The Guest / No one Lives – are they horror? [thoughts + spoilers]

#

Films: The Guest [2014] and No one Lives [2013?]

Genre: horror [allegedly]

Director: Adam Wingard [You’re Next], Ryuhei Kitamura [Azumi, Midnight Meat Train]

Starring: Dan Stevens [Upstairs, Downstairs], Maika Monroe [Labor Day], Luke Evans [Fast & Furious 6], Adelaide Clemens [Silent Hill: revelation 3D, Blue Water High]

#

I’m not sure if there’s an objective test to tell if a film is horror or not. I know there’s one that judges whether a film represents women in an equal way…maybe that could be adjusted for the horror tag.

Bechdel Test [representation of white women in movies]

A movie that

i] has two or more women

ii] who talk to each other

iii] about something other than men

It’s an interesting test, actually…not the most accurate as it fails movies like ‘Aliens’ which have one strong female role [Vasquez doesn’t really count as she doesn’t have much of a character, unless you want to argue nuance from her relationships with Gorman and Drake]…but it does make you realise how badly women are treated in Hollywood.

I wonder if ‘The Guest’ and ‘No one Lives’ would pass the Bechdel Test? They say horror is more representative of women, which is an easy sentence to make when you don’t need to explain who ‘they’ are…yeah, I just made it up. I guess I’m thinking of the ‘final girl’ trope from horror films…the idea that women are the only ones strong enough to beat the killer, like ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Halloween’…even though they’re used as the final girl because they are physically weak and can make the film scarier. E.g. if Michael Myers had been chasing Macho Man Randy Savage round that house I don’t think it would’ve been quite as terrifying…

Would Halloween pass the Bechdel Test?

It’s my second tangent in two paragraphs, but…never mind, it’s important…and isn’t it better to write out thoughts without knowing your argument than writing out an argument and chiselling your thoughts until they fit into the hole [argument] you started with?

I’m not sure…I suppose it makes it harder to follow…but also more unpredictable…is that right?

Okay…Halloween…does it have two or more females?

Well, there’s Jamie Lee Curtis…and two other girls who have sex…that makes three, so the first requirement is fulfilled. Do they talk to each other? Yes, they do, before Michael Myers turns up. But I’m pretty sure they talk about men. I don’t know, I haven’t seen Halloween since I was nineteen, but from what I remember, they’re all 17 or 18 years old and all they talk about is having sex instead of babysitting and asking Jamie Lee why she isn’t having sex with anyone.

So, it fails the test on the last requirement. Does it make up for it by having a strong female lead? Only if you equate strong with not having sex, looking after some kids and hiding from a nut who’s trying to stab you. To me that’s just a reaction role. Not something strong like Ripley, where she warns against returning to the alien planet and takes a back seat role until she’s forced to step up and take care of Newt and be self-righteous towards Burke and…

What about the two movies I put in the title of this piece?

The Guest has three female characters who actually speak. The mum, the daughter and the daughter’s slutty best friend.

First requirement, tick.

They talk to each other.

Tick.

They talk to each other about the daughter’s boyfriend and the dead brother and the friend who is killed by the guest in the quarry. All men.

Fail.

That might not be correct…I can’t remember every line of dialogue…the mum may have asked the daughter to clean her room or something, which isn’t man-related…but would that really qualify?

Do any of the female characters have substantial roles?

It’s arguable. The mum is a mum and that’s about it, so she’s out. The slutty best friend is saved at the party by the guest and immediately has sex with him, which is not necessarily a weak character point, but it probably is if that’s all she does in the film. And it is all she does, apart from getting shot later on.

The daughter has more luck, though her whole life does revolve around men – her boyfriend, the guest, her father – she doesn’t question her job or her life in general, she just feels slightly attracted to the guest and then changes her mind when she realises that he’s actually quite creepy. After that she tries to find out more about him by telling her brother to use google, then runs a lot at the end before shooting the guest, wandering towards him to check if he’s dead, offering her leg for stabbing and being strangled almost to death in the gym of her high school.

Is that a strong female role?

I can’t decide. I like the fact that she’s attracted to the guest physically as she is still quite young and he does have a body that isn’t John Goodman’s…and then her brain kicks in and she decides that he’s probably a crazy person.

Minus points for not knowing how to use google though.

What about No one Lives?

I’m sorry, but any film that has one of its women take a shower for three minutes and then get strangled to death with her fake tits flapping about might as well forget about taking this test.

Is that fair?

Yup. Probably. I don’t know. There are four women in this film, which is quite a heady number when you think about most of the shit that comes out of Hollywood, but all of them are dependent on men, except the final girl, who is just trying to get away from the main psycho.

Let’s go through them, just to make sure…then we can go back to the title question…

Woman 1 – she is travelling with the main psycho [we don’t know he’s a psycho at the start, though if you see the back cover image of Luke Evans covered in blood and read the blurb then you know…everyone does this, so everyone must know he’s the main psycho, which makes the beginning ambiguity about his character a tiny bit pointless] and she is infatuated with him, to such a degree that she’s willing to cut her own throat in order to…escape him? Impress him? I don’t really know. But, to be fair, it must’ve been a challenge for the actress to play the role, even if it is based around a man.

Woman 2 – the girlfriend of one of the thieves. I think she gets killed in the car, but I can’t remember clearly…she doesn’t do much, just basic girlfriend things like mope around, argue with the other woman in the gang, tell her boyfriend to be a man etc. Not a strong role.

Woman 3 – I shall call her ‘tough woman who supplies the tits’, which says it all really. As written above, she dies in the shower, while showing her tits. It’s pretty blatant objectification. The director could’ve just filmed her entire role close up between neck and stomach and it would’ve produced the same effect. I wonder why actresses take these roles?

Is it easier if they have fake tits? Does that make them think it’s okay, they’re not really my tits, they’re just balls of silicon?

Woman 4 – the female lead who survives to the end despite the title making a pretty direct promise. She doesn’t get naked, she runs away from Luke Evans fairly well, she argues with the aggressive thief…it’s not a bad role for her, far as I can tell. Though we don’t see many sides of her personality…if that’s even possible in a horror film…the plot mandates that all characters who aren’t the killer must be chased and assaulted, so…what can any character really do?

Is that true of all horror?

Off the top of my head, it’s true of most of them…specifically slasher films where the plot is quite tight and takes place over a short space of time. Something like ‘The Shining’ is different as it gives Shelley Duvall more time to develop as a character, as well as giving her a son to protect…just a shame that she chooses to spend this time whining and talking about things that no one gives a shit about.  Doesn’t she have a life or mind of her own?

Back to the title…finally…are The Guest and No one lives horror films?

Let’s tweak the Bechdel Test a little and find out. We’ll do The Guest first…

Plot: A soldier charms his way into the house of his dead comrade’s family, without actually using any charm. In fact, he barely speaks at all. The mum welcomes him with open arms, the dad drinks beer and comes round to the idea, the daughter is creeped out and objects until she sees him with his shirt off. Then she makes him a CD. Then she sees him making a mysterious phone call outside, with his t-shirt on, and gets suspicious again. Turns out she’s right to be suspicious as he starts killing people who offend the family, which is great as if he didn’t do this it would be an incredibly boring movie.

Subplot: A secret Government Agency comes to town to take the guest down. Due to a mix of slow motion, home alone style slapstick and general incompetence [General with a gun keeps walking down a narrow hall of mirrors instead of backwards towards open space where he can fire on the guest without dying], they fail.

So, straight off the bat it seems more like a thriller than a horror, but let’s put it in front of the test I made up just to make sure.

i] Is the killer human?

ii] Is the killer seemingly invincible?

iii] Is the killer defeated by a woman?

iv] Does the killer do anything except kill?

Model answers for this test, for most slasher films, would be:

i] No or not anymore.

ii] Yes.

iii] Yes.

iv] No.

I base these model answers on a film like ‘Halloween’, which is probably the greatest slasher film of all time. Thinking about it more, it’s probably relevant to most other kinds of horror too. People always die, and something/someone’s gotta kill them, so…I think it works.

What else?

Oh yeah, in case it’s too vague, here’s the reasoning behind those model answers:

Human killers aren’t scary [unless they wear a mask] – they are too familiar. Even Norman Bates isn’t scary when he’s just Norman, which is the whole point. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, he’s so quiet etc.

Invincibility means the killer will get you in the end. Also scary, though can be ridiculous at times e.g. the later Freddy movies.

Killers being defeated by women makes it scarier as it’s assumed women are physically weak and won’t be able to fight back. The juxtaposition of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode is scary because he could crush her with one hand…though she is pretty tall, so maybe she’s not as vulnerable as we think she is…obviously this argument comes from gender stereotypes/bias i.e. men are strong, women are weak, and there’s no way to break out of it if you want to make an effective horror film as, if you make the woman strong like Ripley then it ceases to be scary. I guess all you can do is make the woman clever and resourceful, but even that undercuts a lot of the tension…

If the killer does anything except kill it makes him too human. It lessens the impact as it’s no longer people being hunted by a single-minded, relentless machine.

So how does ‘The Guest’ do?

Not well.

i] The killer is human and does not wear a mask. Yes, he’s been experimented on, and it’s quite creepy when he goes into his room and just stares at nothing, but he’s still human.

ii] He is seemingly invincible, coming back at the end dressed as a fireman despite being stabbed through the chest. This is one of those times when it’s just silly, especially as we saw him tending to his leg wound earlier in the film. The guy can be hurt and feels pain, or slight discomfort, so how can he recover from a gunshot and two knife wounds?

iii] Nope. Technically, he’s defeated by the brother, as well as his own stupidity. The ending of the film is really quite bad, which is a shame as the rest of the film is very entertaining.

iv] He does quite a lot – has sex, teaches the brother self-defence, argues with the school principal, beats up school bullies in a bar. That last scene is pretty great…a 6-7 minute example of how to build tension before executing a simple, clear action scene that doesn’t rely on any cartoon violence or superhuman moves. The guy is just fast and well-trained, and that’s perfect.

So, The Guest only passes one of the requirements, and the invincibility thing is poorly done, which means the film isn’t really horror.

Is it any good?

Yup. It may not be horror, but it’s well-directed and entertaining. It’s fun when the guest turns on people for no logical reason, though a bit silly when real soldiers turn up and try to take him down.

Is the ending really that bad?

Not bad, just typical. Though it tries for some kind of symbolism with the Halloween decorations and the smoke-covered floor…oh yeah, and the RIP stone that the guest dies next to. I’m not sure what the director’s trying to say [fake gravestone = fake death?] but it’s something a little unusual at least.

Is the guest really a psychopath?

No. They try to imply that he is…the General character tells the daughter they experimented on the guest and she says, well, you shouldn’t have done it on a psychopath. The General says he was supposedly a model guinea pig, trying to escape blame, even though he made it quite clear that the guest is following his “programming” by eliminating everyone who knows about him, and probably couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. So, no, he wasn’t a psychopath, he was turned into one by the drugs.

Is there any point analysing this film?

Not really. It’s fun to watch, but there’s nothing much to say about it. Unless someone else can think of something?

What about ‘No one Lives’?

Let’ see…

Plot: A gang of thieves robs a house in the middle of American nowhere then one of them shoots the family when they return early from their holiday. They go to a bar and annoy a man and his girlfriend during their romantic dinner [i.e. sitting opposite each other in creepy silence]. It turns out the man is a serial killer and the girlfriend is his groupie. The angriest member of the gang, along with the fattest, follows them afterwards and makes them crash their car. The serial killer wakes up in a garage and watches his groupie kill herself by grating her neck against the fat gang guy’s knife. The fat gang guy looks confused, the serial killer doesn’t care; he kills him and decides to hunt the rest of the gang because it was their fault his groupie was insane.

Subplot: The serial killer has another woman tied up in the back of his van. She escapes and hides with the gang, telling them how dangerous the serial killer is. They laugh it off, but secretly they agree with her and prove it by dying one by one.

Sub-subplot: A bored motel owner checks in the serial killer and tells him a good place to eat. He leers at the killer’s girlfriend then goes back to the motel and finds a middle-aged Japanese man installing secret cameras in the killer’s room.

Sub-sub subplot: A nurse coming to the end of a 47 hour shift leaves an injured man alone in his room for two minutes. When she comes back, he’s dead, and Luke Evans is on the phone to his agent. She gets his autograph and, despite her fatigue, accepts his invitation to go back and watch a DVD in his trailer.

Sub-sub-sub-subplot: A meat grinder tries to talk a man out of putting his head inside it, but is hindered by not understanding any form of language. A spiritual twin to Star Trek TNG episode ‘Darmok’.

Right…seems quite similar to ‘The Guest’ on the surface: human killer, sometimes a good guy, sometimes bad, has sex with someone, so can it pass the test?

i] The killer is human and his bag of masks is empty – he even says he can’t help the way he is at one point, and if he could change he would. Which is a serial killer’s way of saying, I like the way I am, or most of it, and if I could change it, I wouldn’t.

ii] He’s invincible in the sense that he’s always one step ahead of his victims and refuses to die at the end. He even wounds himself at one point and puts his life in the hands of one of his victims. Naturally, she saves him. [I should probably explain this a little as, the way it’s written now, I think I’m guilty of loading it unfairly to get a cheap laugh. Basically, he’s kept her locked in a room in the woods, she can’t get out without him, so if she doesn’t save him, she’ll be stuck there forever. That’s why she saves him. Of course, after he’s recovered, he tells her the door was unlocked all the time]

iii] A woman escapes from him, but I wouldn’t say he was defeated by her.

iv] He does a lot of things when he’s not killing – having sex, watching TV, taking his ex-victim for dinner. Not sure if it really counts though…all the time he’s doing this, there’s another victim locked in the back of his van. Technically, he’s still killing, he’s just taking a really long time over it.

Okay, that’s a fail on all points except number 2. But I would say ‘No one Lives’ is closer to horror than ‘The Guest’ as the killer enjoys what he does. He goes after his victims [the gang of thieves] in the film because he wants to, even though he initially lets them go in the bar because his girlfriend/ex-victim asks him to. When they drag him back in, it becomes almost like a revenge flick.

Maybe it doesn’t qualify as horror after all…

Luke Evans, the killer, is an anti-hero, isn’t he? He’s just going about his business, having dinner with his girlfriend, when the gang of thieves insult him and later kidnap him. Then his girlfriend kills herself in front of him, so…in any other revenge film, where the main character is a soldier or a policeman or even a normal guy, he would be totally justified in hunting down the gang and slaughtering them. Which is exactly what happens in this film too.

He’s a serial killer, yes, but he’s still more likeable than any of the thieves, which means we’re on his side, which then means…

I’m not sure what this film is.

Can you call it horror if he’s killing criminals, who are also assholes? Isn’t it just a revenge film with an anti-hero?

But then we also follow the girl who’s locked in the back of the van. She’s the heroine, with no ‘anti’ tag and no real annoying habits…being chased by Luke Evans, the anti-hero, who wants to kill her…but then doesn’t kill her…

This is confusing.

Is it horror because he kills the thieves in gruesome ways?

Is it horror even though I’m not scared of Luke Evans?

Is it horror because he hides inside the body of the fat guy?

Is it horror because he kills a pair of fake tits in the shower?

Is it even tagged as horror?

I don’t know.

Anything else?

Yeah. I like the way he kills the leader of the thieves early on. And then feeds him upside down into a meat grinder. I did not expect that.

Is Luke Evans terrifying?

No. Because he’s human without a mask. And the aggressive thief nearly kills him at the end, which seriously negates his fear factor. Though Evans does deliver a nice speech about the lack of mendacity in the thieves’ actions, which makes you wonder if you really would be smart enough to beat him.

Is the director Japanese?

Yup.

Did he come up with the idea of Luke Evans hiding inside the body of the fat guy?

Probably. The Japanese are quite inventive when it comes to gore.

Is either of these movies horror?

According to their tags, yes. According to the test based on ‘Halloween’ as a template, not really. Though ‘No One Lives’ probably would be if the victims weren’t all psychopathic twats.

Is either worse than ‘Day of the Mummy’?

Nope.

Worse than ‘Monster Dog’?

Not even close.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s