Realism, Formalism, and Classicism
Pascal Laugier, a director in the fantasy/horror genre, produced a movie named The Tall Man in 2012. This movie received harsh ratings. It is currently rated at 48% on the movie review cite rottentomatoes.com. The synopsis: A rural town in Washington is undergoing an era of kidnapping. The parents of this town have come up with a name for the mysterious entity kidnapping their children. They call him The Tall Man. Julia Denning’s, actress Jessica Biel, son gets abducted and she will stop at nothing to retrieve her son.
This film utilizes all three film modes: Realism, Formalism, and Classicism. It opens with a clip of parents being interviewed by a news crew about the abduction of their children. This documentary-like style of opening gives the movie a real feel, as if the viewer has just turned on the local news. This sense of realism is also what essentially hurt the film’s ratings. During the first third of the film, many viewers predicted The Tall Man to be a ghost or a mystical creature, and expected for the movie to follow the Formalistic and bizarre theme seen in many horror films. Laugier actually resigned from being the director of the remake of the 1987 film Hellraiser because his ideals were not commercial enough. The story ends with The Tall Man being a typical human being, supporting the Realism in the story. Despite the harsh reviews, I enjoyed the movie. It had good shots, good audio, convincing special effects, great actors, and a very intricate storyline as do most full feature films with a Classicist theme.
The Butterfly Effect- (Prison Scene)
Props: paper with memories on it
Prison cell brightly lit
nonDiagetic sound of large heavy metal doors scrapping as they close and prison cell door in the background. Violins right before the action scene, turns into upbeat orchestra.
Diagetic sound is very secretive. Filled with questions. “Do you believe in that whole bit the lord works in mysterious ways?” (Evan to Carlos)
Costumes are prison outfits, Sweatpants and tee-shirts. Casualness is exaggerated in psychological thrillers. They are made to persuade the reader that the events unfolding can happen to them or anyone else in this world. Psychological thrillers tend to leave the viewer asking, “What if…”
This scene from the Butterfly Effect carries a numinous tone with its references to stigmata and divinity. The scene inaugurates when Evan Treborn, Ashton Kutcher, inquires the faith of his prison cell mate, Carlos, Kevin Durand. Carlos is baffled by Evan’s curiosity, but submits to his own whims of knowing when Evan insists on showing him something in private. In the well-lit prison cell Evan tells Carlos to watch for any signs of the Lord and begins to read a piece of paper containing his childhood memories. The suspense builds with non-diagetic audio and hazy camera effects until Evan in suspended in a lucid ubiquitous reminiscence of himself in his childhood classroom. He stabs himself in the hands with two sharp objects on his teacher’s desk and immediately wakes up from this memory with two newly formed scars on each palm. Carlos is convinced in Evan’s causality with the Lord, referring to Evan’s new scars as stigmata. Discovering this, Carlos agrees to help this mystical profit (Evan) retrieve his journal from rival gang leaders and escape from prison. The discussed scene is replete with a motif of Faith, something commonplace in many of our lives, which vouches for the practicality of the film and its genre.
This scene is not comprised of commendable acting from neither Kutcher nor Durand. The dialogue is generic and predictable. After Kutcher says “I think Jesus sent me to your cell for a reason.” all successive dialogue becomes negligible, and heed is given to the rising visual conflicts. The scene’s closing is captivating because it climaxes with Evan, Ashton Kutcher, vacillating between a safe-haven and an impending slaughter. This scene is not an archetypical psychological thriller movie extract due to the director aggrandizing action’s role, but it does
embody the wonder factor that a typical psychological thriller possesses.
The Usual Suspects veers between the Classicist and Formalist modes. I would argue that it for the most part classicist: the focus of the film is on the complex story that Verbal spins for Kajun under interrogation. It is vital for the success and cohesion of the film that emphasis is placed on narrative over form (although form is an important aspect of the film). It is a non-linear narrative told in flashback form – a tale that we are not entirely sure whether or not to believe. It is therefore essential that the Bryan Singer made the film more classicist than wholly based on the formalist mode. If there is one thing that most people remember about The Usual Suspects it will be the twist at the end – the cathartic moment in which Kajun drops his coffee as he realises the true identity of Verbal.
However, the cinematography of the film is obviously stylised formalistically. For example: the way in which the camera lingers over the debris at the dock in the first scene where Verbal is revealed to be hiding/not hiding. The director places the image of the debris into the subconscious of the audience despite it not having any relevance until the end of the film. Similarly, the way in which light is used to illuminate the faces of the actors throughout the film – particularly when they are confronted with the figure of Keyser Soze. This use of lighting is entirely unrealistic but acts as a visual indicator of realisation or surprise.
Enter all protagonists into what looks to be a basement of a jail. It is dark, the bars of holding cells are reflected on the floor. One character seems to have a club foot and you can hear it sliding along the linoleum floor. The characters enter a line-up room, first in shadow, then a bright light is turned on quickly. You hear a buzz of an intercom and someone begins to speak. You are apse to see how small the line-up room is, it seems more like a box. You can hear the sound of lights buzzing, and the hum of the intercom.
Based on the scenery, you can tell this is supposed to be a serious scene. The silence and heavy presence of diagetic sound, keeps the viewer on edge, you are waiting for something to happen, and paying very close attention. The bright light, and confined space of the room also helps to do this.
Kevin Spacey does a beautiful job throughout the movie, and this is the first scene I think you begin to see it. He keeps the scene interesting. Most of the diagetic sound is coming from his body movements alone. He also creates interesting shadow because of how he chooses to position his body.
American Psycho – Scene Building
The scene that I will deconstruct in this post is the ‘Hip to be Square’ Scene from American Psycho. The setting is Patrick Bateman’s brightly lit, minimalist apartment at night. Bateman wields an axe, wears a raincoat and brandishes a copy of Huey Lewis and the News’ Fore album. Paul (Jared Leto) lolls in a drunken stupor on the covered floor and sofa that have been prepared for his butchering. There is no non-diagetic sound. The sounds before Hip to be Square blares out are the unnerving sounds of Bateman glugging down his meds and the noise of the axe being placed on the floor.
The tone of this scene is at once comical and menacing. The scenery enforces this through building upon the things about Patrick we are already aware of. The naff modern art on the wall reinforces the superficiality and materiality that Bateman has set up his life around and the meticulous covering of the sofa and floor and the fact that Bateman wears a raincoat illustrate his narcissism and anal retentiveness as ridiculous.
Christian Bale’s portrayal of a psycho is almost slapstick: he dances and maniacally waxes lyrical about Huey Lewis:
“In ’87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip To Be Square’, a song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics – but they should! Because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself!”
He grins at Paul and gesticulates as he circles his victim. There is a moment in the bathroom in which the comical element of the scene is entirely undercut when Bateman looks at himself solemnly in the mirror before sauntering out with the axe. The murder itself is the result of a slow and comical building of tension. “Hey Paul!” – Patrick brings down the axe on his head and proceeds to hack him to pieces. Christian Bale is entirely convincing as a narcissistic psychopath – at once a comedy villain and a terrifying product of American capitalism and materialism.
American Psycho feels unique within the Psychological Thriller genre as it is both utterly fantastical yet also incredibly recognisable. It captures the zeitgeist of the late eighties and successfully translates Bret Easton Ellis’s postmodern nightmare into film.
As a group, we decided the first movie we would watch would be, The Skeleton Key, Directed by: Iain Softley. We chose this film because it was not a particularly well reviewed psychological thriller. There seemed to be a lot of debate as to why audiences did not like the film. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a Rating of 37%, stating that: Thanks to its creaky and formulaic script, The Skeleton Key is more mumbo-jumbo than hoodoo and more dull than scary.
Personally, I liked the film. I thought that the plot kept you guessing until the very end. I also felt as though the film’s ending was subversive in a way. The reason the plot keeps you guessing is because of this subversion. Typically in suspense, thrillers, and horror movies, white female protagonists tend to survive to the very end. They typically are not punished for cultural transgressions that may take place throughout the film. This movie was very different, The main character, Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson), was not only punished for her cultural transgressions (cultural appropriation, disruption of a community, assumptions of what is legitimate and what isn’t), but she is essentially defeated.
The last two scenes of the Skeleton Key, show the two characters who defeated Caroline (both slaves who outsmarted their master’s when the house was a plantation home), in the right, looking down at Caroline in her new body in the bottom left corner, but moving out of the shot.
The dialog goes as follows, “I told you I wanted a black one this time.” (meaning a new black body to replace her original body), it is followed by, “You know the black ones never stay.” (everything black character in the film reminded Caroline time and time again, about meddling in Voodoo with zero knowledge or understanding.)
Dwayne Scott 2-20-14
The Skeleton Key- Blog 1
The Skeleton Key was a very stressful movie for me to watch. It satisfied all of the typical scary movie tactics. Little ditsy white woman hears a noise in the creepiest environment possible and goes towards it. The decisions made in this film were irrational and non-relatable, as are most thrillers. And the actions just lacked common believability. It was just a typical thriller with a minor twist at the end, but the typicality of it throws it in with the rest. Why do all thriller protagonists have to be nosy? With The Skeleton Key, I believe it’s just another case of curiosity killed the cat.
The movie’s main character Caroline Ellis, played by Kate Hudson, is a freaking dweeb. I don’t know how she survived as long as she did. She went poking her head in just about all the wrong parts of her patient’s home. And the crazy thing about it is that, most of it was none of her business. Now, I understand that in order for a movie to be striking and compelling it must create tensions within its viewer to symbolize the power it has over those who watch it; but the only reason I’m feeling conflicted is because I had to sit down and actually finish the movie! If this was not a group assignment I would have tossed the disc once Carline Ellis started snooping around for no cohesive reason. Ellis remained determined to unveil the voodoo vex in her client’s household and took it upon herself to do so. She used the skeleton key given to her by her client’s wife in order to access rooms in the house that the home’s owner clearly didn’t want to be accessed. The incredible part of this movie’s irrationality is that this woman, Caroline Ellis, built up this mass amount of nosiness within days of working in the home. Even after a partially paralyzed and mute old man gripped her arm with extreme force in an attempt to warn her of the dangers, she inexplicably summons up an illogical amount of courage and persists to scavenge alone for answers. This constant snooping undoubtedly pissed off the home’s tenants, who were looking to extract her soul from her body, and only expedited her death. This is a common case of curiosity killed the cat.
To begin a Psychological Thriller film blog, the Skeleton Key may seem like an odd place to start. Widely accepted to be a poor movie at the time, it was then swiftly forgotten about, and then it wound up on Netflix. I would argue that the skeleton key is a generic, lowest common denominator imagining of a Psychological Thriller. However, for these reasons it neatly illustrates numerous features that we imagine to constitute a Psychological Thriller. It takes the most obvious tropes of the genre and squashes them together to create ‘the lazy man’s guide to direct a Psychological Thriller without having to think too hard.’ Some of the clichés that were trotted out included a potentially haunted house, a self-rattling door, a white-eyed blind woman in a rocking chair, some unnervingly jaunty camera angles and a plucky young woman in peril in her underwear.
The scene to support my argument is the scene in which our heroine is sent to the attic to “get some seed packets”… It acts almost as a pastiche of the Psychological Thriller genre. Our heroine’s hand grabs the key: a symbol of mystery and the unknown. As she walks to unlock the door the shot is filmed through the keyhole, as if from the perspective of the malevolent force within. We are then treated to a wobbly point of view shot as Caroline approaches the rattling door. The shot shifts: door rattling, close up heroine’s startled face, door rattling, then suddenly the door behind her slams shut. She exits the attic, but the last shot is of the door rattling, apparently in the wind: is it all in her head?
No This scene is an example of the biggest weapon that horror/ psychological thriller directors have up their sleeve: The Quiet, Quiet…Boom Sequence. It’s the racking up of tension through music (preferably discordant string instruments), wobbly shots and a darkened room then a loud bang and a cut to <insert ghoul/ghost/psychopath/false alarm>