In the previous post on the subject of short horror films, I took some time out to gripe about short horror films that don’t even bother to tell a complete story, but instead start and end with (an often quite thin) premise. I wrapped that post up by sharing one of my favorite horror shorts, which actually features a full story, and as such has room enough to also give us at least one legitimate character, who undergoes about as much of an “arc” (something that, admittedly, I find a bit overrated these days in storytelling, but that’s something for another day) as one can in a 9-minute movie.
This leads me to the 2nd flaw I feel is hindering too many horror short films…
No Characters, Just Actors
In the prior entry, I referred laid out the following scenario for a story-less short horror flick:
“Undistinguished person X encounters some sort of inexplicable ghostly phenomenon, experiences an escalation of the threat posed by said phenomenon, then succumbs to said phenomenon. Cue credits.”
Undistinguished Person X, played by Actor Given Very Little to Work With, is a pseudo-protagonist who appears in several weaker short horror flicks. They are present solely to see something ostensibly scary, react to it, and possibly be killed by it, or left “presumed killed” by it off-screen. They are as generic, unimportant and forgettable as a character can be, so much so that they only qualify as a character in the strictest technical terms. They have no actual character or notable, defining traits or ambitions or qualities unto themselves.
The time constraints of a short film can understandably present a challenge to a filmmaker when it comes to crafting a half-decent, legitimate character. This is especially true with certain super-short horror flicks that last maybe 2 minutes or less from opening moment to closing credits. This same challenge can be overridden more easily in literary flash fiction because it can only take a few sentences to put you directly into the mind of the character, or give the reader information about someone that would be more clumsily delivered via film. 1 But you certainly don’t need an internal monologue or even dialogue to elevate people in a short film from mere participants to characters.
I’m probably cheating for my positive example of character work in a short film here, since the clip below is a game trailer, but it works perfectly as a short film nonetheless, and eschews dialogue in favor of other tools available to filmmakers to make us feel for the people caught up in the horror that surrounds them. Even though the action is presented in reverse, and I know how it must end, by the end of the video, I still find myself pulling for these characters to make it somehow.
When discussing horror stories, very few things (if any) irk me more than people being so scared of (or having such disdain for) the dreaded “h-word” that they try to re-categorize a successful horror story. The wild financial success of It has put it in the crosshairs of horror-haters who apparently want to christen it a thriller or even a drama so as not to give credit to any movie associated with that dann h-word. Brian Collins at Birth.Movies.Death rails against this as well as I ever could, so I’m gonna go ahead and leave a link to his article here. Suffice to say, I couldn’t agree more with everything he has to say.
Recently, IMDb shared their 70 favorite foreign posters for horror movies. Even people with a casual interest in movie posters are probably aware that the foreign version of a movie poster are, if nothing else, often weirder and more curious than what we end up with stateside. I wouldn’t say that the Hungarian poster for Star Wars is better than the classic original, for instance, but it’s certainly memorable in its own very different way.
While IMDb’s list is fun and interesting, I’m pretty sure that the number 70 is entirely arbitrary. There are plenty of great choices here, but the list could probably stand some trimming. Some of the posters are almost identical to the original Hollywood poster, with the biggest difference being the language for the title, tagline and credits. Some are pretty good, but just didn’t stand out to me, or just didn’t strike me as terribly effective horror movie posters. And while the syntactically ambiguous “Foreign Horror Movie Posters We Love” title leaves the IMDb list open to include posters for foreign-horror movies, I think it’s more interesting (or at least consistent) to just look at the foreign-version of posters for “non-foreign” (aka, U.S. and English) horror flicks.
As a poster / cover-art dilettante and unknown horror author who very infrequently blogs about the subject of horror, I’m surely the ideal person to undertake the aforementioned trimming. Below you will find one man’s subjective list of what’s best from an already subject larger list of what’s best. 1
I am always eager to enjoy every short horror film that catches my interest. Whether the title grabs me, or the short description of the story, or the endorsement of a website or reviewer or friend whose tastes I generally trust, or a recognizable name behind or in front of the camera, if a short film gets me to click the “play” button, it has me ready to meet it halfway toward thinking it was pretty good.
Despite this, too many short horror movies lose me by the ending. Sometimes well before, despite the abbreviated run time.
I feel I must emphasize that I’m saying “too many.” Not most. I haven’t watched all short horror films there are in the world, so I wouldn’t be able to accurately make a statement about “most” of them even if I wanted to. I’m not even saying “many,” merely “too many,” which is, of course, subjective and relative. For instance, one punch connecting with my chin would be, from my perspective, one too many, whereas a dozen total punches landing in a twelve-round boxing match between two other people wouldn’t strike me as very many at all. Too few, in fact.
With that in mind, when I say “too many” horror shorts are afflicted with the problems I’ll be diving into in the next three posts, I’m saying that these problems are popping up in enough of these flicks to begin to drain my enthusiasm for short horror movies. Because instead of clicking play and solely being eager to enjoy what I’m about to watch, there’s a small part of me preoccupied with anticipating the pitfalls I’ve seen time and time and time again.
Let’s begin with probably the most fundamental element of storytelling, having a story to tell.
All Premise, No Story
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”
So goes the infamous “shortest horror story ever written,” Frederic Brown’s “Knock”. Except that’s not really the entirety of Brown’s story, just the most famous lines, which happen to bookend the tale. Many people do consider those two sentences a complete flash-fiction story on their own though, and while I’ve never been sold on it completely, I won’t go so far as to disagree. It has a protagonist (last person on Earth, survivor in the post-apocalypse, likely resourceful, probably very lonely), it has a setting (the room which has a closed door and is likely the man’s sanctuary, at least in the moment), it hints at a background (whatever reduced the global population to one), and at least suggests a potential conflict, drama, or development courtesy of the knock on the door (coming from, presumably, an unexpected fellow survivor, or the thing responsible for killing every other person). It does probably leave many readers wondering, “And then what?”, but that’s a question that could be asked of virtually any modern story of any length ever told, regardless of how satisfying and complete its ending may be. That’s why some old fairy tales used to end with, “And they lived happily ever after,” to try to kill off that question.
It’s possible, then–though difficult–to tell an ultra-succinct story that’s barely more than a premise and leaves your audience wondering, “And then what?” But if you tell an ultra-succinct story that’s barely more than a premise and leaves your audience thinking, “Why, and how, and what, and where and who?”, there’s a chance you didn’t actually tell a story. You shared a formative premise. You’ve filmed a the beginnings of an idea.
Here’s a small test: ask yourself if your short film would pass for a satisfactory story if told to a bunch of elementary school kids around a campfire? Or would it, instead, come off like so: “There was a woman who lived in a house. And then one day, she saw a ghost. But when she looked away, the ghost wasn’t there. But when she looked again, the ghost was there again! But closer! But when she looked away, the ghost was gone again. But when she looked back, it was right in her face! And then I think she died! The end.”
In short horror films, this is often the tale that gets spun. Undistinguished person X encounters some sort of inexplicable ghostly phenomenon, experiences an escalation of the threat posed by said phenomenon, then succumbs to said phenomenon. Cue credits. Often this unknown person has all of this happen to them suddenly in their home, which shows no signs of a recent move or anything else that would hint at the cause of a spirit or demon or what have you just randomly appearing in the house. Instead, the way it’s presented in the film, it just looks like this person’s been living here years with no problems, and then out of nowhere, “Oh shit, there’s something scary in the kitchen!”
I’ve stated elsewhere on this site that I’m a fan of ambiguity in horror fiction, but there’s a significant difference between a story that leaves some things unexplained, and a “story” that feels like the unfinished notes that should precede a first draft.
Granted, this is a challenge intrinsic to the short film format. Even the most anemically plotted feature-length film is all but forced to tell an actual story due to its length, even if it does so poorly. Short literature, meanwhile, can more easily bypass the “show, don’t tell” rule (which isn’t really a rule) of fiction. See the above story, “Knock.” Try to picture a film trying to match its brevity without resorting to narration.
Now, I’m not usually fond of bashing someone else’s work, particularly the work of aspiring artists who are behind most short films. So instead of singling out and sharing what I think is an example of bad storytelling in short film horror, I’m going to share what I think is an example of good, complete storytelling, The Maiden.
Again, in case someone’s mostly skimming through this and might have missed it in the preceding paragraph, the short film below is an example of good horror storytelling in a short film.
It’s not perfect, but it is a complete story, despite the questions deliberately left unanswered. There are some ultra-short horror films that would have cut off at the 45-second mark because they only exist to show off the cool effect that the director can’t wait to show off. Here it is merely, properly, prologue. Because it tells a full story, it has room for more than one scare, and thus isn’t simply an impatient exercise in trying to execute one big payoff. It even has room for humor and actual character motivation, the latter of which I’ll be spending more time on in the next post.
The film adaptation of Peter Straub’s novel is unsurprisingly simplified in comparison to its source material. While it has its moments, including a fairly well executed and suitably gruesome climactic reveal, and Alice Krige is pretty magnificent in it, it also has more than its share of corny scenes doomed by bad shot selection, or oversold acting, or questionable (even unnecessary) dialogue. There’s an opening scene featuring a man plummeting to his death that’s laughable even by 1981’s “We’re still sketchy on how best to execute believable falling scenes” standards. A later scene of someone falling off a bridge ends with the same clumsy impact seen when a character takes a dive in Les Miserables thirty-one years later. Apparently, in this one very, very specific area, we haven’t collectively learned much in the past three decades.
All of that out of the way, I’ve nonetheless always liked the trailer for Ghost Story. From the opening micro-monologue (which is one of the few elements that is even more effective in the movie than it is in the trailer), to every glimpse and hint it gives us of something horrific waiting to be seen, to the effectively mysterious tagline, it does a good job of selling the film.
Not too much to say beyond what’s in the title of the post. I’m glad to see (or hear, rather) that this trailer didn’t use some slowed town, sobered up, somber, twisted, chopped-&-screwed, or otherwise tortured cover version of the song “Proud Mary.” If you’re not too good to use the name, you’re not too good to use the song, and the trailer’s creators recognize this, so bravo to them for that. Beyond that, the trailer is edited well (including a nice bit using diegetic sounds to replace Tina Turner’s vocals) and is solid enough for an action movie trailer.
The poster, though? It’s just lovely. I might love it a little too much, the way a famished person might oversell how tasty a reasonably good sandwich actually is. I hate to think I’m merely giving this poster credit for not being some clumsily Photoshopped garbage.
Quality official movie posters for major releases should not be the anomalies they sometimes seem to be. There are amateurs who crank out fine looking movie posters for free. Why, then, do so many modern, professionally made posters look like crappy afterthoughts cranked out 30-minutes before they were due to go to print?
Micro-rant over: this poster looks great. It sets the tone, it pops visually, it isn’t concerned with selling the face of the star to its potential audience at the expense of selling the character. It’s simple, but effective. The tagline is a little corny, but that’s a nitpick. This poster plays, and I’m all in on Proud Mary.
The recent box-office disappointment Rough Night drew obvious comparisons to the movie Very Bad Things given the shared premise of “accidental killing of stripper/sex worker leads to cover-up and further criminal behavior.” In speaking of Very Bad Things, several of the film’s detractors have pointed to just how vile and insufferable the characters were. Sure, it’s a dark comedy/thriller, so at least some of its characters are expected to be criminals. And it’s far, far, far from being the first or only movie whose primary characters are unsympathetic, selfish and even murderous assholes. And while there are certain people who are just never going to be on board with watching or reading a story featuring “unlikable” unsympathetic characters, there are many others (like me) who find such stories interesting, provided that the story is, well, interesting, and provided that the unlikable characters aren’t utterly insufferable.
So what is it about the characters in a movie like Very Bad Things that pushes their vileness over the top? Are their actions simply that deplorable? Does the story just fail them to such an extreme degree that they can’t be redeemed? In my opinion, the answer to the last two questions is “no.” The problem with most of the characters in Very Bad Things is that they don’t show the capacity to care for anyone at all other than themselves. The simple solution, then, is to give them at least the smallest sign that they are capable of caring. They can still be horrible, mostly hateful people, but showing that they have even an ounce of compassion for at least one other person can go a long way toward making them more palatable.
Examples of this can be found in more stories than I can hope to count. Pulp Fiction primarily follows the happenings of two homicidal hitmen who are very casual about killing innocent people, but they also seem to have a genuine friendship even early on in the movie. It makes them easier to get along with from an audience perspective, because even though they may argue, they generally get along with each other. Sticking with Tarantino, Mr. Pink and Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs develop a bond that carries them through a botched robbery, mortal injury, distrust and conflict and betrayals, right up until the final emotional revelation.
Branching out into other crime stories starring villainous protagonists, the main trio of violent asshole gangsters in Goodfellas start off with a strong bond, and the deterioration of the bond due to greed, impulsive behavior and drug abuse is a core element of the story. O-Dog in Menace II Society is a monstrous, murderous lunatic, but he legitimately cares about his friend Cain. Scarface, of course, is focused on the rise and fall of an ambitious madman, but he does love his sister (albeit to an unhealthy and potentially unsavory degree) and his friend Manny. He even has compassion for strangers, given his personal code of not killing women or children. His care for other people and his emotional immaturity related to that caring are crucial components to his eventual downfall. Harold Shand, the bulldog bastard of a crime boss in The Long Good Friday, is a cruel, vicious hothead, but manages to muster some affection and even a sincere apology for his lady, Victoria. Going back farther, even the psychotic Cody Jarrett from White Heat loved the hell out of his mother.
But those are all dramatic films. What of a dark comedy, like Very Bad Things? The best contemporary example I can think of is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a television show centered on a group of awful people being consistently awful to one another and to anyone else unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Granted, humor is subjective, and part of Sunny‘s success hinges on whether or not you find the show funny, but even with that in mind, the show’s writers and creators are aware of the importance of showing that even despicable people need show signs of caring for others once every blue moon. Sunny has multiple examples throughout its long run of the gang rallying to actually do something nice or to be there for one their own (“Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats”, “Dee Gives Birth”) or simply enjoying each other’s company (“A Very Sunny Christmas”, “Mac and Charlie: White Trash”). To be sure, they are still all manipulative, selfish, horrible assholes who are frighteningly proficient at ruining lives, and none of the examples of them being temporarily decent human beings redeems them in any way, but it does make them tolerable and show that they at least have the capacity–however limited–to be selfless and, dare I say, even loving.
All of this to make one simple point: if your protagonist is a horrible person, they needn’t be thoroughly horrible. And perhaps the easiest way to keep an unlikable character from being too intolerably irritating to bother with is to simply show that there’s at least one person in their world that they care about as much as they care about themselves.
Some rivalries are built and strengthened by the opponents being perfect opposites, but others are memorable because the enemies reflect each other a little too closely for comfort. Doc Holliday spells it out for us during the famous first encounter he has with Johnny Ringo in Tombstone; here is a man who reminds him of himself, and for that reason alone, a drunken Holliday decides to despise him. When Ringo exhibits a knowledge of Latin that matches Holliday’s, Doc declares, “Now I really hate him.”
The men are very similar and it shows up on screen. Sometimes we’re simply told that two characters are or were similar in some fashion, but we’re given scant evidence of it. In Carlito’s Way, for example, one character scolds the older Carlito that brash, upstart Bennie Blanco (from the Bronx) is just a younger version of Carlito, to which the more seasoned gangster responds, “Never me.” It’s an example of how sometimes telling isn’t always necessarily worse than showing (a flashback would be cumbersome and disrupt the movie’s momentum), but it’s still something that we never get to visualize. Not so with Tombstone. The confrontation in the video above efficiently illustrates how Ringo and Holliday mirror one another. It also shows us where they differ.
One reason why Val Kilmer is rightly praised for his magnetic turn as Holliday is that he makes a murderous, borderline-psychopathic asshole likable. He almost certainly cheats at cards (“twelve hands in a row”? Ike’s right, nobody’s that lucky), taunts you for losing your money to his cheating ways, baits you into reacting and shivs you for it, nonchalantly robs the place his way out, then skips town with his lady (who prepared for their getaway ahead of time). He’s a scoundrel at best, a bloodthirsty, opportunistic murderer at worst. “Bloodthirsty murderer” is also an apt description of Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo. But Doc is also charming and witty, and he’s friends with the hero, so we like him. He’s also more confident, so he doesn’t have to posture aggressively the same way Ringo does (you can take “posture aggressively” literally in the scene above, where Ringo stands ready to draw, and Holliday remains calm with a drink in his hand).
Doc is a casual gardener of trouble, sowing it and inviting it to grow just to give himself something to do. Johnny Ringo is a compulsive carpenter of trouble. If he’s not building it, he feels lost.
Holliday also has a twisted sense of humor, whereas Ringo has none at all. Kilmer’s Holliday appears to see life and death as a bit of a joke. He knows he’s quick and great with a gun, and that his skills still won’t help him combat the brutal illness that’s consuming his life day by day. So he’s carefree about life-and-death matters in a way other men aren’t. He’s willing to “play for blood” in a shootout with a thoroughly drunken Ringo, but he doesn’t care about playing fair; he already has his gun drawn and hidden behind his back. Not only does he cheat at cards, he cheats at duels when he sees fit. Notice Doc’s slight grin as he tries to lure Ringo into a rash decision and hasty death.
Johnny Ringo lacks Holliday’s self-awareness. When Holliday says that a man like Ringo is “has got a great big hole right in the middle of him,” he’s speaking of himself as well. Granted, we spend more time with Holliday, but we get enough time with Ringo to understand that he doesn’t understand himself, doesn’t grasp what makes him so miserable and prone to violence. Holliday, conversely, knows and speaks of his own hypocrisy, he knows that Kate is using him and may be “the Antichrist,” and, in a heartbreaking, wonderful moment, he knows that he frankly hasn’t led a life that’s won him many friends.
Ringo is equally loyal to his few friends, even though he isn’t emotionally capable of articulating it the way Doc is. In the scene where he calls for the blood and souls of the Earps, he’s drunk for the only time in the movie. It’s no coincidence that this is on the heels of his friends in the Cowboys gang dying during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. At no other time in the film is Johnny up for the Cowboys’ drunken debauchery. In fact, Ringo abstains from any vices besides killing. He’ll shoot a priest dead, to the shock of his fellow Cowboys, but he never chases women, doesn’t play cards and almost never drinks. Only when his friends have been killed–when he wasn’t there to use his expertise to help them–does Ringo seek solace in liquor.
The “hole” in Ringo’s life isn’t that much bigger than Holliday’s, Doc just realizes something is missing and therefore does something about it. While Ringo “can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain” to fill that space, Doc can at least partially quell his emptiness through booze, gambling, women, gunslinging, and an undying devotion to his one true friend. Ringo, intelligent but ignorant of himself and utterly joyless, avoids pleasure and seeks only death, but even that can’t come close to evening him out.
Ringo is also too reliant on having others see him as a man who’s too dangerous to be stood up to. Even Wyatt, brave as he is, conceded to Doc that he couldn’t beat Ringo in a gunfight, which is what prompted Doc to intervene. When Doc–a man who does not see Ringo as a Reaper, but just as a dead man walking, same as himself–shows up and says he wants to finish their game of “playing for blood,” Ringo says he was only joking.
“I wasn’t,” Doc says. And Ringo’s face turns from stone to this…
He’s afraid and confused. While Ringo chases death and wants “revenge [for] being born,” he doesn’t really want to die, and he really doesn’t want to be in this situation that he cannot control. Holliday, meanwhile, sports the same relaxed grin prior to their duel that he was wearing when telling Wyatt he was “rolling” with success, or observing that Kate wasn’t wearing a bustle, or when he proudly proclaimed to Ringo in their first meeting that he is in his prime.
When Holliday lands the fatal shot in their duel, he goads Ringo into getting a shot off of his own, and you get the sense that he’s sincere. Doc’s illness has condemned him to an early grave regardless of how he lives, and he’s well aware of this. When he senses his time is coming, he’s only distressed at the thought of Wyatt watching him pass. When Wyatt leaves the room, Holliday makes a final, calm comment observing that he’s dying with his boots off, and then he dies without much stress.
In the end, the result of this rivalry–predictable as it may be for a crowd-pleasing Western–is foreshadowed by that first confrontation. There is Doc Holliday, the casual gardener, and Johnny Ringo, the compulsive carpenter. The cool improviser, and the impulsive controller. Two men with similar talents and a similar blood lust, but a few crucial difference. Ringo instigates trouble because he must be in control–or at least feel that he is in control–and must keep up appearances as the baddest man in the room. He needs others to see him a certain way. Doc invites trouble and simply takes things as they come, and doesn’t much care what most others think of him. Ringo shows off his (probably rehearsed) gun-twirling tricks for the crowd to show everyone he’s a bad, bad man, and Doc makes a joke of it, because he’s savvy and wants to deescalate the situation for the sake of his friends, but also because he doesn’t care if anyone else thinks he’s a bad, bad man. He knows who and what he is.
And when the insecure man who must control trouble is confronted by an uncontrollable variable he wasn’t prepared for–Doc showing up for a duel before Wyatt could arrive–well, his fear is so apparent that his rival can see the ghost in him, and truthfully tells him that he looks as though someone’s walked over his soon-to-be-dug grave.
I’m a sucker for a certain level of audaciousness, and the premise of Body Parts has audacity in spades. It belongs to the “possessed limbs” sub-sub-genre of horror. While “posessed arms/hands” are most memorably used to mine gruesome humor from a horror story, Body Parts, is entirely oblivious to its ludicrousness, as you can see in the trailer below.
The most famous “killer arm/hand” in horror cinema history probably belonged to Ash in Evil Dead II, and its presence was played for gruesome laughs. The most famous in movie history of any genre might belong to Dr. Strangelove, where it was also a comedic device. Body Parts said to Hell with that, and the result is captivating enough to almost be mistaken for effective.
Jeff Fahey, ever-watchable and as indefinably suspicious-looking as ever, puts in an overqualified performance as a man who gets into a violent car accident that causes him to lose an arm. Fortunately, he’s given an impossible arm transplant. Unfortunately, said arm was involuntarily donated by a serial killer, and despite the assurances of Fahey’s wife, Kim Delaney, that he has the killer’s arm, but “[not] his personality,” this innocent, ordinary man finds himself plagued with visions of the killer’s acts and becoming increasingly (and involuntarily) violent.
If you told someone with no knowledge of the movie and actors that this was a parody trailer released within the last few years, I think there’s a good chance that they would believe you, and find it perhaps the best example of its kind. There are some risible lines here that are delivered so well they get funnier on repeat viewings. When the surgeon tells Fahey something stunningly obvious (“That arm can’t do anything you don’t want it to.”), he replies, with uncannily believable indignation, “How do you know that?” There’s no overacting or mugging involved when he delivers that line. There is, instead, real emotion; recognizable frustration and concern. This guy really believes that this damned medical professional who performed miracle surgery on him is being too arrogantly dismissive of his impossible accusation.
As great as that moment is, the undisputed apex of the trailer comes later, at the 1:48 mark, with Fahey screaming “I want this arm off!” Again, it’s actually pretty well acted. He delivers the line with conviction; this guy really wants that surgeon to put him back under the knife to lop that arm off. And instead of responding with something along the lines of, “Okay, sir, it’s going to be all right, we’re going to get you some help,” while discreetly pushing an emergency call button to summon some burly orderlies, she says, “Don’t you realize what I and my team have accomplished with that arm?” As if annoyed that he doesn’t appreciate her work. Which is sort of understandable in a vacuum–you could imagine her muttering that to herself after the nurses and/or security has taken down Fahey–but it’s so far removed from a sensible response that it immediately identifies her as the villainous mad doctor in this story who will later drone on about how her macabre experiments are being done for the benefit of all mankind.
Beyond the trailer, the movie itself almost stumbles into an interesting, reverse-engineered-Frankenstein story. Instead of assorted dead parts being assembled to create one living, monstrous body, a living monster is disassembled and his live parts are scattered to be joined to several separate bodies. There’s also a psychological element at play: I imagine being given a serial killer’s hand would be a strange experience, as you’d literally have had a hand in several murders. The old silent film The Hands of Orlac explores this much more capably. With Body Parts, all of these potentially interesting ideas are forsaken so the movie can eventually turn into an early-90’s-thriller take on The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.
I’ve mentioned it on here a time or three, but I’m not automatically averse to remakes. While people speak as though it’s a relatively new blight upon the world of cinema, there is a long, rich tradition of remaking movies in and outside of Hollywood, dating back to at least the 1920’s. Years pass, new technologies come along, new potential audiences come along, you try to update something that came before and, hopefully, make it even better than it was the first time. That last part is usually where the problems come in–when you’re remaking something that was already great, you better have a fantastic take on the material in store, otherwise people are likely to consider your efforts a waste of time at best.
Fortunately for the folks behind the new version of Flatliners, the movie they’re remaking wasn’t great to begin with, but had a premise loaded with potential. Unfortunately for them, this first trailer makes their efforts look like an uninspired waste of time.
I’ve written here before about a work I’ve read that tackles the same idea, and takes it far out into unexpected territory (perhaps too far out). So there’s certainly potential for such a story to be truly memorable. The trailer for this remake looks like it’s more in the vein of forgettable mid-grade work like 2015’s The Lazarus Effect, however. We get some midday hallucinations, a hand-slamming-window jump scare, an unearned scare-sting to accompany the image of the word MURDERER floating at the bottom of a pool in the most standardized office font you can picture. We get Ellen Paige giving us a Blair-Witch-esque weepy recorded confession, and then later we see her getting dragged backwards into the darkness by an unseen force, reminiscent of [Rec]. And look, I know that criticizing a movie for showing us some stuff we’ve seen before elsewhere is a bit foolish–there are no purely original ideas in fiction, after all–but when you’re remaking a movie with this premise, the first impression you make shouldn’t convey that even your execution is bland.
That MURDERER bit really stands out to me for how flavorless it is. It’s the kind of thing that comes off as a misguided effort to be subtle. Take note, when you have a character hallucinate seeing a word–in giant letters–that directly accuses them of something they feel guilty about, you have forsaken all hope of subtlety. Might as well do a Smooth Criminal lean in the other direction and try to make those letters really pop, and make the moment worthy of the scare chord you’re falling back on to sell the moment.
Speaking of the music, I will say that I don’t mind the chanting backing this trailer starting at the 1:45 mark. It’s little too grandiose for what we get, and would be better used in service of a trailer for a giallo flick.