28 Days Later

More than any other genre, horror allows for dissecting some other problem, whether it’s lycanthropy as a metaphor for change, vampirism as a metaphor for sex, or zombies as a metaphor for loss of identity. The best horror movies aren’t just trying to scare you, they’re also trying to talk about a subject, I think. 28 Days Later isn’t the scariest zombie movie by any means, but it’s absolutely one of the best, and I know that’s a really vanilla opinion, but it’s true.

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It’s a familiar scene. Waking up in the hospital. There’s no one there. You go outside. No one there. You’re trying to figure out what’s going on, and you have your first encounter with them. You don’t know yet that they are no longer people.

The movie plays with these classic zombie tropes (what do I know, maybe they weren’t so classic 20 years ago), but it takes its time setting up all of the pieces. Cillian Murphy teams up with two people. One is infected, and we get our first scene of how dangerous it is, because Naomie Harris immediately kills the man who was infected. What I find really interesting is that zombies are known for being slow, but this movie released so long ago has fast zombies. Here in Korea, Train for Busan just came out this year, and all of my students were so proud of their Korean zombies being so fast. Admittedly, the zombies in Train to Busan are insanely fast, but I was still surprised to see the speed in this movie. I love the speed though, because it makes every scene that much tenser.

It goes on like this for a while, from scares to tearjerkers, until we finally reach the third act. Christopher Eccleston’s ragtag group of soldiers and their plan to rebuild society. Normalcy. This is where the movie shines so brightly, and it’s something that I mentioned when talking about Paranorman as well.

Society was all but destroyed in just 28 days, and these nine men are there to rebuild it. They’ve built a perfectly-protected bunker, have a zombie tied up for research purposes (I love this bit of Chekhov’s Gun), and its all set. Seems pretty perfect until you realize that Eccleston has promised these men women for the purpose of population growth, and you see that there is no safety, either inside this protected bunker with the people who you think should be protecting you, nor outside with the zombies. That’s where “loss of identity” comes in, because this group of people is a single-minded entity, just like a zombie. They want to restore society, but in a way, society was already bad for so many people before.

In any case, I love the cat-and-mouse play at the end when hell breaks loose. Everyone was great in this movie, and the zombies were so cute. A+ movie, I didn’t even realize it was Danny Boyle until the end. That’s why!

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps does what all the best horror movies do for me, which is tell a story as a metaphor for life experiences. It’s why I love Buffy, coming-of-age movies, and recent horror movies like It Follows.

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It places its metaphor right square in the middle of the scene. It’s like someone took the idea to its logical extreme. Girl gets her period, gets bitten by a werewolf, major changes ensue. It’s such a thrill ride though, and it sidesteps all of the pitfalls of typical horror. First, the characters and their relationships with each other are nuanced, not least of all the sisters, but also the mother and her relationship with her children; and they acting is phenomenal. That can really sell a movie, when the actors come alive, and both Brigitte and Ginger carry the movie all the way home.

That’s why I loved this movie so much, because of the relationship the sisters had, and how it turned “them versus the world” upside down with Ginger getting her period (and bitten by a werewolf), tearing them apart and seeing how well they stick together. The movie was a slow and gradual build, but I was sucked in thanks to them.

I loved seeing Ginger’s transformation, and I am glad they went without CGI. It makes the movie feel timeless. I can’t place this as having been made 16 years ago. It could have been this year, or it could have just as easily been more than 20 years ago, it seems. Her body horror transformation and the way she dealt with it was exciting and excruciating, and you see how she’s become a woman and first impression she’s supposed to be sexy, but the balance between that and how she feels like she’s become a monster was wonderful (they even literally call PMS a curse).

There was a lot going through my head while I watched this, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something I wanted to say about the movie, but it’s already 3:00AM, and I wanted to write down my thoughts, because it was such a joy to watch. I feel like I’m constantly finding movies that I should have seen when I was in high school, because I could have been loving them for years and years, and this is one of them. Ginger Snaps 2 is definitely going on the list for later.

Happy Halloween 🎃

Paranorman

Last year, I made a list of every horror movie I wanted to watch to celebrate Halloween in October, and I watched approximately one of them (Unfriended, which by the way was pretty good).

This year, I’m going to make good on that promise I made last year, and I’m going to watch as many as I can this month. All of them are ones I’ve never seen before, but today I watched a movie with my students that’s one of my favorites, so it ended up being a great starter for the season.

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It’s no secret that my favorite movie of all time is Coraline. I feel like I drop that into conversation once a month somehow, but I don’t talk enough about the other great Laika productions, and with Kubo and the Two Strings coming out, it’s more perfect than ever. Also, my students love Coraline (and Corpse Bride, too).

I saw Paranorman for the first time on accident. I started watching it on Netflix, not knowing it was from the same company as Coraline, and even though it starts quite slow, the way it builds up is fantastic.

For starters, it’s gorgeous. That’s to be expected, because it’s claymation, and I love that style. I don’t know how they do it, especially since the directors have very little to their name (one has only done Paranorman, and the other has done just a handful of others that are less spectacular), but it’s beautiful. The scene that blew me away was when we’re first dropped into Norman’s world and see it through his eyes, the camera going from third-person spectral cameraman to following Norman from behind then spinning around, zooming in on Norman’s face, and then panning back around as we enter his world. It’s probably the most jaw-dropping moment of the film for me, at least when it comes to visuals. That or the way the scene literally burns away when Norman has a vision.

Plus, it’s legitimately scary. I jumped out of my seat more than once, especially in the first half of the movie. The jump few scares never seem disingenuous though, because in a lot of cases they turn into gags. It reminds me of Shaun of the Dead in that way, because it’s legitimately a horror-comedy that scares just as well as it makes you laugh. I laughed harder than my students in a lot of cases, to be honest.

I love the twist, when the zombies are thrust into that scare of modern day life, and very quickly the tables turn on them. It’s pretty hilarious how fast it happens, and I think you immediately sympathize with them (that’s hard to do in a horror movie, sympathize with anyone to be honest). But I sympathized hard with them, and yeah, they were terrible to the little girl, but you could see how they’d realized their errors and that it’s wrong to act out of fear. I love showing this movie, especially nowadays when too many people are reacting out of fear because they don’t understand something, whether it’s in Britain or the USA or anywhere really.

If there’s any misstep in the movie, it’s the resolution. I am almost never a fan of big action-packed resolutions, and I found the actual plot (not the visuals at all, because wow) of the ending to be really lacking. Still, that’s not why I love this movie. Honestly, though short, one of the things I love most is the relationship between Neil and Norman. It’s really touching, and my favorite scene is when they’re hanging out in Neil’s backyard with his dead dog. Everything there is so touching, and I found them both to be incredibly lovely, relatable characters with a whole lot of charm.

Paranorman is, I think, a film that isn’t talked about enough. It’s got a solid core, fantastic visuals, and I’m telling you now, the way they’re heading, Laika is going to be taking the place of Disney and Studio Ghibli.

Happy Halloween 👻