Posts Tagged ‘Mark Z. Danielewski’

(WARNING: The following post discusses some recent movies that not everyone has seen yet. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but if you’d rather see these movies without knowing anything, then stop reading now and come back later. You’ve been warned.)

It’s no secret that I’m an eccentric, and I channel that eccentricity into my fiction all the time. I mean, my most popular novel is about a young woman who’s turned into a plant/human hybrid. If that’s not an example of weird fiction, then I’m a high school girl in an anime. And I’m not!

Skinamarink’s poster displayed outside my usual movie theater.

With all that expertise, I can say with certainty that there is plenty of room in fiction, especially in horror fiction, for weird. The novel House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, is a prime example of this. It’s a story about a documentary about a recounting of one family’s experience living in a home that has a giant labyrinth hidden inside it. The novel is full of footnotes, some of which have footnotes, as well as pages with only a few lines of text, or the text laid out in an odd manner, forcing the reader to hold the book at weird angles. From what I’m told, it makes for an experience both agoraphobic and claustrophobic.*

No wonder that book has an enduring relevance among horror readers, despite the author and some readers seeing it more as a love story than a horror story.

All that being said, there is both a good way to make a story weird and a bad way to make a story weird. Especially in the horror genre.

Some of you may have heard of the new Canadian horror movie Skinamarink. The movie revolves around two children who wake up one night to find that their father, as well as the doors and windows to their home, have mysteriously vanished. There’s been a lot of talk about the film online, with some loving it and others reviling it. I went to see it on Friday, knowing that one way or another, I would get a weird experience.

Well, I did get that weird experience. It’s filmed in a way meant to evoke a child’s perspective and reflect their nightmares, with the majority of shots focused on hallways, things high overhead or on the television in the den. Anything but the characters themselves. The entire film is also filtered to look like a home movie from the 80s or 90s, and the use of effects is minimal and mostly reliant on practical effects. A lot of the dialogue is told in whispers, so subtitles are used throughout the film. There’s no music, and plenty of surreal moments throughout the film, especially near the end.

That being said, everyone in my theater, including me, hated it. I even spoke to someone who was in the theater with me afterwards, and he told me he fell asleep during the film. I can see why: except for a few effective jumpscares, there was nothing to actually unsettle the viewer or keep them tense or focused, let alone scare them.

Since seeing the film, I’ve been characterizing it like someone took the cursed videotape from The Ring and tried to make it into a feature film, but took out what made that video so scary in the first place.

Now, I’m not saying anyone who enjoyed Skinamarink or found it scary is wrong or bad. The wonderful thing about horror is how subjective it is and how there are many different niches to suit every fan. Nor am I shitting on the director for the choices he made. I reserve that for the Friday the 13th remake and its creators, because that film is trash that gets everything good about the franchise wrong. Most of the people involved in it should get a good kick in the pants!

No, what I’m saying is that the weird is emphasized at the expense of the horror. Online, Skinamarink is characterized as “an experimental horror film” and that feels like an apt way of putting things. From the way the film is shot, to the use of subtitles and the story (flimsy as it is), you can tell that it’s all been an experiment by the director to conjure up a unique viewing experience. And in that respect, his experiment was a success. However, in terms of creating an effective horror film, the experiment was a bust.

Hatching is, in my humble opinion, a great example of weird horror done well.

Now, compare that to another recent horror film, Finland’s Pahanhautoja, or Hatching. The film follows a girl who finds an egg in the forest and incubates it, only to end up the caretaker of a large bird/dinosaur monster that she calls Alli. Yeah, that’s weird, especially when you see the ugly-ass creature, which is brought to life mainly with practical effects and puppetry. But it also helps to tell a story about a very repressed girl who is struggling as part of a toxic family dynamic and being ruled by a narcissistic, social media-obsessed mother. Rather than overtaking the story, the weird aspects help drive the story and explore its deeper themes.

And that’s where the big difference between Skinamarink and Hatching is. The former’s weird aspects overtake the film and drown out the horror, while the latter’s weird aspects help out the horror and the story in order to be told more effectively.

To summarize, when telling a story of the weird variety, it’s important to remember that you’re telling a story first and foremost. Thus, while you can add as many weird elements as you want, if they overwhelm the story you’re trying to tell, you risk alienating rather than engaging your audience. And that’s something every storyteller wants to avoid. Including eccentrics like me.

*It’s on my TBR list, but that list is long and I only have so much reading time. Thus, it’s going to have to wait a while till I get to it.


Just a reminder, my Followers of Fear: this coming weekend I’ll be at ConFusion at the Sheration Detroit Novi in Detrot, Michigan. This is a big science fiction and fantasy convention that’ll be held from Friday, January 20th to Sunday, January 22nd. I’ll be there selling books and doing Tarot readings, so if you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and say hi. I’d be more than happy to see you.

You can find out more information about the convention by checking out its website here.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares.