Movies January 23 …

So, last night I braved the cold to wander down to the end of my block and rent movies again. This time, it was horror night, as I rented “The Apparition” and “The Collector”. Now, I’m not actually a really big fan of horror movies. I like ghost stories, and don’t tend to like movies that are mostly gore fests. Which means that I probably should have skipped “The Collector”, which seems to be something of a “Saw” knock-off … or, at least, how I’d imagine that to be since I skipped those movies. Anyway, the sorts of horror that I have liked are “The Ring”, “Rose Red” (the TV miniseries by Stephen King”), “Silent Hill”, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (but not for the horror parts), “The Blair Witch Project”, and “Paranormal Activity” (which “The Apparition” appears to be trying to emulate), and a few others. So as you can see, for me the story behind the supernatural events is as important if not more so than the actual plot itself. In these two movies, my problems are going to be with the story behind the story and with the story, and as such are going to contain massive, massive spoilers. You have been warned.

I picked these two up because “The Apparition” did sound like an attempt at being similar to the first “Paranormal Activity” (which is the only one I’ve seen, oddly enough, and whose alternate ending is one of the few horror movie endings that really, really, really creeped me out; it’s too bad they couldn’t use it because of the sequel) and “The Collector” sounded like it might have a bit more of a plot, by introducing the ex-con/handyman there to rob the family who has to then try to save them. Unfortunately, neither of them could pull it off very well, and they both failed for two really big reasons:

1) They both ended with the evil winning.
2) They both didn’t explain the story behind the story at all.

Now, ending with evil ending or it being ambiguous is not unheard of. Out of the movies I list above, in fact, only “Rose Red” can really be said to not have the supernatural win and not be stopped by the heroes (it’s not really relevant in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”). And yet, I do like them. So what’s the problem here? Well, first, I think I’m getting a little tired of it. Sure, it’s nice as a subversion every once and a while, but it seems that far too many of these movies are aiming at that subversion. I’d really like to start seeing more when after many trials the heroes come out on top, even if there are only a few survivors after all of that. Then again, perhaps being not particularly a fan of horror I miss more movies where that does happen, and just got unlucky having two of them on the same night.

But the other reason I disliked it here, I think, is because of the second point. Neither movie really explains the backstory of their villains properly, so I don’t really know what’s behind all of this. In “The Apparition”, you get the exposition about it trying to get into the world and perhaps lead an invasion, and about its methods … but not really anything about what it wants beyond that. And since that story hints at it deceiving your perceptions, we aren’t even sure how much of what she say was real before she basically gives in and it, well, wraps its hands around her at the very end. I don’t know if this is bad in general or just bad for her, or what will happen to her, or what it wants from her, or if it wants something in particular from her (since it seemed focused on her), and why it seems to have just grabbed other people without wearing them down but tried to wear her down, or if that quick grab leads into a wearing down or … well, anything really. In “The Collector”, there’s talk about the villain collecting people, and only killing the people the villain doesn’t like … but that seems to be almost everyone, since the villain can only keep one person at a time in that box. Does the villain store more people somewhere else? And why if the villain wants to collect people does it create so many painful death traps? We really get nothing on the villain’s backstory, and in “The Collector” we also leave a ton of plot threads open, such as what happens to the thief’s family, the little girl, and so on.

It’s okay to try to keep a villain mysterious … but if you do that, what you really shouldn’t do is drop in a lot of exposition telling us interesting hints about the stuff you’re trying to keep mysterious. Both movies do this, and they suffer for it. I want to know the answers to the questions they open up, and if I think of contradictions I want them to either be resolved and shown not to be or, at least, to be shown as being false. In “The Ring”, for example, almost all of it is tracing through her backstory to come to a conclusion about how to stop her … that turns out to be absolutely, positively false. That’s interesting, even if it invalidates a lot of what went on before. None of that happens here. Oh, sure, there are a few red herrings here and there, and both have cases where you think the horror is ended and it isn’t, but for the most part there just isn’t enough underneath the plot to really make me care about the false leads. Instead of things feeling like my whole view of the movie has been turned upside down by the twists, I feel more like I was only going along with the first plot segment because I might as well, since it’s pretty much just what people were saying, but then when it changes my thought falls back to “Well, okay, sure, this can work, too.” Or, worse, that I just don’t really care. By the end of “The Collector” I was just wishing for them to get away already so that the movie could end; in “The Apparition” I was just following along by rote and not really thinking about what was happening. Neither of these are good for a horror movie.

I will say that “The Collector” does a sterling job with “Chekhov’s Gun”, though.

For the most part, for me both movies fall into the trap of caring too much about generating suspense and not enough about making all of that really, really scary. There are some lovely cat-and-mouse scenes in “The Collector”, but without a really firm hold on what’s at stake they can’t carry the fear themselves and the death traps eventually just seem contrived. In “The Apparition”, there’s some very good potential but the inconsistencies in the plot make it so that, again, I don’t really know what is at stake, and so all my emotion has to be carried by my caring for the protagonists, and mostly the female lead … who isn’t developed enough for me to care that much about.

I really feel like these movies are a bit like “The Sphinx” from “Mystery Men”: all you can really say about them is that they’re mysterious (“terribly mysterious”). But that’s not enough for horror, and not getting a resolution to the mystery makes them bad mysteries as well. I’m sure that some people will really enjoy them, but these end up being the first movies in this renting spree that I probably should not have rented; there were a number of candidates that would have been far more enjoyable, even if I was just after some decent horror.

And it makes me wonder if I’m just picking from the weak end of the movie pool, or if this is saying something about my standards for entertainment.

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