Category Archives: Bechdel pass
The reviews for the latest A Nightmare on Elm Street film are mostly negative. Given that this is the update of a slasher series, that is to be expected. The simplicity of the plot, which exists only to move the viewer from one creative death sequence to the next, should rightly be derided by critics and those who consume high art. This is not the kind of film made for the purpose of earning praise. This is the kind of film that is supposed to make people go, “Oh shit!”
It is certainly up to the individual to determine whether that happens. What I saw in the theatre was a film with an interesting pace and focus. Instead of having one protagonist who is followed throughout, with incidental scenes featuring the supporting cast, the film roams from character to character. The viewer follows a character until his or her death, then the next, then the next, etc. Like I said, the plot exists to move from one death to another. This creates a film without a central protagonist, despite longtime fans’ rightful expectation that everything will come down to Nancy and a scheme to bring Freddy Krueger into the real world. The effect of this roaming focus suggests that the viewers are not seeing the film from the perspective of any of the teens with whom we are supposed to sympathize but rather from the killer himself as he slashes a path to his favorite. I consider this a merit of the film, personally.
But one review I read, by Sam Bathe of Fan of the Fire, managed to mention the one major shortcoming I found with the film. Offhand in a statement quoted by Rotten Tomatoes, Bathe says that the film is “[d]evoid of personality[…]”. This is average critic-speak for “the film did not strike me as particularly original”, which in itself is not a particularly original statement of complaint. But the statement hits on something that is very clearly there.
The remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street seems to have spent too much time in its development toward becoming a mainstream box office hit. The edges were rounded off too well, and someone needs to put some dirt on the film. The movie fails to take any chances and just does not stand out. It is just another supposedly darker and grittier reboot. It is definitely darker than the original, with Krueger being a child molester working at a preschool rather than just a child murderer this time around. It tells its tale well and Jackie Earle Haley’s performance as Krueger is everything it needed to be – but the film was still lacking.
Beyond its not having an edge, another concern I have is that the horror and slasher film genres are moving uncontrollably in the direction of appeasing emo and Twilight fan cultures. Slashers found their prime in the 80’s, where the goal was to titillate the audience. The teenaged victims would have gratuitous sex, show some cleavage, and then get hideously murdered. Here we have Kyle Gallner (Cassidy on Veronica Mars) and Thomas Dekker (John Connor of The Sarah Connor Chronicles) wearing ridiculous amounts of eyeliner while making dopey eyes at girls they wish they could share their beds with in a mostly platonic way. Topless women are replaced by the entire boy’s swim team in Speedos, followed by a sequence featuring Gallner standing in the cold in his Speedo while watching the original death of Fred Krueger. This is by no means a complaint aimed at a return to the misogyny of the 80’s form of the genre, but I think pandering to this new demographic is a quick way to pull the trigger on the death of the genre in the new decade.
There are at least two more Nightmares planned as of this writing. To be clear, I want these films to be made. The only thing I really request is that they have a little more kick to them. These films need balls.
Bechdel Rule: Pass. I suppose this depends on your interpretation of the rule, though. When any of the women talk to each other in the film, they talk about Krueger – even if only vaguely. They do not talk about which boys they like. However, in a bit of turnabout, Dekker’s character chides Gallner’s character openly about his being unable to ask Nancy out. (Of course, fans of Veronica Mars might assume their own reasons…)
Ever heard the theory about Least Objectionable Programming? It was created by Paul Klein, a former executive of NBC, to steer television programming in the most profitable direction. The theory states that the number of viewers at any given time remains constant, and all they want to do is experience television. They turn on the television just to have it on, and their viewing decisions are determined by what programs offer them the least challenge. “Thought, that’s tune-out, education, tune-out. Melodrama’s good, you know, a little tear here and there, a little morality tale, that’s good. Positive. That’s least objectionable,” he said.
The theory may have been postulated in the 1960’s merely for television, but it is hard to believe that the idea has not been expanded since then and is no longer in use. For every complicated TV show or movie you find, there are at least three least objectionable programs looming around it. Shows and movie writers are often asked to simplify their shows to a less objectionable form. The ones that do not make the cut are often canceled. Well, not unless they are on cable or produced independently.
Did anyone happen to see Alice in Wonderland last weekend? Am I wrong for believing it to be one of these least objectionable programs? No education or thought, a forced moral of sorts, and cheap pandering to teen girls? I may be hard on the film, given that it is a Disney-made film intended largely for children. Then again, so was the amazing 1950’s film.
In the American remake of Funny Games, and presumably in the original as well, it is postulated at the end that the observation of fictional violence is just as real as observing real life violence. What is the difference between watching a man viciously whacked with a golf club, having his leg broken, in real life and watching it in a movie? The immediate context. We are able to forgive what we see on the screen but unable to do so if there were no screen separating us from the action. Torture films, or torture porn as some people like to call them, have grown increasingly popular since the release of the first Saw film. Truth be told, what do we get out of viewing such cinema?
I think that the films unintentionally give viewers the ability to identify with the torturers. The victims in these movies are sympathetic to a degree because they are being slaughtered, but there’s a logical disconnect present as a viewer because we’re on the other side of the screen. They are our victims as well. While we’re not perpetuating the acts of violence, we’re there because that’s what we expect to see. It does not say many positive things about us.
Funny Games intends to make its audience ask themselves what it means to be an observer of this fictional violence, but it fails to make any sort of point. The postulate about the role of the observer is only briefly mentioned at the end, almost as a throwaway. If one wants to analyze the film, it’s there. If not, the film is as guilty as any other film for putting its audience in such a position.
Not to say the film is bad. It is not for everyone. It is tense but also kind of empty in how it’s filmed. Surprisingly, there are few scenes of direct violence and none of gore. There is blood only in one scene, the aftermath of off-screen violence. Even so, the violence throughout the film is directed at a woman, a child, a dog, and even a crippled man (although they did cripple him). Steer clear if you are someone who has not developed that disconnect between real emotions and acts on screen. Or…you might be for whom the movie as actually intended. I can’t tell anymore.
Bechdel Rule: Pass. I had to double check this one, but there was an actual in-person conversation between the female lead and another woman. While the husbands were briefly mentioned, the conversation was basically as pointless as all other conversations in the film. Regardless, it passes.