Writing Is Easy, Horror Is Hard

Earlier this week I watched the Skype ghost movie Unfriended. After seeing the trailer months ago I was intrigued by the premise but I never got around to actually seeing the film when it was theaters. Admittedly, watching a movie at home isn’t the same experience as sitting in a theater and being forced to reckon with the images that are being projected at you. Whenever you like, you can stop the film to make a sandwich, take your dogs for a walk, or to hop on Facebook to see if you have mutual friends with any of the actors (all things that I did while watching Unfriended).*

I don’t believe that having the ability to stop and start a movie at will is necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of movies that I've enjoyed over the course of a day as I was going about my business, and it’s rare that I get a chance to sit down and watch a movie from beginning to end without pausing it at least once. That’s just the world that we live in now. When I do see a movie in the theater (a couple times a month) it’s usually to see a larger tentpole film that I’ll be writing about for work, but if there’s something that I’m aching to see I can usually find it on VOD. Which is exactly how I found Unfriended.

One of my favorite genres of film (maybe my absolute favorite – I’ve never tallied up the score) is horror. If I find myself home alone (which is often) I’ll put on a horror film that I’ve either heard a lot about, or that looks interesting and hope for the best. This is a fairly hit or miss way to find a good movie (and more miss than hit), but it invokes the same feelings that I had while browsing video rental stores in my youth and I chase that feeling as much as possible.

I enjoyed the conceit of Unfriended. The idea that although these five millennials were connected via the Internet, cellphones, and various technologies meant to connect, that they didn’t know each other at all and that by viewing life through screens they’d become jaded to the horrific acts that they’d committed. The actors were all good. They managed to emote with what little they were given to do and it seemed like a challenge to shoot everything in one take. The only problem with the film (albeit a big one) was that it wasn’t scary. Even though it contained the trappings of the standard horror film, there were zero frightening moments. No jumps, no sense of dread, nothing. The idea that a ghost is causing teens to commit suicide is interesting, but it isn’t inherently frightening, and when there were scares to be had: someone hiding in a room, an eerie knock at the door, a girl jamming a hot curling iron down her throat – they played like examples of frightening scenes that you too can use for your film, rather than actual scares themselves. 

All of this armchair quarterbacking is meaningless. The film did gangbusters at the box office, and even though the film is mostly a bus,t this is a good thing because it means that production companies will continue to take chances on small films even if they aren’t perfect. The only real fear that Unfriended riled up in me is the fear that the horror film that I had finished writing a week or so prior would also suffer the same fate of being patently unfrightening. As a writer, I have little control over the final product of a film, and since the movie is going into production in late August I can’t rewrite the movie with all new and better scares. As I watched Unfriended, the terror of the similarities between the Blumhouse production and my script began to illicit terror in me that I never thought I would feel. Both of the films take place in one location, they’re both mostly POV, and there are ghosts. Had I crafted a thoroughly unscary scary movie? Are these the feelings that every writer faces when they let their work out into the world and tinkering is no longer an option? Maybe it’s for the best that the script is out of my hands. It’s a forced finality that gives me the option of either wringing my hands and waiting for the inevitable bad news, or writing something else that’s new and better.

 

*·      Avocado and Sprouts

·      To the small park with the nice grass

·      Many