clap your hands if you believe

1

I need to get my ass in gear and register for the World Fantasy Conference in November. Want to go. Should be able to do it. Would like to meet, among other people, Matt Cheney, of the very cool Mumpsimus.

2

Today I walked out of a movie for the first time in a long time. It’s not that THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE was particularly bad — certainly no more idiotic than, say, TRANSPORTER 2, which I sat through in all its ludicrous entirety.

But this movie offended me, because I couldn’t take seriously the key dramatic question: in this film that’s ‘based on a true story’, was Emily possessed by demons or was she a psychotic epileptic? To me, she was obviously the latter, and the characters who were trying to prove the former — in court, no less — reminded me way too much of certain politicians who deny global warming or consider evolution a “controversial” theory and want that “controversy” emphasized (at the very least) to schoolchildren. They ignore all the mountains of evidence and hone in on a few uncertainties which they exploit and spin in order to create confusion and doubt. They try to turn science into just another competing set of beliefs. (The distinguishing thing about science, though, is that when you apply it, it works, whether or not you believe in it. Because science doesn’t care.) I don’t know what the filmmakers were really trying to do — I didn’t sit through enough of the movie to find out — but I did not see a young woman in the grip of demons, which would have been disturbing and frightening and fun. I saw a naive young woman from a religious and superstitious family having one horrific epileptic attack after another. I saw a lawyer (played by an actress I like) trying to prove demonic possession in court by deliberately ignoring mountains of evidence and honing in on uncertainties: “You can’t say that for sure, can you, Doctor?” Well no, he can’t. Because nothing is for sure. The only certainty in life — other than death — is uncertainty. From what I understand the film presents both interpretations of Emily’s symptoms — shows her as possessed, shows her as ‘merely’ sick and deranged — and in the end we the audience are left to draw our own conclusion. Please. Science vs superstition? I have no patience for that.

3.

One thing I’ve noticed about horror films of late is how unsatisfying they are. A movie like THE GRUDGE can have one of the most frightening sequences I’ve ever seen in my life — the audience shrieked when the ghost of the little boy appeared under the woman’s bedcovers, and if you’ve watched it you know the scene I mean — and yet when the credits roll you can hear the people around you talking about what a crappy movie. I was thinking of this again as I watched EMILY ROSE, which proved to be another movie with genuinely suspenseful moments too disconnected from each other, failing to accumulate into something bigger than the sum of its parts. Can’t we have more movies like ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SEVEN — that have an intellectually satisfying plot (that can still retain some ambiguity, some open-endedness) to go along with the dread, the atmospherics, the things that drift and slither in the night?

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