Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Friday, June 12, 2015

It's Not what it looks Like: HONEYMOON, FORCE MAJEURE








"This was supposed to be romantic under the stars, not sheets."
In the old days, before cable, VHS and Betamax entered the affordable mainstream, there was something called memory. Films were subject to the warping effects of 'telephone game' oration, passed around with novelizations we'd pretend to be able to read (looking at the photo inserts) as we were still only in grade school. Once the film had left theaters it was at least a year sometimes two before it would show up on TV, usually premiering at 8 PM on a major network, where it was panned, scanned, edited for content and time, cut up by commercials, subject to possible static from weather formations above our aerial antenna. Those who saw it on the big screen could then argue over what was missing, what was added, what they remembered that no one else did. People just assumed the 'good' parts were gone... which for us kids meant gore, breasts, and curse words.


Then there were some films, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1972) or Clockwork Orange (1971), that could never, no matter how much they edited them, ever be shown on TV. In the pre-VCR era this meant no one ever saw them again outside of their possible revival at the tail end of a drive-in triple feature, which meant never. Loaded with dread-by-scarcity, those who did see them were considered gods, the bad kids, a badge of cool like smoking or sex. Even if you were lying and we knew it, if you made up something believable and riveting, hey - you were a star.

Now of course things are better. Nearly all films from Edison onwards are all available all the time, unedited and in original aspect ratios on big widescreen HD TVs. It's such a great era for movies that there has to be negative side effects. For example, gone is the freedom to lie, to hide truth, to imagine a better movie than really exists, to change the narrative along according to our perceptions, instead of the other way around. No actual film gore or violence can compare to our lurid imaging.

Two recent films on Netflix streaming, the indie horror movie Honeymoon (2014) and the Nordic import Force Majeure (2014), offer diegetic examples of these negative side effects. Each relies on a certain cinematic familiarity, a common shared iconography that can then collapse as characters within each film are continually forced to confront their own helplessness in the face of real events vs. their instilled and conditioned expectations that they can somehow change what happened through denial or secrecy. In Majeure, an upscale Nordic family's Alpine ski vacation is interrupted after an avalanche blowback whiteout that rolls over the outdoor brunch patio causes the father to run away in panic, leaving wife and kids to fend for themselves. The whiteout clears, brunch resumes, the father returns like nothing's happened, but the mom's faith in him is destroyed; he only exacerbates her distrust when he tries to remember it differently, to deny and convince her of a different set of facts. Thanks to ever-present cameras, the white-out can no longer occur in memory instead of recorded image, not in this era, not when the elephant in the room has been identified and deflated, and no one can smoke, be mean to minorities or homosexuals, or otherwise trod carelessly over other people's feelings. He can't change her mind with a loud and forceful "ENOUGH!" and get her to change the subject. In this recorded age she has no power, inside our out, and he gets slapped for flinching from each previous slap.


In Honeymoon, a first date of the newlyweds is recalled as taking place at an East Village Indian restaurant that leads to Paul (Harry Treadaway) puking, trapped by food poisoning vertigo on the studio apartment floor of Bea (Rose Leslie). Their wedding reception has Indian food which they address directly in their video: "You tried to keep us apart. Fuck you... we win." Yeah, right.

Any sane person watching this already senses something is seriously wrong. Paul is just doing a longer range version of what the dad in Majeure does, submitting to a repetition-compulsion until the ugly memory is contextualized as triumph. Paul and Bea's intimate talk always seems to weave it's way back to puking, as if it's a trigger that disrupts what should be danger signals, that something's 'not right.' The puking triggers a skip in the record where normal good judgment normally functions.

Paul should take it as a sign to run - but he's a good guy and good guys don't run (right, Majeure dad?). So Paul rebukes the omen, reconfigures it. The wedding tent for example, seems like a shroud --we never see anyone else in the confessional booth but them - does Bea even have any other family? If she doesn't, Paul never finds out, until it's too late.

For their honeymoon, Bea brings him to her family's cabin up in Canada, where one of the duck decoys has her childhood note in it "Dear ducks - I am not a real duck --stay away." Of course it's too late by then. And whether and what she means, outside of trying to sabotage the very purpose of a decoy (as in to draw ducks to it), he doesn't know, and neither do we, and that's how history --family, marriage, self, individuality, civilization --slips its bonds, like Jack Torrance sliding into a New Years 1928 Gold Room while simultaneously freezing to death (in a white-out) in 1980.









Honeymoon
 employs a nice 'suggestion' of a POV home movie, via a Steadicam that whips around the woods and fuses with the opening wedding video, but then it subtly switches over to regular film (or professionally-shot HD video), and soon after that switch is mirrored in the film itself, as this two person isolation takes its toll in paranoia and dysfunction. It becomes another collapse of the social sphere in that uber-paranoid honeymoon Antichrist meets Zulawski's Possession way. The paranoia itself ends up giving "birth" like a virus to some weird The Hallow x  Dagon x The New Daughter x Invasion of the Body Snatchers amphibian reality (or do I just feel that way as 60% of my friends in real life mysteriously married Canadians?) You don't need a government to make you paranoid. Sometimes all it takes is a Force Majeure, i.e. an avalanche, or worse, a woman...


Good as they both are in their way (I saw them back-to-back on a rainy Sunday on Netflix), neither Majeure nor Honeymoon should be seen on a first date, or even a last. But they did make a great double feature, a before and after of the pros and cons of marrying into the reptilian bloodline. Majeure could be the sequel ten or so years after Honeymoon where instead of a nice redhead hipster revealing herself to be a frigid Innsmouth fishwife there's a father ostracized by the mom for a single moment of weakness, resented for the slightest of perceived offenses. Filmed for maximum geometric thermal dynamics, the film, floats quarely in the middle of the Alps, a place that seems inordinately hostile to human life, so that skiing and all the other human 'recreation' is made almost absurd-- like sandcastles in front of a tidal wave. The husband's response (i.e. fleeing) is completely 'natural' of course. It's not until the mom herself overreacts to a moment of perceived crisis on a bus ride down the mountain that the balance can be redressed.

Is the wife's problem with her man the fleeing, or that he won't cop to his moment of cowardice? In refusing to remember his flight, maybe blocking it out via subconscious mechanisms he can't control, he's like a kid who just won't admit he stole something. But she's worse, in that this is a vacation and it's a minor thing but she just can't let the matter drop. Within minutes of the whiteout, brunch is back to normal, with only a thin layer of powdered snow on the plates and coffee surfaces to indicate it was ever there... but she can't forget, and he won't remember. If it wasn't so common in the US (a similar rift forms in the family of Escape from Paradise), one would think the film was overreacting on her behalf. But watching the film it seems pretty natural you'd run for the door and presume your family's behind you rather than run to them to --what-- shield them with your body? Either way, as in Contempt, the woman uses this small event as a scratcher to some incoherent deeper itch, trying to test and provoke and de-masculinize the man she married.

In Honeymoon the de-masculinization comes from the complete ignorance of some kind of strange Lovecraftian de-evolution in his new (to almost stranger-level) young wife. It begins when he wakes too find his new (red-haired) wife outside in the dead of night, naked and with underwear covered in frog egg-style slime. The answer to the mystery of why she needs to be constantly reminded of the most basic things--like her name--begs the question: did he find the right 'thing' when he found her or some amphibious clone changeling, one able to hold the pose of a human for only so long? Is it all paranoid blue ball madness (ala dodging honeymoon 'duties' as if she was hiding a small penis or disease) or is it just that she wants to hook up with this guy down the hill she knows from childhood?

With the semi found-footage approach we never learn any of the answers, except maybe hottie young director Leigh Janiak would like some Paranormal Activity profits or delayed Bug acclaim. She deserves both, taking the same male-female approach (her boyfriend Phil Graziadel co-wrote) that works so well in both films. As with all great horror, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish reality from the vividly imagined the longer we're away from consensual reality, i.e. on vacation in the middle of nowhere, without a stable of normal social others--cops, EMTs, even enigmatic gas station attendants, doe-eyed librarians, lunch-eating coroners--to modulate any accruing cabin fever derangement.

We might even realize the truth, a truth all couples must accept sooner or later: there never was a consensus. There is, indeed and inescapably, no such thing as objective reality. There is just a shared delusion, a Rashomon-style collective cubist stigmatism. Couples delude themselves that swinging will work when all else fails, or kids, or marriage, or all of it, and then blame themselves, then each other, when it doesn't. Then they accept it. Or die. They die either way, actually. Kubler-Ross man, she knew.




Oh yeah, and there's the
Successive de-evolution of the masculine father 
in the post-industrial age. 

Sometimes kissing a girl is enough to tingle a man down to the toes. Sometimes he has to keep digging deeper, removing more clothes, grinding closer, just to get the same tingle, approximated or facsimile. Sometimes even after sex he still doesn't get the tingle, so then maybe without a condom? You know, to feel something? Anything? If that doesn't work, then tell her we love her. She does too? Uh-oh. No, still no tingle. Then marriage. Still no tingle - so kids. On and on, when with the right girl a single kiss would have been good enough to know, for sure, electricity existed.

A smart man would run when that tingle's not there.. A smart man would have run way back at the first lack of tingle, just there in the kiss. But just the thought of running is cowardly, what a frat murph asshole dude does. Still, even trying so hard to make it work, the old tingle-deprived misery surfaces like a toadish reminder of all the tingle's that never came. Better keep trying with what you got than just go back to that amphibious nil. After all, maybe it's we who are the problem, not her. Anyway we're not 'that' type of guy, the type who cuts and runs. Fuck you, Indian food.








Honeymoon is not perfect, but it is well-acted, especially by Rose Leslie who manages to look less and less like a human being and more like a bug in the way only certain red haired facial types look when you're on, say, enough acid that their small almond chin below a fast talking mouth begins to look like two mandibles moving like a mantis dismantling an unseen fly with sewing machine precision. I applaud that Honeymoon doesn't take a post-modern approach like, say, Intervention. It has the courage of its Lynchcraft convictions. As the film leads to a full blackout just as Force leads to pure whiteouts, there are no easy answers or even coherent questions. None of us in couples ever knows who the other is, or who even we are. Why we should have presumed a 'normal' existed to begin with is anyone's guess (unless they keep watching, keep watching TV).

But then, well the nightmare question that no recent remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers dare ask (there wouldn't be a movie if they did): in a land where no one stays the same, moment-to-moment, at a time marked by no set shared cultural touchstone (thanks to a proliferation of screens and mediums), in a culture driven by myopic narcissism and cultivated shallowness, a ground zero infinity of film history, how would we ever know if our loved ones were supplanted by pods? When the white powder fog clears the brunch deck, or the black-out clears the bedroom, worrying if our mate is the same person before the outage occurred isn't even in our top ten anxieties.

Every minute we stick around is a minute that could be spent running for our lives.

What or who we're running from is irrelevant when there's so many goddamned directions to choose from. Netflix Boulevard crawls with them, so why feign rootedness? Where is the fleeting urgency? Our monster monsoon has waited long enough in heaven's white[-padded room. Let it come down, eclipse the infinity of our perception so we might once more behold the outline of that dirty finite door. Let us be washed away in high floating style. Bitches be full of tricks. We can stay and be buried or be free and frozen in the Torrence's bit-torrent maze.

Beyond the Door II is, after all, just another name for Shock.

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