Having just rewatched both The Exorcist and The Shining within the past couple of weeks, and seeing how both films use some off-the-wall strange editing strategies and cinematography, it certainly had me thinking about populist-art house horror that goes beyond the cheap scares and laughs and attempts to burrow a bit – both on a personal (as every good horror films should) and cinematically (both advancing the genre, and yet also standing a bit alone, high on the mountain, impenetrable to the whims and fads of the genre). Neither film is in a hurry to scare its audience, setting for a long, slow build up to establish geography, emphasize key locations and spend some not-all-that-related-to-plot moments with its characters. Friedkin (and his pair of editors) cut away from possessed Regan right in the middle of her outburst, once even to a domestic scene (I believe) to someone reading a newspaper in the kitchen. Kubrick makes a lot of use of slow zooms, something not all that common in american studio produced cinema (horror or otherwise) but is indeed something Kubrick used a lot, particularly in his film prior to The Shining, Barry Lyndon. Furthermore, Kubrick splits the perspective between possessed Jack and his terrorized family, something perhaps unusual in a stalking-horror movie (really, the last act of The Shining) where the victims generally are unaware of when the killer will pop out. It is strange to see the bathroom sequence (“Heeeerrrrre’s Johnny!”) shown simultaneously from the POV of Jack and the POV of Wendy. It still works, but I digress. Suffice it to say that the slow-burn horror film experience, with a bit of austerity thrown in for good measure is probably my bag of horror filmmaking (no insult to the [Rec]s and the Evil Deads of the genre).
So then I was re-watched There Will Be Blood, which often uses the syntax of a horror film, with all of the mining accidents, the mud and oil functioning as pretty naked allusions for the blood-ties of family and society and the violence therein. Daniel Plainview is the monster in this case, slowly winding his way towards insanity and perhaps in his own mind, an uphill battle against obsolescence as society moves out of the prospecting frontier and into a commercial society (certainly the temporal cut, in the final 20 minutes of the film between 1903′s desert landscape and 1929s verdantly groomed mansion is jarring to say the least.) It was interesting to note that P.T. Anderson also favours some slow zooms. Anderson is usually discussed within the context of similarity to his hero Robert Altman (dare to compare Short Cuts and Magnolia), but there is a Kubrickian remove in There Will Be Blood, that perhaps (a little) tends to have detractors of the film label it shallow or showy, certainly something that was the case with Kubrick’s The Shining, a film that has risen remarkable in stature since its release in 1980, a film so open to interpretation and consideration of its own themes that it has been labelled alternately as the meltdown of the nuclear family in the Carter years (here), or an ironic take on White Man’s Burden and his destruction/usurping of Indian lands and society (here), or my personal favorite (and points for creativity and rock-solid conspiracy-theory-fu!) an admission of guilt for Kubrick filming the faked moon landings concurrently to 2001: A Space Odyssey (mandatory entertainment here and here). But I am digressing again.
Lastly, Brad Anderson’s Session 9 owes a LOT to The Shining, with its huge mental asylum standing in as an overwhelming character, much like The Overlook Hotel. Here we have a mundane collection of jobbers (again, not unlike the Torrence family care-taking task, or for that matter, Donald Sutherland’s church restoration in Don’t Look Now – perhaps another influence on Session 9) sent in to clean out asbestos (perhaps a metaphor for the collective and dangers skeletons in the closet) but dealing with the strange, and hallucinatory evil of a place. Now where Session 9 fails is actually on aesthetics, it being shot at the dawn on HD-Digital filmmaking, everything looks quite ‘VIDEO’ and not in the interesting Michael Mann fashion or the invisible David Fincher mode, but rather rendering their Gothic asylum as a mundane, paint-peeling office building. I felt that the primitive video look was a bit of a deal breaker in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, compared to the more handsome and aggressive cinematography and editing in 28 Weeks Later, but that is another, familiar argument in these parts) Still, watching Peter Mullan (an underrated character actor if there ever was one!) melt down by the stress of his job and his bickering crew is a solid tension builder, but the cross cutting of psychiatric evaluation tapes of a schizophrenic former patient, and strained domestic home-life scenes of Mullan’s young family work like gangbusters in association. And maybe that is the key, some sort of overriding association of the mundane and the supernatural (like say relaxing beach holiday and large man-eating sharks?) that makes a slow-burner, even austere, horror movie click in such a way to make them a heck-of-a-lot more rewatchable than the more manic entries in the field.