Do You Have to Like the Horror Heroine?

So I just watched Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and whilst it is a tour de force of cinema, genuinely fantastic – I have never been so frustrated with a protagonist before.

This is something I have been thinking about for a while. One of my housemate’s made a comment about sympathizing with the hero of a horror film, but to be honest I’m not so sure that’s true. So, I am attempting to investigate…

(SPOILERS)

I think there has to be something slightly ‘unlikable’ about a horror character, even one that survives. I would argue with all certainty that the ones who are killed off contain less than desirable traits – think of Laurie’s friends in Halloween (1978) not only do they ditch the children they are supposed to be looking after, but they disrespect Laurie’s feelings by mocking her and use her goodwill to get her to avoid their own responsibilities (Hollywood’s typical view on teenagers). How remorseful are we, when they are inevitably killed?

Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), on the whole, is a pretty likable character, but lets look at the ‘Final Girls’ (Carol Clover’s term) in other slasher films. Sally (Marilyn Burns) from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is an interesting one. Unlike Laurie, who fits Clover description of a ‘boyish’ and sexless female – which is why she survives – Sally isn’t. She is linked to her boyfriend from the start, she is not boyish )wear a bra for goodness sake!) and she lacks any maternal coding either: her relationship with her brother is strained, and he dies whilst with her. Crucially, for Sally, is she is perhaps the ultimate ‘Scream Queen’. How much can you actually empathize with someone who screams for 30 minutes? Are we pleased when she escapes to fight another day – potentially, star in another film, though Burn’s didn’t actually turn up again – or are we only pleased because that’s how we should feel. Whilst we are not overly sympathetic towards Leatherface, twirling in the sunlight with his chainsaw, I don’t think we are completely bereft of feeling towards him. Unlike the other characters, Leatherface has no dialogue, no way to express that what he knows is doing is wrong or if it all he knows? To the family, he is an animal. Regardless, as spectators we know that we should sympathise with Sally, who has done nothing wrong, and dislike Leatherface who has been trying to kill her. But, as I have been attempting to convey, the coding of these characters is not necessarily Sally = good, Leatherface = bad. Indeed, perhaps we are only pleased that Sally escapes, because the screaming can finally stop (although, this would have happened if she were killed also…)

More likable than Sally?

Thus, I reiterate, there is usually something a little unlikable about the protagonist – perhaps something that implies that they in some way deserve what they get, but they are not as bad as the others and therefore don’t deserve to die. Alice in Friday the 13th (1980), is also frustratingly naive and by no means a sexless goody-two-shoes like Laurie. Again, I found myself slightly distanced from her, perhaps in a way that suggests I needed to be ready to watch her run around screaming, but not feel to attached. If anything, I think Mrs Voorhees, whilst obviously the villain, had more backstory to her.

This is the crux of it – the characters are one dimensional. You don’t need to know their backstory, you’re here to watch them scream and fight for their lives. Laurie, the most sympathetic character, has no family (her father is mentioned briefly), she has no obvious goals, she is studious – a stereotype. Perhaps we sympathize with her in comparison to her friends? In fact, I think it could be argued that the heroine of the Slasher film is the ‘least worst’ girl. She doesn’t survive because we especially sympathize with her – we have to be detached enough to watch her get hurt – but the others are worse, and that is why Laurie, and Sally, and Alice can survive.

Laurie defends herself in Halloween

Returning now, to the start of this post: Rosemary’s Baby – not a slasher film, a psychological horror –  but also featuring, I would argue, a frustrating protagonist. Rosemary shares the traits of a Female Gothic protagonist, a paranoid female at the centre of a setting where everything/everyone is seemingly against her. The paranoid female becomes increasingly more hysterical, and increasingly more irritating, think Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Mia Farrow is fantastic, but Rosemary’s recurrent naivete – despite all that she knows and assumes, becomes frustrating, and arguably a barrier to sympathy. Whilst it is clear Rosemary tries to break out of the clutches of her satanic neighbors, it is always undercut – so, she stops taking the drink, but when the pain stops probably because she’s stopped having the drink she continues and this type of scenario repeats. I realize i’m probably being a little harsh – she was confused and dependent upon her husband, and unlike in the UK Doctor’s are expensive in the US, but honestly, if you have been in pain during your pregnancy for so long – regardless of if it is the spawn of Satan or not – pay the money, get an second opinion. Perhaps don’t spout off about witches though.

The main problem with Rosemary’s paranoid cycle comes n the last twenty minutes of the film, where, frankly, she should know better. I don’t buy the scene where she falls asleep in the Doctor’s office – why didn’t she make him actually check the baby/pills etc. rather than handing him some books on Witches like a weirdo.. Equally, post-birth, she is still accepting of they tell her, and continues to take pills they are giving her (WHY?!), trusting their word when they say they cannot hear a baby when she can. This is where I got frustrated, this is a horror protagonist who has actually learned nothing at all throughout the film. She becomes unbelievably naive at this point, which is where my disconnection with her as a sympathetic protagonist started to kick in.

And finally, most crucially – why does she not use the knife in the final scene? In comparison to the previous films I discussed where all of the ‘Final Girls’ obtain the knife/gun/phallic object and utilise it to defend themselves – Rosemary does nothing. And again, this is a different type of horror film, but I think the sense of the female heroine is comparable. A sticking point for me is – why does she not kill the baby? It isn’t human, that is made clear. I genuinely don’t understand.

Like the Slasher films, there is a disconnect from our Final Girl, Rosemary, who makes it through against all odds (though, unlike the Slasher film, she is stupid enough that if the Witches really wanted to kill her, they could’ve considering she just eats whatever they give her and accepts whatever side-effects she gets!). I wonder if, without the final section of the film, I would have been more sympathetic to her and her paranoia. With all female Gothic texts, there comes a point where the paranoia becomes too much, however, unlike Rebecca, there is no final reconciliation and defeating of the monster which makes up for sitting through two hours of histrionics. Rosemary’s refusal to fight, or indeed, rectify the wrong at the end is what makes her frustrating (though, maybe not to people who are mothers. I don’t know if part of this disconnect is the fact that I have never been pregnant). A question to ponder: how would the ending have been different if she has killed the baby at the end?

Should she do it?

Therefore, I continue to believe that in order to accept the wrongs being done to them the audience must be detached from the main character in some way. There has to be a disconnect – perhaps the disconnect from Rosemary is in order for us to feel completely alienated by her in the end. In the Slasher film, the final girl is ‘mostly’ good, enough for us to want her to survive, but also balanced so we are not distraught when she inevitably gets hurt – this is not a melodrama, I don’t believe we are supposed to be invested in the same way – the audience is supposed to jump, not get their feelings hurt.

I was going to carry on, and talk about how you can like the Monster also, but this post has become, ahem, a monster and I felt I ought to split it into two – another post coming soon. If anyone does genuinely read this blog, please give me a comment with your opinion – would love to hear some more views on this.

(All thoughts are my own, with very little research. I mention Carol Clover’s seminal text “Her Body, Himself” in her book Men Women and Chainsaws, Princeton University Press, 1992.)

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Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

So, my housemates and I hurried along to see the new Kung Fu Panda film. Being a house of high brow intellectuals, we were the first ones there on opening night, much to the chagrin of my fellow film students. Here are my thoughts on the finale (?) of the Kung Fu Panda trilogy…

In this film, Po (Jack Black) now comfortable in his role as the Dragon Warrior becomes united with his fellow Pandas, and must go on a quest to find who he truly is… (moral heavy – handedness ahead folks, it is a children’s film…). Meanwhile, Master Oogway’s (Randall Duk Kim) former partner Kai (J.K Simmons) returns from the underworld to steal all of the powers (chi) from the Kung Fu Masters in China. Po must master his chi, and discover who he is, within this 95-minute film, in order to defeat him and save China… will he fulfill the prophecy?

SPOILERS AHOY

The major problem with this film, is its abruptness. The previous film set up a really interesting plot line with the discovery of Po’s past, leading to the need to rediscover the Pandas. However, I was surprised when Po’s father appeared (apropos of nothing) alarmingly early in the film. Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston, who seems to have returned back to his comedy work after a brief interlude as a drug lord) magically appears to Po in the noodle shop after the universe has called him there. Whilst it is suggested that we should laugh at this “universe mail”, I found it disappointing that there wasn’t more focus on Po ‘finding himself’ in reuniting with this father (as, perhaps, in traditional Kung Fu stories) and instead this potential narrative is removed entirely – it almost feels like I am deprived something as a spectator by not being allowed to share in Po’s rediscovery of his family in a satisfying and cathartic manner. The reunion is glossed over, and we move on.

As always in Childen’s film, there is a moral. The moral stance of the film, is, as always, to be yourself. Fine. And this message, as expected comes from Po’s need to reconcile all aspects of himself. Also fine. nothing groundbreaking, aid on with a trowel, as expected, but perfectly acceptable. The only irritation I found was that the story of the Pandas, which was set up so well in the last film was not explored (maybe it didn’t need to be after the last film? I haven’t watched it in a while). The Panda segments were enjoyable, and the baby pandas were FRICKEN ADORABLE ICAN’TEVEN but rather than being a central plot point, the pandas are kind of irrelevant until the end, which is a shame.

The film does explore the tension between Po’s adopted father and Po’s biological father. A homage to the ‘new’ modern family, which, though obvious is not unwelcome and I am glad that kids film has finally addressed it. I do find this plot line a little unnecessary, and I wish they had focused more on Po’s journey in the way I feel like they implied (going out to discover the Panda’s and eventually reconciling) rather than the focus on the fathers in a ‘let’s all get along’ type of way, but it serves its purpose. On a side note, Mr Ping (James Hong, Po’s adopted goose father) is probably my favourite character in the series.

Mr Ping, the real hero… ❤

Po’s reconciliation (which does happen – just not in the way I was anticipating) and fight with Kai, features a genuinely moving moment where his fellow Pandas help him, and they too, rediscover their chi. My housemates laughed at me, but I did think this moment was effective and I enjoyed it as a moment of catharsis in the film. The following fight sequence with Po as his ‘ultimate self’ was also well done. Cliche (obviously) but an interesting and satisfying climax narratively, and in terms of the art techniques deployed throughout the film (more on this later).

Kai, as a villain, was quite good. I though he looked cool (as silly as that sounds) although the film wasn’t really about him – he was necessary so as to provide an antagonist. One of my housemate’s though it would have been more impressive if there would have been visible changes with each chi he took – so, for example, you would be able to see what powers he had gained. I take his point, but you do see that once he  has the powers he utilises each new chi in his army of ‘Jombies’ (Jade zombies) – which were pretty cool. Kai is hardly a ‘Claudius’ to Po’s ‘Hamlet’ but again, he serves his purpose. On the whole, I think Shen (the Gary Oldman Peacock) was a better villain because he was just pure evil.

Jombies



The art style in the film was the most experimental it has been in any of the trilogy. As in the second film, the use of the ‘animated scroll’ was reinstated to talk about Po and Master Oogway’s pasts, and about the Pandas, which helped create some narrative continuity – and also beautiful to watch. The filmmakers also used some interesting experiments with aspect ratio and split screen, in a very Tarantino-esque way, which was really interesting to watch and only served to further the intertextuality the films show with other traditional Kung Fu/Fighting films. These are the sort of techniques which you can simply watch and enjoy,or make connections with other references and enjoy all the more. As the film reaches the climax, and Po does fulfill the prophecy there’s a wonderful moment where the normal art style of the film shifts to the 2D and sharp shadows of the prophecy segments in the previous films, and it is a really wonderful visual moment of completion which, although more subtle, I think rivals the change made in The Wizard of Oz with the movement from monochrome to technicolor. It is a fantastic use of film form to signify change. The art in all of the Kung Fu Panda’s has been really good, and this one was no exception – perhaps a little too much experimentation with form? But that’s a weak criticism, and its always so nice to see someone actually do something a little different, even if it is a pastiche, that I won’t complain.

A criticism I will bring up is that I feel this was the least funny of the trilogy. The characters/actors seemed too settled into their roles, to the point where they have become stereotypes of themselves rather than stereotypes of others. This resulted in a few of the jokes and quips coming across as flat and forced. There was nothing that made me truly laugh but I did chuckle all the way through. The guy behind me, however, thought it was hysterical – so, it’s all a matter of opinion. (Note: I recall in the second film, Po attempting to do a speech to Shen, and the gag was that he was too far away to hear. I remember crying with laughter over this, and there was nothing that made me do that in the third one. See below.).

Finally, the film concludes with a musical number, (I now have ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ stuck in my head). A nice way to end the series and a true reminder that for all of my criticisms, this is a children’s film, and I do think it will be enjoyed. The narrative seems fairly well rounded off, so I wonder if there will be another sequel in the works, or if it will now be relegated to a Netflix spin-off series. I hope they leave it as it is, Po’s story arc is complete, though it may have been a little lacklustre in places. Please, DreamWorks, leave it be…

Overall, it was a fun film, if not as good as it’s predecessors – the curse of all sequels. I would give it 7/10 for general enjoyment.

Now, we await the new Ice Age (groan)….

Empties – Rimmel Exaggerate Lipliner in Eastend Snob

So, I hate watching long empties videos – I think it is ridiculous to look through other people’s rubbish. Howver, i do think that finishin g a product gives you a definitive feeling of whether or not you liked it. Therefore, as I finish products I will write mini reviews on each one.

So, without further ado, I finished the Rimmel Exaggerate Lipliner in Eastend Snob…

I have several feelings on the subject – this is a product I have had for years, but rarely used. However, after a few weeks of using the product I ran out fairly rapidly, suggesting that actually there isn’t much product actually in the pencil.

I do, however, like the fact that this is a twist up pencil. I, without fail, always ruin liners by sharpening them – i don’t even know how I do it! Therefore, the fact that this does not require a massacre by pencil sharpener, is a definite plus.

In terms of the colour: it is pretty, and paired with a clear gloss, it creates a nice custom lip gloss (which I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago), however, I do feel like it is perhaps a little too pink. This is completely subjective, and obviously preferential, but at the moment, I am definitely into more brown based colours.

Overall, I can definitely see myself buying this again as it is a good product, and a nice shade. I would definitely look into getting different colours as well.

Note: these types of ‘reviews’ are still in flux, but are likely to be more anecdotal than an in depth review.