Friday, April 19, 2013

More Horror for everybody

We have established in our readings and in our screenings that a film's success in capturing our attention (whether this be in comedy, horror, or love and sentimentality) is due to its ability to connect with our emotions. If a film can can somehow arouse our thoughts and feelings, then the audience will have a much easier time experiencing emotion, and thus, a more enjoyable experience. It matters not what this experience is, whether it makes us laugh, cry, or frightened - the emotions are what matter because only they can strike up human feelings. Let us go back to horror.
Carroll has said that we are often attracted by what repulses us. That we are curious about the actions and demeanor of the monster at large. In Open Water, we may categorize "the monster" as the combination of the jellyfish, the sharks, the temperature of the water, etc into the forces of nature, which are typically powerful and very random. Therefore, due to the unpredictable nature of nature itself, it makes sense that horror buffs (or any individual watching, really) in the audience become frightened in the scenes with sea creatures attacking and nipping at the poor divers. We are kept on the edge of our seats, biting nails, because you never know. It is just as likely that a shark will not bite you as it will, if you stop and ponder it. You can take all the precautions you like, but really, a shark will do whatever it wants. It is a force in nature that can not be controlled or predicted. The acts of terror by the ocean predators are random. As there are more and more scenes with the sharks not attacking, we begin to understand that the divers are at the mercy of everything. That is why it is so frightening. Like the couple, the audience has no idea which attack will be the one to end it all. Even the current of the ocean itself seems to put another random spin on the couple's fate. They might wake up and find themselves within a certain distance of a boat or buoy, or in the swimming area of a pool of sharks. It is this randomness of the "nature monster" that produces the terror in the narrative.
We know the ending - its predictable. The process and the journey however, are full of random waves of events. In my opinion, I believe the most frightening (or at least uncomfortable, if you weren't really frightened) was the scene where the boyfriend was fatally bitten by the shark. It wasn't the bite or the tense music leading up to the bite itself that was scary, rather the line he says, something like, "It just occurred to me that we could really be eaten by sharks out here!" While this line might even have a sense of humor to it, it also calls to light the man's acceptance of his fate - that he really has no idea what could happen to them at this point. Everything that happens in the following hours of his life will be acts of the randomness of nature. It is this revelation the man has, his acceptance of his fate, that puts a damper on the story. When even the character himself realizes how screwed he is, you know there is even more to fear!
Carroll says that the objects or horror are fundamentally linked to cognitive interest, specifically curiosity (175). I think that these cognitive interests include thoughts that both the characters and the audience members themselves have together. Both the audience and the shark-bait diver know come to realize that, yes, literally anything could happen at any time. There is no controlling the randomness of nature in the middle of the cold ocean.
We can believe all we want about predicting the behavior of wild animals. But people are malled by their own pets sometimes. How can we ever hope to predict the actions of those swimming around our ankles? Does comfort just bring you closer to something that could always potentially harm you? Can you say that you could trust and predict your kitty's every move? Nature is a scary force of unbelievable power. I think its forces go unnoticed all the time, especially in a day in age when humans always try and control it.
I like this movie - not because it did a good job of predicting what would go on in the ocean waters beneath you. But because it did a good job of rendering nature and its creatures completely random. Never being able to expect what happens next is a powerful element of arousing emotion in any audience - whether you are watching a story of love, humor, or a horror.

1 comment:

  1. I really love the parallel you draw here between a horror-movie-monster and nature as a whole. In watching Open Water, I typically imagine the sharks alone as the villainous presence, but you're right; there are so many other (random and unpredictable) factors acting against the protagonists.

    Your post also reminded me a lot of the slasher sub-genre of horror, particularly films like The Strangers and Funny Games. The reason I find those more unsettling than other scary movies is the sheer randomness of the villains' actions. Viewers are never offered a reason, exactly. Not one that makes any sense to us, anyway. It's not a case of an angry spirit (a la Poltergeist) or a couple hoping to live forever (a la The Skeleton Key), but just a group of people committing violence for the sake of committing violence. The means is the end. Their behavior is random and unpredictable in light of what we consider "normal" human actions and rationale, so it becomes intensely horrifying. In many ways, the villains of those slasher films are scary because their motives are so animalistic.


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