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Bruna Foletto Lucas
Jul 01, 2018
In Film Reviews
Although it is not a Netflix production, Veronica is one of the newest films added to the streaming platform and it has everyone talking about it. Some are labelling the film as “the scariest film ever” – personally, I wouldn’t go as far but I will say one thing: it is a very good horror film! First of all, it is good to see a fresh horror film that isn’t just one jump scare after another, and it is good to watch a film that isn’t from the Hollywood circle – nothing wrong with Insidious, The Nun, The Conjuring, Annabelle, but Veronica proves that the characters don’t need to speak English to make a good film. Also, the mind behind this film is not new to the genre – Paco Plazza has directed REC in 2007 (before it became a Hollywood remake) and the film does not fail to deliver us suspense and fear. Veronica is set in 1991, which is pleasantly portrayed by the use of Walkman’s and lack of internet, and it tells the story of – you guessed it – Veronica, a 15-year-old girl who uses an Ouija board with her friends to communicate with her dead father. Needless to say, things don’t go well for her and she manages to get through to an evil entity that is not her father. The film packs the most common tropes of ghost-films: objects moving on their own? Check. Dream sequence that is not a dream sequence? Check. Weird elderly people? Check. So why is this film gaining such recognition? Well, I would say that not only Veronica is a possession/ghosts/horror film, but also it is a coming-of-age gone wrong. When Veronica goes back to the poorly lit basement where she and her friends played with the Ouija board, she is surprised by “Sister Death”, a blind nun of her school, that tells the protagonist that someone has answered her call and that now walks with her. The dialogue plays with the film and with our expectations as she uses a metaphor in her conversation and says that Veronica is old enough to understand what that means - thus, not only reminding Veronica that she is not a child, but remind us that the film is not straightforward, and in order to understand it, one must decipher the metaphor the film presents. In the same light, to mark the end of their conversation the school bell rings and the nun points out to Veronica that recess is over – meaning that play time is over and it is, indeed, time to grow up. The main character is a child – she may look old, act old, but for all biological purposes, she hasn’t crossed the barrier which makes her a woman, a.k.a she hasn’t had her period yet. However, she is forced to grow up after the death of her dad – she needs to help her mum with her three small siblings and, alongside school, it becomes a full-time commitment. Veronica doesn’t have time to go out with her friends and doesn’t have time to do things she enjoy, apart from listening to music before bed. Her friends start to ditch her and do “teenager stuff” without her, such as throwing parties, wearing too much mascara, smoking, dating, and because Veronica is unable to enjoy all of that, she starts resenting her siblings. It becomes more and more obvious that Veronica is blaming her siblings when she starts loosing her temper around them, and when she dreams that her siblings are biting her and slowly taking over and killing her. In addition to the extreme amount of times her mum tells her she needs to grow up, in another dream sequences a unknown voice tells her to grow up whilst putting their hand/claw upon her vagina and making her bleed, thus turning her into a proper adult. After playing with the Ouija board, Veronica now has to protect her siblings from the evil entity that is after them – as if she didn’t have enough on her plate already. However, the film starts to twist our beliefs when Veronica pleads to her mum to stay overnight, saying that whenever she is around “he doesn’t come”, hence when there is the presence of an adult figure and Veronica is freed from her duties as a “parent”, the evil stays away. That is when the film starts to tell us that maybe she is the danger. Veronica is constantly looking through windows – watching her teenage neighbours and their parents, and watching her friends start to date - envisioning a world she wants to be a part of but cannot enter. Moreover, she is constantly stopped and framed in between closed doors, reminding her one more time that she does not belong in that world and must stay inside her house taking care of her siblings. That is most obvious when Veronica arrives at her friend, Rosa’s, house to talk to her whilst she is having a party. The party guests try to block her way into the house, but she manages to enter it. She clearly does not fit in the scenario and is thrown out by two men, hence confirming once again her inadequacy. Plazza’s is a good film – it has a strong and determined protagonist, and, unlike possession films, the haunted are not asking for help, instead they are helping themselves. Veronica owns up to her guilt and does the only logical thing to do – no matter the cost. Partly the cause of the success of the film is that it fed well into the “based on a real life story” marketing behind it, but the film is as real as Texas Chain Saw Massacre – and Plazza himself admitted: the film is loosely based on a case that happened in Madrid in 1991, that became known for being the only police case to involve a paranormal occurrence. Nevertheless, real or not, it is worth the viewing!
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Bruna Foletto Lucas
Jul 01, 2018
In Film Reviews
The monsters in horror films are rarely just monsters. Psychoanalysts thrive on the opportunity to analyse a horror film. Monsters are the Other that we expose in order to kill and reinstate normality. Monsters are the part we don’t like about ourselves. Monsters are communism, technology, gays, lesbians, depression, patriarchy, sexual abuse, our past – you name it. Sometimes the filmmakers are well aware of this and they shape their films with they want to convey, others don’t realise it until they read a criticism online. Nevertheless, if it can be explained on the screen, then the filmmakers have to accept it. How the films are analysed and interpreted are beyond their powers, and once it has been shown on the big screens, then it us up for discussion. Jennifer Kent wasn’t aware she was directing a film that presented a metaphor for depression, but in the end it is what she ended up doing. The Babadook (2014) became known for being a film to shine a light on women filmmakers, on subtle horror at a time when horror films were relying mainly on jump scares, and for exploring the undertones of depression in the narrative. Kent just wanted to tell a simple story about a boy that finds a book and ends up inviting a monster into his house. Once the depression metaphor was put forward as an interpretation of the film, it is almost impossible to watch it without finding clues and, honestly, it is hard to believe Kent didn’t think about it whilst making the film. The Babadook is a monster that lives inside the mother and turns her into a monstrous figure, making her violent towards her son. Even if it wasn’t Kent’s intention it was done well. The film was praised for its good representation of the mental illness, especially its ending, where the character of Amelia accepts the monster as part of her life and lives with it, instead of being in constant fight with it. She tames the monster and acknowledges its power, but she also nurtures it and moves on without letting it dictate her life. On the other hand, a film that deliberately wanted to create a metaphor for depression and backfired was David F. Sandberg’s 2016 Lights Out. Sandberg stated he wanted to portray the disease as he suffered from it and had seen it taking the best of people who were close to him. He turned the monster in his film into a vessel for depression, but the way he did it was painful to watch. Although it was a good film once we turn a blind eye for the problems, some are hard to ignore. The character of Sophie, played by Maria Bello, has to take care of her son, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), after the death of her husband. So far, the story is the same as The Babadook, but then we learn that Sophie had also abandoned her older daughter, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), when she was a small child. The use of Sophie as reckless and terrible mother due to her depression is harsh. Moreover, the use of the word “crazy” is thrown around to justify Sophie’s behaviour and Sophie herself won’t take antidepressants because, as she says it, she is not crazy. To represent antidepressants that way when it already deals with preconceptions and it is a taboo in our society is negligent and ill-advised. In addition, blaming the mother and her depression for everything bad that happens in the family is beyond victim blaming. The only good thing about this narrative is Martin’s love towards his mother, who despite being put in danger still loves and wants to help her – The Babadook all over again. All of which could have been accepted if in the end we had been presented with an intelligent storyline as Kent did with The Babadook, but no, I was shocked to see that the old trope of “killing the monster to reinstate normality” was used. Sophie commits suicide to kill the monster (as it exists in her head) to protect her family, therefore conveying the idea that suicide is a good way out when it comes to depression to save others from the distress of living with someone who suffers from mental illness. That comes from a director who stated he wanted to talk about depression as his friend took his own life because of it. A noble attitude, but done in a bad way. Sandberg defends the ending by saying that it is not actually a happy ending as he has ideas for a sequel in which he plans to explore the effects of Sophie’s suicide through the eyes of her children, stating that they were not “saved” from her mother’s death, but deeply ruined. The film’s use of depression as a toxic burden on the family proves that the film should’ve stayed in the two and a half minutes format instead of creating a feature film and tainting the memory of a good scare. The Babadook and Lights Out have different monsters but similar undertones - Lights Out was intentional whilst The Babadook wasn’t. Both features were short films beforehand, the difference is that Monster, Kent’s 2005 short film, had more space to work and develop the not only the characters, but also the narrative, welcoming the interpretation of depression; whereas the fame of the short version of Lights Out should have been enough for the filmmakers since creating a longer adaptation only showed the limitations of the story, and it became the perfect example of a short film that should have remained a short, and the monster should have remained a monster.
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Bruna Foletto Lucas
Jul 01, 2018
In Film Reviews
The phrase “refusing to refuse to look” comes from a study done by Brigid Cherry in 1999 that debunks a theory put forward by Linda Williams in the ‘70s that says that women refuse to look at the screen because of the horrific sight that horror movies provide. Williams wasn’t completely wrong when she said women didn’t like looking at their own victimisation and over sexualisation on screen, but that doesn’t mean that we need “to hide in our boyfriends’ shoulders” – as she claimed -, or that we can’t stand to look at gore and violence. The horror genre has always been controversial, and its duality comes from the fact that horror texts can be used in different ways. Whilst in the ‘70s and ‘80s horror was used to secure traditional roles within society and to warn teenagers of the dangers of sex and drugs, by killing off those characters who would indulge in one of those two, by a machete, a hook, a butcher knife, a trident, whatever was the killer’s weapon of choice; now, the horror genre is being used (once more) to shine a light on social issues, such as racism, mental health, and sexual freedom. To confuse a bit further, the role of women in horror presents an even more problematic perspective. Again, during the ‘70s and ‘80s female characters were represented as one dimensional characters that had to endure rape in never-ending scenes (I Spit on Your Grave, I’m talking to you) and overly horrific and unnecessarily nude death scenes, but now they are finally gaining their due respect. In the last years, the horror genre has become the only genre to treat women and men as equals – the amount of horror films with a female leading character is superior to any other genre. Women went from victims to survivors to protagonists and one of the main reasons for that evolution might be because of the chunk of attention given to the genre. With the rise of feminism and sexual revolution in the ‘70s, women started to look at films and look at the way they were being represented in the narratives, and thus the Feminist Film Studies was created, aimed solely in studying the place of women in films, both behind and in front of the camera. And due to the strong attention given to horror genre by academics, it didn’t take long for the genre to gain focus by the feminist film theorists. Feminist Film Studies was divided in two main paths – those films that were analysed by a feminist lens, and those that were made by women. With the attention centred in the role of female characters on screen, theorists begun to realise that the female characters weren’t really that important for the narrative as they didn’t drive the storyline forwards, instead they followed the male character who in turn, was the one to give meaning to the story. Female characters had one purpose: to be looked at. They were prizes for the male hero, they were the dames in distress who waited for her rescuer, and they were the ones who needed to be straightened (literally) after being corrupted by the lesbian vampire. Even the death scenes were different amongst female and male characters – the male characters would usually die with one blow or their death would occur off screen, whereas the female characters would have a longer death scene, with multiple stabbings, often in their naked and bloody bodies. With the conception of the Final Girl, the role of the female character started to gain recognition, and because the Final Girl would be the one in the end to resist all of the killer’s attempts in killing her, it became understood that she was strong and resourceful. But then the duality strikes again and the idea that the Final Girl reinforced the concept of “good girl lives, bad girl dies” was put forward. By analysing the reasons behind the survival of the Final Girl – the only one who didn’t have sex or didn’t use drugs – and how she survived – after a lot of screaming and the help of a male rescuer – the idea of the Final Girl became, like everything in the horror genre, hazy. Nevertheless, the recognition of the Final Girl’s recurring trope in horror films is important to understand the history of female characters in horror films, and with time, it helped to turn the genre on its head, by reappropriating the term as a feminist one. Scream was one of the first films to subvert horror tropes and create strong female characters that, above all, are human - three dimensional and flawed. The female characters in Scream are different in every sense: there’s the Final Girl who is strong and fights with the killer, many times killing them (becoming a slasher film to give the importance to its characters who survive each instalment, instead of having always the same killer and different victims); there’s the fame-seeking Journalist; the killers, the best friend, the sexy one, the nerd, but whichever their characteristic is they are never there for the sole purpose of being killed. They matter – they are lovable in their own screwed up way, they are defiant, which means that even though they die, it is not without a fight. After Scream, horror films have been challenging and changing themselves, but more recently, a film that shuts down the “sex=death” trope is It Follows that, with a female protagonist, provides a simple answer to survival: to have sex with as many people as possible. As important as it is to have the role of the female characters evolved, the growing presence of women behind the camera is helping to shape the genre. Women are writing themselves and they are creating believable characters, lovable and hated ones. They are showing that there isn’t one way to portray women because there isn’t one WOMAN, there are multiple identities and each needs to be recognised in cinema. Female filmmakers have long complained about the lack of role model for girls in horror films, throughout the years women have been silenced in film but now they are shattering the walls they were put into and breaking them alongside box office records (within and outside the horror genre). But the amazing thing about horror is that it allows filmmakers to create the unimaginable, and with that freedom comes endless possibilities for female characters. Women filmmakers are creating stories that are well known to girls, they are writing their own fears and giving a voice to expose the dangers of patriarchy and oppression, and they are also breaking taboos generally associated with girls, such as violence, pregnancy, open sexuality and professional/personal agency. To valid these advances, the films are being praised by critics and audiences, they are winning awards and ranking in “top films” lists. This is not a surprise because women have been fans of the genre since its beginning, and they are horror enthusiasts, thus they are familiar with the tropes of the genre. And therefore, by knowing what works and what doesn’t and by re-evaluating their place in the genre, they are able to create relevant films. In addition to the filmmakers and the characters, the fans should get their own appreciation since because of them and their hunger for new stories, festivals aimed at women filmmakers, as well as a whole month focused on women in horror are being created and allowing filmmakers to grow and explore more and more. A list of (some) filmmakers who have ventured or are venturing in the horror genre, and deserve recognition: Julia Ducournau, Kerry Anne Mullaney, Tara Subkoff, Ana Lily Amirpour, Doris Wishman, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Mary Harron, Katie Aselton, Jennifer Lynch, Kimberly Pierce, Sarah Adina Smith, Alice Lowe, Leigh Janiak, Karyn, Xan Cassavetes, Lynne Stopkewich, Stewart Thorndike, Marina Sargenti, Jennifer Kent, Kathryn Bigelow, Mary Lambert, Jovanka Vuckovic, Laura Lau, Amy Holden Jones, Claire Denis, Ursula Dabrowsky, Ann Turner, Tracey Moffatt, Donna McRae, Elisabeth Fies, Emily DiPrimio, Danielle Harris, Jackie Kong, Emily Hagins, Ingrid Jungermann, Anna Biller, Axelle Carolyn, Ruth Platt, Kate Shenton, Rachel Talalay, Shimako Satō, Stephanie Rothman, Katt Shea, St. Vincent, and Roxanne Benjamin.
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Bruna Foletto Lucas
Jul 01, 2018
In Film Reviews
I’m very skeptical about rape-revenge films – to what extent are they empowering? Do we really need to watch long everlasting minutes of rape to realise women are strong and will take their revenge? Personally I think that rape-revenge films should only be made if they are bringing something new to the table because we should not be watching rape just for the sake of it. Sometimes it feels that the sub-genre has grown popular for all the wrong reasons and therefore it is always curious to see what a woman filmmaker can do with the sub-genre. Coralie Fargeat’s “Revenge” has its share of contributions to the sub-genre and stands alongside Abel Ferrara’s “Ms. 45”, the Soska Sister’s “American Mary”, and Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle”. However, at the same time that Coralie Fargeat’s debut film is very good and has its clear merits and its share of social commentary, it also falls into some old/unnecessary tropes. Because of its popularity the sub-genre has been the subject of many studies and probably one of the most influential is Carol Clover’s chapter about rape-revenge films on her cornerstone book Men, Women and Chain Saws. She writes that even though the lines between feminist and non-feminist films are blurred, the core of the sub-genre is to portray the transformation of the character from victim to avenger illustrating the female self-sufficiency – mentally and physically. In addition to Clover’s studies, many authors have written that the turning point for the empowerment of the female character is the rape itself – which is problematic. Do women need to be sexually assaulted to become strong? I don’t think so and many films portray it differently, Fargeat’s film, unfortunately, falls into that. Jen (Matilda Lutz) starts the film as a Lolita archetype – wearing bright colours, pink earrings, lollipop in her mouth and having an affair with an older, married man. Jen is aware that Richard (Kevin Janssens) is married and this knowledge makes her a flawed three-dimensional character, which is positive and negative at the same time. Positive because we are all human and flawed, no one is perfect; and negative because, well, it is not the most ethical thing to do. Moreover, Jen is very sexual and sensual and at one hand it is important that the character owns her own sexuality, at the other hand the amount of close-ups we have of her behind is a little bit too much. Jen is powerless and completely alone and that is what makes the rape so infuriating – the men take advantage of the fact that Jen has no way to protect herself. One of the issues raised with the sub-genre is the violence during the rape – take Meir Zarchi’s “I Spit on Your Grave” for example, the rape scene is so long and so violent, and the same can be said about Gaspar Noé’s “Irréversible” where the scene is so raw and we feel the rape as we watch it. Fargeat managed to dodge that bullet by having the camera pull back during the rape, focusing on the character’s isolation rather than the violence upon her. This is interesting not only because it shifts from what we are used to see, but also because it is off-brand for a French extremist film – which makes it even bolder that Fargeat decided shoot the film that way. Moreover, during the revenge part of the film, Jen does not into a femme castratrice role that focuses on castrating the men as the ultimate revenge, which again provides its own share of problems, but she focuses on pain itself. In addition, although Jen is almost naked, her clothes have blended in with her skin colour and the blood and dirt mixed up turning into one colour, forming almost a uniform. Richard on the other hand, is naked during the “last battle”, shifting the gaze and the fetishism to his bloodied body. Jen’s revenge is so long and violent that Fargeat equates her film to the French extremism as seen in Claire Denis’ “Trouble Every Day”, Alexandre Aja’s “Haute Tension” and Pascal Laugier’s “Martyrs”. There is no such thing as too much blood. A good rape-revenge film swims in social commentary, and “Revenge” is no different. Kooyman once explained that rape-revenge films explore multiple binaries, such as city/country, civilised/uncivilised, men/women in order to explore the relationship between good and bad. In this film, the male characters are overflowing with male entitlement and that clearly paints them as bad/evil. He also wrote that the film ‘must indulge [in] misogynistic and patriarchal impulses in order to combat them’. The film opens up with Jen and Richard arriving at a house in the desert – a paradise for a love affair and for murder – no one around for miles. Two of Richard’s friends interrupt their getaway as they arrive early for a hunting trip. It is a non-spoken understanding that everyone is aware that Richard is cheating on his wife and no one seems to care. Jen’s attitudes (dancing, drinking, using drugs and playing around) and clothing are interpreted as an open invitation and Jen’s body is seen as fair game – everyone can have a piece of it. On the morning after, Richard leaves Jen with his two friends whilst he runs some errands and Stan (Vincent Colombe) makes a pass at Jen, but when she refuses he sees it as an affront against him. Stan does not take a “no” for an answer and rapes Jen, almost as a punishment for teasing him and turning him down. Stan and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) both see it as a normal thing to happen and they are not afraid of Richard’s reaction (maybe a little bit). When Jen tells Richard about it, he confronts his friend but it is almost as if nothing happened, whilst when Jen confronts Richard about it he gets violent towards her and calls her a “whore”. In this point, the film portrays rape as a common denominator for those men and it brings about a group mentality that appeals to the sense of camaraderie where rape is seen as “male sport”. In the middle of the desert, Jen is left for dead with a birch piercing through her midsection. In a non-realistic way Jen manages to take the birch out and seeks revenge on her aggressors. Penetrated twice – first by the rape and second by the birch (phallic object, anyone?) – Jen crawls from the place she was left for dead and steps into the men’s territory. They are hunters, this is their sport, and it becomes a cat and mouse game. The film oozes with social commentary by the fact that the men are portrayed as the epitome of male entitlement, especially over women’s bodies – they see Jen’s clothes and actions are an invitation, instead of it being her way to express herself, and the second she rejects them and demand respect, if not from Stan, from her lover, they turn violent against her. They see Jen as an animal to be hunted and killed, and Jen by stepping into their territory seeks revenge without needing to lure them into a place where they feel weaker or in disadvantage. “Revenge” is almost a step forward from Katie Aselton’s “Black Rock” – not taking the merits from the latter. Jen rises to the situation and embraces her fate as she goes forward without looking back – she doesn’t flinch when she needs to use a gun, she even looks confident and familiar with it. She has no time to plan her revenge, she takes whatever comes and rolls with it. It is gruesome, gory, and violent. It is French extremism at its best. Whilst in the beginning of the film the desert landscape portrayed Jen’s loneliness, by the end it portrays the endless options for her to kill her perpetrators. Unaware of the force that is Jen, the three hunters find their comeuppance.
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Bruna Foletto Lucas

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