Tuesday, August 2, 2016


A young woman's voice over a shot of a gloomy day through an upstairs window tells us that since her accident she has felt numb and has taken to reading, idle browsing on the net and watching horror movies. It's the last activity that's got her thinking of "what they are and how they are made to take advantage of who we are". Having been through a horrifying experience in her life (a car accident which infrequently resurfaces throughout the narration) she begins to understand the processes of creating or nurturing fear in a viewer, the small print of the contract, why we sign the contract, sit back and get scared. Why do we keep going back to this state? What are we agreeing to when in it? Should we feel used even if we have enjoyed it?

The voice keeps to a narrow emotional range as it explores the cinema of fear. This never gets tedious. The visuals, apart from a framing shot at the beginning and the close, are entirely taken from other movies. These are almost exclusively horror and stretch from the generic to the outside margins. There are some non-horror sci-fi quotes (Gravity, Logan's Run) but this only directs us back to the theme of fear rather than genre cinema. The voice is Scottish, mild enough to be mistaken for North American. That's intentional.

The clips are seldom money shots, acts of gore or supernatural cataclysms. Quite often they depict moments of establishment or development detached from the payoff. The voice continues, often drawing out previously established points for rewording rather than development. This is never tedious. This is not a documentary and we are not relying on the voice for information but allowing it to suggest thoughts as a hypnotist might. We don't need to hang on the words. We can surface from the waves of our response as it plays to the screen and listen now and then. Soon enough, we understand that we have made another contract with this film as surely as we had with Suspiria or Ringu.

Are we listening to a first person account of a real traumatic event and its narrator's discovery of the machine inside the horror film? It stops mattering. The voice is less a narrator than a vocalist, commissioned, paid in full. She is an actor but her performance is an essay, describing in metaphor what we are seeing and then sometimes directly describing it. The coldness of the delivery doesn't allow us confidence in her the way we were happy to listen to Mark Cousins or Martin Scorsese talk about cinema. Her tale is lighted by the images of violence, gore, suspense and confrontation. If the extra score (also commissioned) swells louder than her voice we drift below it and wait for the next rise or fall.

The tension between the mesmeric control of the voice with its storm of visuals and your willingness to find a useful spot to digest it will reward you. This is expert editing and mixing. This is adventurous essaying. This is cinema about cinema which feels like cinema. Find it and play it. Play it again. It's your midnight movie and it knows where you live.

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