Showing Restraint

Sometimes too much is just too much.  There’s a line, an invisible thing that serves as our marker that states Here There Be Monsters.  And through our lives we’ll dance close to the edge on some things, and on others we’ll pull far, far away, and sometimes, sometimes we stride over it to stretch ourselves, test ourselves and to remind ourselves why it is we have the line the first place.  But there are lines, unseen but there that crisscross our lives and remind us of the things we believe in.  One of the things Art is meant to do is to blur that line, to intentionally cross it and dare you to cross as well.  Sometimes though, the line exists for a reason,  and those that cross it do so only because they see no better way to make a point that can many times be made more subtly.

In writing this my thoughts are on so many films that fill the horror genre (though I can honestly think of examples in comedy as well, and could go out from there if I wanted I suppose) that gleefully remove the lines of restraint in order to prove a point that they feel is important to prove.  Sometimes these are decisions that, while unsettling, prove out the point of the film – IRREVERSIBLE, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and SERBIAN FILM all fall under this category for me – films that have something to say and don’t want to say it, your mores and issues be damned.  These are movies (movies that I already know people debate me on regarding their artistic merits but so be it) that are but examples of what is out there, movies that have a vision and refused to be penned in by the rules of cinema and society.  Ah, but there are other movies that refused to follow the rules simply because they choose not to, and you know, so be it, that’s part of being an artist, making those choices, but I can’t help but feel like that with some restraint the message, if that be what it is, can be made with less blunt force trauma.

A notorious example of this, though one that, again can be debated pretty strongly, is the use of animal killings in the Italian cannibal films.  These films were the Italian’s answer to America’s growing realism and violence in their art house horror films and the zombie movies that were becoming so popular and so gory.  The cannibal movies were an answer to America’s darker turn in the horror genre and was a turn towards a hyper-realism that was influenced by the States and influenced the States as well.  These were hyper-gory, nasty stories about people playing with things they didn’t understand and opening doors best left closed.  Most are not much more than curiosities but there are a couple at least that are pretty darned good.  The problem I always had though was that the Italians wanted to up the ante in these movies and the intensity and so they used real animals for scenes where they were fed to other animals, or killed and slaughtered, and these are scenes that, truly, are unnecessary and needless.  Scenes that take you out of the story and out of the message and are there just for shock value.  They are so over the top that you lose the thread of the film for a few moments.  Even if you were into that sort of thing it would take you out of the narrative.  That’s just what happens.

Now if you consider that example turning the dial all the way up you can turn it down a little and get some of the gorier films out there (I think you can safely exclude the underground horror movement because this stuff is nasty on purpose and it speaks to and sells to a certain segment so let’s leave them off of the list because they know what they’re doing and they’re doing it on purpose so well, it is what it is) that push buttons and go far because they can.  You see a lot of this in the indie market and the up and coming filmmakers who are making a name for themselves.  They want to stand out and to appeal to the diehards and so they go that extra step, they take the governor off and go full bore and often leave the story behind.  I have seen it too many times where the film isn’t bad necessarily but the need to show graphic nudity, and graphic violence take center stage, the filmmakers forgetting that with an ounce of subtlety you can oftentimes make a lot darker of a point.  Sure, even the established directors do this, go further than they need when the path of restraint may have been more unnerving, and that’s a shame because the story should always be the master, and the film should serve the story completely.  And believe me, I know too well the lines that can be crossed as a writer.  You make a decision as to what you want the focus to be on, the moment or the overall piece.  What do you want people to leave the theater talking about with these films, or when they turn the movie off at home – one moment or the overall piece?   And that is what is lost.

And far be it for me to say that I don’t like some gory movies and gore, usually, is pretty needless and mostly excessive.  But there is a line there too, and there are definitely movies that I still am very fond of that forget themselves and go further than they need to and harm the story.  But in the end it all has to serve the story.  And there will be stories that are extreme and need to go to extremes for you to appreciate the gravity of what they are saying – I just watched a film like that actually, SNOWTOWN – but I am seeing far too many movies that eschew storytelling for shock and awe and for essentially trying to see how uncomfortable they can make the audience and in so doing losing the point of what they set out to even say.


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