One Level Deeper: Ten Genre-Defining Movies Pt 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Genre-Defining movies. As I said yesterday, this is my attempt to capture the movies that have influenced me to pursue whatever you want to call the genre that I’ve embraced. I’ve heard Weird Fiction, Slipstream Fiction, Paranormal Fiction, Supernatural Fiction, Dark Fantasy, and Urban Fantasy. I don’t know how to box it, I just know that I like it. So let’s continue…

5. Coraline. This is an odd one, I admit. It’s a children’s film, it’s animated, and doesn’t really fit in – superficially – with any of the other movies on this list. However, scratch the surface a bit, and you see that it follows the themes present in my own writing and this list: a girl who discovers that her view of reality doesn’t fully encompass all possibilities. The girl who’s an outsider in a world that she doesn’t understand, a world that is possibly based on her own psychological struggles (this isn’t fully clarified, I don’t feel – intentionally). When I saw this for the first time, it resonated with me and became one of my favorites, even for being a “children’s film”. I suppose it helps that Neil Gaiman was involved, but none of his non-graphic novel work has ever clicked for me, despite numerous attempts. This, however, did the trick.

4. JFK. Talk about going off the beaten path, but yes, this one counts. Taken from the point of someone who doesn’t buy the traditional conspiracy theory lore but is endlessly fascinated by them as examples of possible alternate realities, JFK was like dropping acid and finding myself in a hidden world that looked a lot like my own. It was an enormous fantasy film. Again, we see the person who finds himself adrift in a strange new place that resembles our own world. Toss into it a lot of the storytelling that bends reality with its interpretation of the truth, and I find it endlessly rewatchable. Do I believe in the theory that the film presents? Well, no, but I don’t think it matters. It’s an example, I feel, of taking a mythology and tweaking it to tell a compelling story. I also don’t like Kevin Costner, but he did a hell of a job with the film. Agree or disagree with the historical merits – to me, it’s beside the point. Look at it instead as a trip down an insane path.

3. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Yes. I am one of the few people who enjoyed this movie. I know this will be a controversial choice, and I suppose it’s not a very good movie, especially following on from the first and not being connected in any way, but I felt it did a brilliant job of building tension. Compare what happens in this film to Lost Highway: what we’re viewing is the world through the shared perceptions of these characters, influenced by a character who has completely lost his mind. Consensus reality becomes untrustworthy, with the truth of the film told through the lens of the handheld camera. I get the hate for the movie, especially if you went in expecting something like the first movie and instead found an example of something that the first movie directly opposed. It’s also interesting that the studio apparently changed the movie to be less ambiguous than originally intended – that would have been really amazing. Regardless, I was enraptured, and I still watch it every now and then to see if I was crazy for liking it. I still enjoy it.

2. The Matrix. Couldn’t make this list without it. I don’t know what else to say about it – I’ve talked about it a lot here. It brings all the elements together, though. For more information, see my write-up on the first movie. This does not include the sequels at all.

1. Inception. This was a tough choice. For me, several movies fit into this slot – they’re all a jumble in my head. Pi would be one, though its production values make it hard to fit it into the top 10. Memento is a great example that’s parallel to Inception. Black Swan would fit in here as well, including Requiem for a dream. There’s just something about Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan that have become entwined in my brain. Ultimately, though, I didn’t want to fill a list with all of those films, so I decided to choose one representative of this “slice” of the genre. In the end, I chose Inception because, while I know it has some problems and have seen people write it off, it so perfectly clicks on all of the themes that I’m talking about here. Again, we have the focus of the internal journey, being present in a world where consensus reality doesn’t apply. Ideas about the protagonist are constantly challenged. All of the themes come together here.

An additional word – I know some may question how those Aronofsky and Nolan films fit into this definition, especially Requiem. Think about Requiem, though.  The characters all descend into a fantasy world, a hell that is different from the consensus reality that most people experience. Just because addicts may experience that world as they bottom out doesn’t make it any less alien to the viewer. And of course there’s the warping of reality through their experiences and the addictions themselves.

I think that last brings me around to realize that the common thread is something that I’ve observed in others – that warping of reality that the brain can do in order to justify actions that would horrify most people. Perhaps the genre, to me, is an attempt to explore and understand how that happens. I think there could be worse goals.

That’s my list, though it’s pretty imperfect. The struggle is that there are so few movies that hit exactly what I’m talking about, so I’m looking forward to putting together a list of books that fire on these cylinders. That will be somewhere down the road. For now, I’d be interested in hearing about any possible additions to this canon for movies that I might want to check out.

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  1. Jon, I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months now. I don’t know how you produce as many quality posts as you do while working on novels and–I assume–holding down a day job. Anyway, I’m also a fan of the reality-bending and the weird, and also one of the few fellow admirers of “Blair Witch 2”. A couple of my favorite flicks which I think fall into the category you’re describing are “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Cashback”. They’re pretty dissimilar, but they both explore the brain’s warping of reality that you describe – and they’re both really good. And as I sit here thinking about it…you could include “Johnny Got His Gun”, “Carnival of Souls”, “Blade Runner”…but I’ll stop.

    • Wow, thanks, Daniel, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. The answer to your question is that I’m a robot. Actually, I get it done with the help of a hand recorder and loads of time trapped in DC Metro area traffic. Thankfully I can tell stories by voice as well as computer. Awesome to find a fellow BW2 admirer! I hear we’re a rare breed. Jacob’s Ladder was one of those movies that almost but not quite made it, due to “that” twist. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loved the twist but for some reason it disqualified it in my mind. Maybe because it pulled the scale back in so dramatically. Great movie, though.

      Never heard of Cashback, but I looked up the synopsis and I’m intrigued. Adding that to my list, thanks!

      Love Johnny Got his Gun and Blade Runner, too. Metallica introduced me to the former, and I ate up the book before checking out the movie. Blade Runner is just a classic, and I’ve been thinking about re-watching it for awhile now. You gave me the push to do it!

      Carnival of Souls has been on my list forever. One of these days I’m going to get around to watching it. Who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll have some movies to add to the list. Have a great weekend!

  2. We’re all coming out of the woodwork. I actually liked BW2, as well, but I think they should’ve titled it something else entirely.

    JFK was an interesting choice to include. As far as the acid trip comment, I have two words for you: Oliver Stone.

    Still haven’t seen Inception (although I even had a student last year who was going to loan it to me because she was so convinced I’d like it). I have a feeling I’ll like it, as well. Just have to get around to it. I actually caught the first part and liked the fact that mythology was tied in (especially with the character name of Ariadne). I’m a big fan of mythic structure and the hero’s journey.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

  3. I know, I like it! I feel less freakish. A different title definitely would’ve helped, I think.

    Yeah I was somewhat surprised that JFK came to mind, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense in this “canon”. Definitely familiar with the Stone acid trip thing…used to love Natural Born Killers.

    I’ll second that recommendation. It seems like you’d dig it. That’s funny that you mention the hero’s journey – just started using that to build the skeleton of the sequel for Corridors of the Dead, and I’m having a blast. It’s put a lot of different story elements into their proper perspective, and taught me a lot.

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