Not Quite Horror: “No Country for Old Men” (2007)

MV5BMjA5Njk3MjM4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTc5MTE1MQ@@._V1._SX555_SY817_

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

In the month of October, I am celebrating the films of Not Quite Horror legends Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Monster: Anton Chigurh. Despite Chigurh’s awkward appearance and Javier Bardem’s masterful performance, the assassin represents a walking absence of any form of humanity. Chigurh kills efficiently and without remorse. At times he allows a coin flip to decide if a person lives or dies.

The Horror: Chigurh represents a change of pace from previously reviewed films. Perhaps owing to the Coen Brothers staying faithful to Cormac McCarthy’s source novel, the tone surrounding Chigurh lacks the sarcastic/mocking tone of many of their other films. This form of death is blank and pitiless.

The Shared Fate: Chigurgh is a perfect existential figure of dread. Everything from the nightly news to the entirety of human history contains name after name of men and women who harm others with the same lack of regard or emotion.

The Coen Brothers use this film to continue creating a body of work where death is the end, and it never ends things satisfactorily. Chigurh is another of the grim reapers, except no smile graces his face.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “A Serious Man” (2009)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

A Serious Man (2009)

The Monster: Larry Gopnik is the monster in this film, but he is a very human and noble monster. There’s nothing wrong with Larry Gopnik, except no one will take him seriously. His wife is leaving him for another man, and her lover wants all three of them to talk about it. He has a smart but unstable brother. He feels threatened by his neighbors.

As the pressure builds, Larry Gopnik must face the real possibility he will never be taken seriously by anyone.

The Horror: Miserable as his life is, Gopnik seems destined to escape his own bad luck when the universe itself seems to drop in on him. He feels the weight of this horror in his office, but his son sees it in the form of a tornado approaching his school. As is Coen Brothers tradition, the search for dignity and meaning are met with shocking confusion.

The Shared Fate: Like Larry Gopnik, we are constantly at the mercy of others. We can try to find a higher authority to appeal to, but none of these authorities can save the average people in Coen Brothers movies. We are doomed to be treated as others see fit to treat us.

Even when his world makes him into a monster, Gopnik tries. He appeals to three rabbis, and he finds no help. The wisest of these rabbis refuses to see him, but shares a very honest – and not serious – moment with Gopnik’s son later in the film. Perhaps we should all be more like the son than the father.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Miller’s Crossing” (1990)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

In the month of October, I am celebrating the films of Not Quite Horror legends Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Monster: In the Coen Brothers’ crime masterpiece Miller’s Crossing, Tommy (Gabriel Byrne) is a smart guy caught between two warring mobsters, with stacks of corpses piling up on both sides. No strangers to horror, Joel and Ethan Coen don’t skimp on the gore.

The titular Miller’s Crossing must be a very haunted place. The film’s gangsters commit bloody violent acts wherever they see fit, but the Crossing is a place where people are taken knowing they are going to die. The location itself is peaceful and beautiful, but it is a place where bodies are buried.

The Horror: In October, I will be analyzing films from the Coen Brothers as horror films. One consistent Coen Brothers theme is the human need for dignity in death, and the world’s attempts to deny them this peace.

Miller’s Crossing seems like a nice place to die at first glance, but everything goes wrong. The breeze feels sinister. People don’t behave right. Begging and pleading fills the sky. Even in nature, dignity is denied.

The Shared Fate: Death does indeed come for all of us, and we hope to make our life’s end decent and meaningful. By naming the film Miller’s Crossing, the Coen Brothers underline the inevitability of our shared fates. Then, with their trademark humor, they remove the illusion of dignity that most mobster films work hard to preserve.

In the end, they’re just leading us down a lonely path and letting us fade to black.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Happiness” (1998)

happiness

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Happiness (1998)

The Monster: Within Bill Maplewood’s (Dylan Baker) troubled mind, a battle rages. His self-destructive loathing is at war with his desire to become a sexual predator. When he offends and is revealed as a criminal, he must answer difficult questions from his son.

In a film with an obscene phone caller, adulterers, and a murderer, Bill Maplewood still manages to make stomachs turn. His slow preparation and obsessive planning before the crime make viewing uncomfortable, to say the least.

The Horror: In spite of his unspeakable awfulness, Bill Maplewood could not be more mundane. At times, Dylan Baker manages to provide charm to a character whose actions make him horribly upsetting. In short, Bill Maplewood could not be more real if he existed.

The Shared Fate: Unfortunately, there are hurtful people in the world who use their averageness to mask their crimes. Few films spend as much time with the abuser as a mundane citizen.

Happiness is a clear reminder we won’t always see bad things before they are connected to our lives. At over two hours of running time, it forces audiences to live with this threat for much longer than they would like.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Super” (2010)

1005484_10100371159226443_2091725812_n

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Super (2010)

The Monster: The Crimson Bolt, aka Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) and his trusty sidekick Boltie, aka Libby (Ellen Page).

Frank is an average guy with a big heart, but when his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) gets back into drugs with local criminal Jacques (Kevin Bacon), he can’t stand the unfairness of life any longer. Encouraged by a vision from God, he grabs a costume and a wrench and heads out to smash away until the world is fair.

Along the way, he meets Libby. Libby seems average, too. But when she puts on a costume and has a reason to release her rage, she cannot be contained.

The Horror: Writer/director James Gunn is a veteran of low-budget Troma films, and he uses their grit and awkwardness to keep Super from becoming glossy. When wrenches smash foreheads, there is no ballet of athletic violence. There is only brute force and bloody results.

By the end of the film, Super infuses heroism with horror and tragedy in a way that Kick-Ass never really achieved. Put another way, it reminds viewers you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Then it coats in the screen in yolk and shells.

The Shared Fate: Superheroes, like vampires, get to fulfill fantasies without consequence. Or at least they have until recently, when films like Super are able to bring a horrible gravity to the actions of people in tights.

Watch this movie with your brain on, and you’ll realize vigilantism leads to massacres and guilty consciences. Frank finds a way to hold himself together, but how many others could?

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Carnage” (2011)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Carnage (2011)

The Monster: Cobbler. Truthfully, the most frightening creatures in Carnage are the two sets of parents (one couple played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly and the other is played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz). The child of one family knocked two teeth out of the child of another family, and all four adults sit down to find the best course of action for their two kids.

The trouble is the adults are much more distressed then their children. When their inability to swallow their own pride in the spirit of compromise becomes apparent, they unload all of their pain and suffering. None of them are able to find solutions, and the film lets them wallow in the hells they’ve created.

The Horror: Cobbler. The family of the boy who struck the other son might have escaped if the mother (Winslet) hadn’t eaten a helping of cobbler. The dessert mixed with the tension in her gut and swirled around.

These awful people might have escaped each other’s wrath if the cobbler hadn’t come up all over the coffee table. Once bodily fluids and property destruction came to the party, no one had any hope of escaping.

The Shared Fate: Awfulness lives inside most human beings, but somehow we make excuses and escape from confronting the true suffering of others. For the couples in Carnage, a cobbler and an upset stomach led a massive pile up of emotional pain.

For other awful people, a traffic mishap, a weather anomaly, or even a stray dog could be enough to keep them with other awful people until the truth comes out. Then, let the carnage begin!

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “MacGruber” (2010)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

MacGruber (2010)

The Monster: MacGruber (Will Forte). A relic of the 80s, MacGruber sees no need to use guns to solve problems when he has his intellect, imagination, and the ability to tear out people’s throats. MacGruber claims to be focused on saving the world, yet his ego and rage make him so unstable he has trouble focusing on saving the world when he’d rather get revenge on a bad driver.

The Horror: MacGruber shameless exploitation of others turns every mission he attempts into a lifetime of self-loathing. He may debase himself by offering his body for violation in exchange for another chance at tracking down his arch enemy. He might allow others to risk getting shot in his place, or even insert celery into bodily cavities to distract the enemy.

Spend any time around MacGruber and you are likely to be debased and murdered. If you do somehow survive, you may end up violated by the “hero” as he offers up a pathetic one-line joke. Worse yet, you may end up becoming just like MacGruber.

The Shared Fate: MacGruber attempts to be a loving homage to the rugged, individualistic heroes of the 80s. However, the satire in the film is so vulgar and gory it effectively de-sanitizes memories of Reagan and Bush the First era heroism.

This is best summarized by a scene where MacGruber has imaginary sex with his deceased wife on her grave. For him, this is a magical moment. Someone stumbles upon this act, and the real act becomes visible. A naked MacGruber moans and thrusts over his wife’s monument in a dark graveyard.

Elsewhere, men and women who exploit and use others while convincing themselves they are dashing heroes make things just as awkward as MacGruber undulating away in a cemetery. You may work with a MacGruber today.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Festen aka The Celebration” (1998)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

“Festen aka The Celebration” (1998)

The Monster: A family secret. This secret is far from supernatural, yet it torments them just as a ghost in a haunted house would.

At the family patriarch’s 60th birthday party, his son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) reveals the real reason behind the suicide of his sister in front of a house full of guests. The sympathetic staff hides everyone’s keys, forcing the family to weather the vengeance of this painful secret until the bitter end.

The Horror: The revelation of a family secret turns formerly safe memories into confusing anxieties. Christian’s family attempt to hold onto the way things used to be, even if it means they become petty and aggressive with each other. When the truth cannot be avoided, they must find ways of putting the anger and frustration to rest before the spirit of the secret destroys their entire family.

The Shared Fate: Thinking of upsetting family secrets as hauntings may be as good a way of conceptualizing those secrets as anything else. After all, they become unearthed, upset the order of things, and must be properly buried before life can move on.

Festen demonstrates the mechanisms of haunted house films can scare without spectral visions in white or bleeding walls. By this standard, some of the houses in your neighborhood are already haunted.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Spring Breakers” (2013)

Spring-Breakers-Poster-001

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

“Spring Breakers” (2013)

The Monster: Spring Break itself. The collegiate tradition of breaking societal taboos somewhere in the south is well known. The event is spoken of, in the film, with hushed and reverential tones. The world before spring break is bland, dim, and must be escaped.

In this film, spring break starts with a few drinks, leads into drugs, and ends up spattered in blood and full of bullet holes.

The Horror: In reality, spring break combines hormones, developing brains, and limited experience offer plenty of opportunities for horrific disasters. The teens in Spring Breakers push the envelope of violence even further.

The movie mixes this violence with societal images of being a girl – pink clothes, Britney Spears songs, loud giggling, and even the presence of actor Selena Gomez. This societal construct of femininity contrasts with the gritty violence the film devolves into, making viewers uncomfortable as they are forced to re-examine their own belief systems.

The Shared Fate: Scare films are nothing new. However, with more permissive censorship guidelines for television and film (and with the wild freedoms of the internet), it’s getting harder to shock audiences with whatever debauchery the youth is (allegedly) up to at the moment.

Spring Breakers does the best it can to scare everyday people by pushing things further, suggesting the world has moved into utter chaos and won’t come back. Or, as Alien (James Franco) repeats – “Spring break forever.”

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Muppet Babies” (1984-1991)

muppet-babies-wallpapers-1024x768

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Muppet Babies (1984-1991)

The Monster: The Nanny. She towers over the babies she watches from such a height her face is never seen. Only her striped tights make her identifiable. She may have a knack for saving the day when the children’s imaginary play becomes too scary, but she always leaves them plenty of room to get scared again.

The Horror: A child’s imagination is an amazing thing, but it swings exactly as far into the disturbing as it does into the joyful. For every unicorn there is also an ogre.

The Nanny, as a trained professional, ought to be aware of exactly how many terrifying places those children can go in their imaginations. Yet she seals them in room where their nightmares can grow and grow.

She must sit back in a chair when she hears those Muppet Babies screaming, smiling quietly to herself.

The Shared Fate: The amnesia of adulthood protects us from our turbulent childhood imaginations. However, children are all around us. We laugh and coo at their fear because we’re no longer held captive by our imaginations.

And for them? The fear is very real, and we’re nothing more than a pair of absent striped tights to a child whose imagination has very real fangs.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen