The face of grief. One moment you’re shambling on the best you can, making dinner and sipping wine like you did back before…then the next, you’re reduced to a crumpled ball, a form mimicked in the upset you’re taking out on a photograph of what’s lost. This turbulence seems to be particularly characteristic of when someone with whom you had a tumultuous relationship suddenly dies. Perhaps that’s even more difficult of a scenario than losing your perfect puzzle piece that completed your life image; a scenario in which you know how you are supposed to feel and act. But losing the man who threatened you with the grip of both his fist and his words, instilling the shattering thought of having your boy, who conceptualizes this same man as a walking god, ripped away…that’s a whole other story.
These are some of the themes explored in Seahorse films’ Deadly Intent, which I had the opportunity to preview this past week. After enduring 12 seasons of the American tragedy that is American Horror Story – Hotel, it served as a pleasant reminder of what horror looks like when it contextualizes a typical paranormal tale within the rough tides of everyday experience. When the mystery of the beyond is woven within the horror of the here and now, a perfect storm is created for something a hell of a lot more fulfilling than most other horror I’ve been exposed to this year #wastehertime2016.
While its title sounds like one you would find in the made for TV movie bootleg bin at Wally-World, its depth transcends that of a tired narrative. The relative visual minimalism further enhances the attention the viewer pays to mom, son, and their highly complex relationship with the husband/father of the past who seems to be mysteriously echoing into the present, despite his succumbing to an unspecified war effort (an interesting novelty for a story set in the modern west that’s not hell-bent on hammering in shallow patriotic rhetoric a la Brothers). If anything, *Barbara Evans’ voice* major motion pic-cha Shut In seems much more reminiscent of a Lifetime Movie Network core-shaker. Oh, hey, look, this lady’s love interest is dead in the snow and we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him because he’s really hot. Excuse me while I give my eyes a tour of my frontal lobe.
I would be lying if I said aspects of the story didn’t feel familiar. Remember in The Others when Nicole Kidman bangs the ghost of her husband who was lost in WWII? Or, alternatively, there was that classic in the bowels of Netflix that my sister and I once watched hammered where some lady revives a Civil War soldier that she fucks until things go south when he gets into some shit at the local dive. In other words, the dead soldier coming back and shaking up some emotional turmoil isn’t a new plot device, but the insights Deadly Intent offers into the human condition remain fresh and relevant by attempting to bridge the gap between the paranormal and the painfully normal, and, well that’s innovative enough for me.
Take, for instance, its exploration of trauma. One pattern I’ve anecdotally witnessed is that it’s often spoken about in such a way that suggests it’s something that can just be wished away via “don’t be a victim” talk and so on. As early as elementary school, I remember being taught the prescribed stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, etc.) as if they were the phases of the moon. In other words, there’s a socially-sanctioned way to deal with tough situations and it doesn’t leave room for instances that aren’t so cut and dry (i.e. when your husband dies so you’re supposed to be sad but he was also kind of an asshole so fuck, now what). As a result, mother, Bryony, struggles to function within this mold as she tries to keep things together as the remaining parent to James. It’s tempting to cast judgement as she reaches for alcohol to cope, but it’s rescinded by the film’s exploration of the cause that stands in place of jumping straight to the effect. In life, we often only encounter addicts at the latter half, leaving our judgement to run from there.
Even the ghost of Steve serves as a symbol of PTSD, which plagued him while he was alive from his former military experience, and ironically continues to plague Bryony in her current life as she remains traumatized from his affliction’s effects. This well-rounded portrait of the disorder is further illustrated by the way the haunt is carried out, with the house intermittently being shaken as if it’s in the midst of an earthquake. Bryony’s sister, Lisa, attempts to help matters by reminding her that she needs to be strong for her son as well as by attributing the spooky happenings to the boy’s alleged clairvoyant power, which she very lovingly tries to help him control. Thus, Lisa serves as the archetype of the well-intentioned family member or friend who struggles to aid a loved one with a mental health issue that lies outside the realm of their full understanding or experience.
And so, after two dramatically oscillating weeks of virtually non-stop horror viewing, I can’t help but wonder what purpose the genre serves aside from the basic entertainment factor that comes with the territory. Whether it’s achieved through atmospheric devices or symbolically woven within the plot, the answer I have seemed to reach is that horror, when executed effectively, helps us make sense of all that’s troubling in the human mind. Although this something may reside in the fringes, it may include issues we encounter everyday but are taught to repress. Shock value can certainly serve this purpose, but it must reach the very edge of the Human Centipede extreme to be effective, which seems to be why efforts like AHS fall short.
Consequently, I see the purpose of what I do here as being enhancing my connection to myself and all those around me. If my Facebook memories are steering me correctly, I have been a part of the Graveyard team for a year now, and having the honor and pleasure of working out my thoughts on a weekly basis to a collection of really awesome, thoughtful people has proved to be one of my most fulfilling feats. Thank you to all of you that are still reading this shit – truly. I’ve gone from a thot princess with brown hair and wonky eyebrows to a thirsty tattooed Priscilla Presley, and I’m super #blessed to say that I have people in my life like Ms. Robin McBlackgoat who have accepted me through it all.
I’m going to have sign off because I’m supposed to be a plane to the West Coast like riiight now, but I just want to reiterate how thankful I am to have an artistic medium like this one. Follow your dreams, kids. Bail on that overpriced grad program and go photograph a Gwar show. You won’t regret it; I promise.