I watched some films. They were both modern horror films with echoes of H.P.Lovecraft, although neither was explicitly adapting any single story. Both of them involve doctors and law officers struggling to deal with strange phenomena when they are already struggling to cope with the extremes of “normal” human behaviour.
The Dead Center (2018) starts with a mutilated corpse brought in to an ICU, where it is tagged as dead and of unknown identity.
But as soon as the bodybag has been left alone in an empty room, it bursts open and a disturbed man races away and hides elsewhere in the unit. He is located the next day, found to be catatonic, and transferred to the psychiatric clinic where Dr Daniel Forrester presides.
This is one of those Serious, Thoughful modern horror/sci-fi films after the example of Upstream Color, so we observe the conventions:
- There is minimal soundtrack, with electronic drones underscoring only the moments of tension.
- The character info-dump sections are carefully weaved into professional conversations so they fit more naturally and aren’t too obtrusive and clunky.
- Professional life has an Office-style realism, with conversations breaking down in awkwardness and non sequiturs, and time-serving staff displaying boredom and lack of attention as well as apparently inappropriate levity. We cut between short interactions to give a quick tour of the daily life in the ward.
- And yet in the end we do still have a maverick hero, who is breaking the rulebook and going out on a limb against the bureaucrat who rules over him, though at least she bluntly states that he’s breaking the law and putting the hospital in line for a colossal lawsuit. He has a tragic childhood that explains why he’s so driven.
In this case Forrester isn’t the only maverick going out on a limb because he’s intrigued by the mystery of a corpse returning to life: there is also medical examiner Edward Graham, who turned up to do the autopsy on the man who wasn’t dead, and wants to find out the truth. So he continues a parallel course in the film, only finally intersecting with Forrester at the end.
Graham’s odyssey gives the audience the background we need on the reanimated man, and we learn that he’s Michael Clark, who was found to have killed himself in a frenzy in a motel room. He was obsessed with stories of mass deaths and conveniently assembled one of those wall-collections of photographs and clippings that help us to understand what he was thinking about. Crazy people are good for stuff like that.
Meanwhile Forrester has made slow progress in trying to raise the consciousness of Clark, using hypnosis as well as various drugs.
But Clark’s also displaying dangerous powers, though the doctors and nurses and guards all around him don’t realise it. When electric lights flicker nearby it means he’s about to release a terrible attack on the nearest hapless bystander, hollering in their face and seemingly scaring them to death. In the early stages it takes a while for these attacks to be effective, but in the end he evolves into a being who can kill almost instantly in this fashion. The killing process is rather obscure and underwhelming, but it seems to be implied that he gives his victims a vision of Hell and infinite torment, or possibly the total of all actual suffering that occurred in this world.
Although our hero was empathetic and committed to alternative pathways in psychiatry, trying to create new chances for the least-favoured and so on, in the end he goes off to fight and kill the undisguised monster that Clark becomes: roaming at large in a suburban cul-de-sac and showing a fairly leisurely approach to wiping out humanity. There are 2 twists near the end: the actual final meeting between Forrester and Graham, and the closing moments suggesting the pattern is about to start again, a trick also used at the very end of Relic, and may also be another convention of these films.
For a different mood, there is The Void (2016). We start with some mysterious men chasing a young woman out of a house at night, and setting her on fire with petrol. Then we go on to see another Daniel, in this case young highway cop Daniel Carter, waiting by the woods at night and seeing a young man in a dazed state stagger out in to the road.
He takes him to the nearby hospital, which is scheduled to close down soon and is in the process of packing everything away. What year is this? The computers, phones and other office gear looks old, but it may simply be that this place hasn’t been updated in years, that’s why it’s getting closed.
Carter has a lot of personal history with staff at the hospital. They knew his dad, and his ex-wife is here, and the old Doctor Richard Powell regrets that he couldn’t save their lost baby, or his own wife.
There is an interlude of bored nothingness and empty corridors, but then we set out on the scary shocker ride in the dead of night: weird men in outfits gathering outside:
The injured young man he brought in proves to be unstable and has to be restrained. But then things start going haywire as nurses attack and kill other patients, and start transforming into weird tentacular Cthulinoid creatures. The tough guys have to get tough, as they are getting killed off quickly, even when the 2 guys from the start turn up to help out.
We journey into the underworld of the basement, which is quite phantasmagoric and not clear that we’re being played for a reveal that it’s all hallucinogenic (it isn’t, as far as I can see, though these characters are having visions).
Too much story and back-story gets dumped too quickly, especially as we never had time to care about the basic human relations of the principals, or be surprised that any of them turn out to be wrong’uns. Also the female characters get a worse deal in this country backwater, spending too much time as mirrors of their males and only getting minds of their own as a shock surprise. Back in the Dead Center Sarah Grey was a modern woman in control of things, even though she had to do emotional labour foŕ her Daniel when he rang her up. However, the supernatural heart of that world was just as much a load of unformed tosh as The Void, it just tried to hide it in quiet scenes and keeping the details fragmentary instead of shoving it in the audience’s faces. Both films use flickering lights as the signal that normal rules are about to break. The evil forces in the 2 films might well be the same Lovecraftian Ancient Ones, it’d just that one of them shows them indirectly through a Whisperer In The Darkness, and the other lets loose the full Call Of Cthulu.
Both these films end with a country music tune playing as the credits go up.
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