity that Wonder Woman is receiving. All I seem to see on the Internet is the apparent “lack of marketing” that Warner Bros. are doing for the film. I find this claim to be dubious at best, as I would think that numerous TV spots, posters and giant freaking billboards all over Times Square constitutes as strong marketing. We need to embrace the film for what it has the potential to do for women, and the audience that it can connect with in a way that no other superhero film has. I have full confidence in the success of Wonder Woman, and I frankly don’t care for what anyone has to say about feminist agendas or whatever nonsense that might be spouted. This is a movie that isn’t just long overdue, it’s owed to women the world over.

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Autism and Me (and Power Rangers)

To open up about how one feels when they have autism is akin to defusing a bomb with plastic scissors, you’re not cutting that wire no matter how much you need to. This may just prove to be the single most personal piece of writing I’ve ever composed. No Facebook status, tweet, blog post or even private message will be able to compare. But my lack of comfort and acceptance surrounding my autism recently received somewhat of a jolt, a jolt that came in the form of the 2017 Power Rangers movie.

Yes, from such an unlikely place, a big screen reboot of a franchise from many of our childhoods hit my person in a way that I cannot recall happening prior or since. The decision to make Billy Cranston, the iconic original Blue Ranger, someone on the spectrum was met with scepticism by some and curiosity by others. It was a major point of interest that drove my decision to see the film as soon as I could (that and my undying nostalgia for a crazy Japanese monster show re-edited into a teen sitcom). As I sat there in the cinema, a feeling washed over me like no other, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Without a shadow of a doubt, I was witnessing the most relatable and accurate depiction of how autism has affected me for these last 21 years.

Could it be so? Were the tears that were filling my eyes the wet, salty response to something I never thought I’d see in a film ever? As each minute ticked on, I merely grew to be increasingly engaged, hanging on every word that came out of Billy’s mouth. Everything was there, we both tell everyone we meet that we’re on the spectrum as a warning for doing weird things, we both have a hard time moderating our volume of speech depending on the situation, and we certainly do not have the ability to detect sarcasm or read social cues. Was I going mad, or had the screenwriters for goddamn Power Rangers nailed autism?

Autism isn’t fun, that is my true and honest opinion. I do not like it. Instead of being able to properly interact with people, I can remember minute details that ultimately don’t matter. I’ve never been on a date, I had a girlfriend once when I was 16 and it fell apart after a month because I do not know how to connect and relate to people on an emotional level. I had a mental breakdown when she broke up with me because I thought I’d been personally attacked, but from her point of view, I now realise that I looked like an uncaring bastard. It’s tough to come to terms with the fact that I may never have a long term relationship or find love. And I’m not saying that for sympathy or out of hopelessness, I know that I lack the capacity to commit to someone that I don’t share blood with on such an emotional level. I do not want to get married, I do not want kids, I don’t even think I want to experience sex as the idea of physical intimacy is a little repulsive to me.

What I do have is a brain that has been endowed with some truly extraordinary features. When focused, I am able to produce lengthy and detailed essays with minimal effort, rarely even having to look up the facts I state, as I can recall them so clearly. I do not have hobbies, I have obsessions. I will select a thing, and that thing will then consume me as I strive to learn everything there is to know about it. I’m aware that this sounds boastful, but it’s cold, hard, objective fact. I will spend many a night crying myself to sleep because I would happily trade in autism to understand how to read a person, or to know how to talk to a girl. You know exactly what flirting is, right? Because I don’t, the concept makes zero sense to me, I do not know when or if I’m being flirted with, and I certainly don’t know how to let people know I like them. My life is a series of me talking to a girl as a friend for months, never once giving an indication that I see them as a potential romantic partner. Then, usually at around 2AM, I shall produce an indefensibly long message in which I pour my heart out to her because that’s how love works in my head. Then I’m rejected and spend the next few days confused and upset. I hate it and I want it to stop.

This is where I find the truth in RJ Cyler’s performance as Billy Cranston. Art must always contain a measure of truth, whether it is being told through the artist’s vision or the actions of their tools. In film, the artist is the director, the tools are their actors. I would like to personally commend the work of RJ, you could consider this part as somewhat of an open letter to the man. Sir, you moved me in a way that no other actor has done, and I’ve seen every damn “autistic” performance there is to see. I never once saw truth in them, just an actor playing pantomime, having no clue what day to day life is like for those with autism. Simply put, your work was beautiful, comprised of soul and compassion. I don’t know what research you did for the role or who you consulted to prepare for it, but you knocked it out of the fucking park.

As depressing as this peek into my life seems, I feel relieved that I’ve gotten it out there. I may have gotten too personal, but that’s the only way I could possibly express my love of what Power Rangers did in relation to my autism. And it is just that, my autism. It’s no one else’s, it affects everyone differently and there are likely those that didn’t see truth in Billy’s characterisation. That’s because this is my blog and thus, my views. Thank-you to the Power Rangers creative team and thank-you especially to RJ Cyler, you made me feel like a superhero, and that’s what I’ve always wanted.

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Why We Are Currently Living in a Golden Age of Horror Cinema

Of all the genres populating the cinematic realm, horror seems to be among the easiest to completely fumble. It’s an all too common occurrence for cheaply constructed piles of schlock comprised of jump scares and feeble acting to make bank at the box office these days. However, the vast majority of Internet boards behave as if that’s all we’ve been getting from horror these last few years, often trotting out that old chestnut of “X genre is dead because of stuff like this”. Such hyperbolic sentiment is par for the course in relation to popular culture right now, unless something is the next Citizen Kane of its ilk then it isn’t worth discussing. When a movie such as Get Out scores a 99% on RottenTomatoes (a score I feel it deserves, mind you), then many will wave their “overrated” banner because it didn’t blow them away to the point that they will go into shock if you shine a torch in their eyes.

The truth is that horror is at the strongest it’s been in years, and Get Out has kept that hot streak alive. For every Ouija, there’s a Don’t Breathe, for every Annabelle, there’s a Green Room. As far as I can tell, this spate of hugely entertaining American horror flicks started with You’re Next back in 2011. The fifth feature film from director Adam Wingard, You’re Next’s irreverent dark humour, over the top gore and familiar yet refreshing throwback approach endeared both critics and genre enthusiasts. It’s since gone on to obtain true cult status and has established Wingard as one to watch in the modern horror scene.

The stage was then set for a collection of maverick composers to release their unholy symphonies to the world, their orchestra a keen composition of violence, obscenity, wit and thought provoking parables. As consumers, we were treated to the gory workings of Fede Álvarez’s nightmarish Evil Dead re-imagining in 2013, a film nothing short of wonderful in its campy and absurd level of brutality. Looking across to Australia and we were blessed with Jennifer Kent’s wickedly tormented psychological drama, The Babadook, which would go on to become one of the most acclaimed films of 2014. Already, we have a healthy mix of old and new ideas being offered up to insatiable genre aficionados. A lust for extreme content was being filled but minus any kind of sacrifice of charm. How could horror possibly be weak with so much choice?

2015 sticks out as the most evident year of a golden age coming on thanks to the instant classic It Follows. A beguiling concoction of overly stylised visual spark and 80s motifs in terms of soundtrack and moral exploration of the dangers of unprotected casual sex, the film captured the hearts and minds of the horror community. Most of us are merely fans of the familiar, we’re easily drawn in by old school loveliness in the same vein as Carpenter or Craven. When such sentiment is thrown into a blender with all of the lovely technological innovations at the disposal of modern filmmakers, our love shall be practically offered up on a silver platter.

Are we being pandered to? Possibly. Are we getting awesome movies? Definitely. With 2016 being one of the single best years for horror films in history, and I seriously mean that. The Witch kicks everything off with a fearless display of pure atmosphere. A film crafted so that the harsh landscape is a character itself that merely houses the supernatural horrors that threaten the humble farming family that the narrative centres on. Constructed using appropriate language for the time and preferring to keep the scares to a minimum, this is a horror film for purists. One could argue that the film’s drawn out nature borders on pretentious, alienating those that wouldn’t consider themselves elitists. But the descent into hell for the characters tests the audience, creating its own mythology based on the folklore of old. To label it as a technical marvel would simply be understating its genius.

As we trek on through the year, our next stop is the straight up balls to the wall Green Room, a grimy, messy picture that is easy to fall in love with. Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to the similarly acclaimed Blue Ruin features a misfit group of punk rockers fighting for their lives against a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads, who are anchored by Patrick Stewart in an Oscar-worthy turn. What would sadly become Anton Yelchin’s final feature film to be released while he was still with us, the bizarre and uber violent trappings of Saulnier’s work feel like a lived in world. This is as close to an exploitation film as you’re likely to get in the latter half of this decade.

Fede Álvarez would then return to us, providing an utterly disgusting and depraved piece which I personally adore, Don’t Breathe. The concept is deceptively simple, kids try and rob a blind guy, blind guy is basically an evil Daredevil, fun ensues. Stephen Lang guides the passable young performers through the film with an acting showcase that is in equal parts sympathetic and downright despicable. It’s pretty difficult to discuss without spoiling, so all I’ll say is that you can expect slick cinematography and a lot of clear homages to the great Sam Raimi (which makes sense, given that he is essentially making movies through Álvarez vicariously at this point).

And now we’re deep into the drudges of 2017, with the celebrity back-patting contest that is the Oscars firmly behind us, everyone can look forward to another year of horror. Just when we thought we’d be let down, a casual masterwork comes from the mind of comedy giant Jordan Peele. I don’t feel Get Out needs any more praise than it already has at this point, it’s far too fresh in our minds to really say anything else. However, the deft combination of a frightening concept, on point comic relief, racial overtones and third act thrills makes for one satisfying meal.

I don’t know about you, but I believe horror is far from dead. If anything, it’s alive, kicking, and still holds the ability to scare the shit out of us.

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