Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gore vs. Suspense

Had an epiphany of sorts last night about Arousal, in part due to a long email convo with the same person who had such ad adverse reaction to it last week. It shows you can always learn from the ones who don't like what you're doing.

Rather than tell you what this reader said, I'll just quote them:

The truth is, I felt conned. The beginning of your movie is really very good. I was trepitatious, nervous, nail biting and excited-scared. Then just completely fucking horrified and repulsed. The shift is really sudden and nasty. It suddenly becomes this whole other animal....

I believe subtle nuances make a good movie. The intimation of something frightening is much more interesting than the obvious.

Movies like Psycho are psychologically terrifying without being over the top visual.

Your movie, half way through, becomes something that moves from suggestively scary, to downright ugly. I couldn't watch it.

And my reply:
I have been pondering the nature of gratuitious elements in stories at length since our recent communications. The question you say—the "why?" factor—is the core of the issue, in my view. But instead of "Why does this element in the film exist?", the broader question might be better framed as "Why does this film exist?" Certain stories require certain elements: take those elements out, your movie won't make sense. If they can be taken out, then they're needless to the story, and thus gratuitous. If it's graphic sex or violence, then it's equivalent to watching porn or a snuff film. (See? I've been listening! tee hee)

My challenge from the start of this project was: how do I write a story including sex and violence but where none of the sex or violence is gratuitous? For the story, then, I would argue that the sex and violence are crucial to the development of my story...


The story itself may be called gratuitious. That I cannot, in good faith, dispute. The story might even be called an excuse to show a lot of sex and violence. But no more so than the sex in Boogie Nights, right?

I forgot to add here that the answer to "Why does this film exist?" for Arousal is more commerical than artistic, i.e. I'm making this film to be financially successful, not really to make an artistic statement (there is a tiny artistic statement in there, but let's face it—it's a hack and slash film I want to sell so I can make enough money so I can do this full time).

Then I came to my small epiphany:
I wouldn't want to see Chainsaw Massacre, but I would see Scream. I'm finally starting to see your point now...

I'm sitting here kind of speechless, because I'm thinking of Session 9, and that film is almost entirely bloodless, but it's terrifying because everything is suggested. There could be ways to tone down the gore and even ramp up the tension. Jaws is another example which I'm sure you must be thinking of. Blair Witch, too.

In my scramble to gain attention and guarantee marketability, am I trying too hard by being so graphic? Session 9, a personal favorite, is so great because everything is left to the imagination. That got me thinking about Brad Anderson, the director of Session 9, Happy Accidents, and The Machinist, all great films which build a lot of suspense with a tiny amount of gore, if any at all.

Arousal, though, is in a different genre. It's more akin to 28 Days Later, Dawn of The Dead, Wolf Creek. It follows more in the tradition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Scream, and that was a concscious choice, but I wonder now if some of the more extreme bits can be toned down to increase the suspense more.

Kevin Costner once said that acting is deciding whether or not to kiss someone—once you kiss them, it's action. Mostly, people prefer the former because there is still some question as to the outcome. A child covered in blood, standing 10 feet away and staring intently at you is probably more frightening than that same child violently attacking you because when he's just standing there, you don't know what the hell the he's going to do.

In the movie The Car, James Brolin has the demon car pull over, but the car does nothing. It just sits there. Parked. You can't see anything inside. There are no door handles. It's dark and menacing, a powerful black beast quietly preparing to pounce. Like waiting for Mulder and Skully to kiss, that delicious tension is endlessly watchable.

As I go into Draft #3, I'll be keeping this lesson firmly in mind. Since the story is, at its core, about how seeing sex and violence stirs us—or arouses us—from the numbness of everyday life, I'm unclear how much can be toned down. The town scene could certainly be revamped to insinuate rather than blungeoning the audience with an overt display of the macabre.

Warning to all feedback readers: I'm leaving town next week and won't be back until Monday evening, then 2 days later I have guests in town for two weeks. So if you want any kind of coherent reply and/or discussion, please get your feedback in within the week. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until after November 8.

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