‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This months theme is ‘ghosts’.
has all the components of a great ghost film: old, remote house, secretive and erratic Mistress, spooky caretakers and most importantly seemingly angelic creepy children.
Grace Stewart (Nichole Kidman) is left a single mother to her two children following her husband’s never returning from the Second World War in a house increasingly tormented by spirits who believe they are the rightful inhabitants of the home. Grace’s obsessive piousness is clashed against the seemingly wickedness of her oldest child, Ann. As Grace and Ann’s relationship weakens, Ann becomes closer to the supernatural forces within her own home, befriending a little boy named Victor who no one else can see. The Others is distressing in its depiction of the children, the audience not knowing how much of Ann’s behaviour is childish nonsense or whether she does indeed have a playmate on the other side.
Most important in its success as a ghost story is the way The Others exploits the treatment of the unknown; both the house and its inhabitants are surrounded my eeriness and mystery. A fear of the dark, or at least what the dark conceals, is a cornerstone for most basic spooky tales and The Others takes this that one step further. Ann and her younger brother, Nicholas, both suffer from a disease which makes them acutely photosensitive to such an extent that natural light would kill them. As a result, all the doors, curtains and shutters in the house must be kept firmly shut leaving only candlelight to guide the way of the family. The winding corridors and vast rooms of the house being masked in darkness makes way for all sorts of ghostly happenings to haunt the Stewarts as things become less and less clear about their own lives. –Joanna Mason
Perhaps ‘The Uninvited’ was one of the first films to treat the supernatural in a rather serious manner instead of for comical effect. Directed by Lewis Alan the Cornish set supernatural mystery centres around the sibling dynamic of Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela (Ruth Hussey) Fitzgerald, who together buy an old abandoned house. I think the synopsis of ‘The Uninvited’ gives it no justice as the narrative follows a somewhat generic route (large old house at a surprisingly cheap price, only to find out it is haunted by spirits), however this is a rather subjective view from a 21st century eye. The film is not horror in genre in a modern sense, but rather a suspenseful mystery. ‘The Uninvited’ seeks to create atmosphere using the art of mise en scene, it’s shadowy lighting a real beautiful feature of the film, and its use of techniques evoking an almost Hitchcockian ‘vibe’. The scripting and twist of the ‘The Uninvited’ is also very evocative and although essentially a product of its time, (the film never gets too dark or sinister) to paraphrase many critics that have spoken of this film, it is an ‘elegantly creepy’ picture. -Molly Bennett
The Sixth Sense is permeated in our pop culture, just say the title and little Haley Joel Osment wrapped in a blanket whispering “I see dead people” comes into your head. The film’s jaw dropping twist – which managed to stay contained pre the dawn of the internet – shocked audiences around the world. Regretfully, I knew the twist beforehand and I always wonder what my reaction have been if I didn’t. Once do you know it, the tricks are obvious but so well done that it’s easy to see how astonishing the twist was. The setting of Philadelphia, one of the oldest cities in America and where director and writer M. Night Shyamalan grew up, is perfect. It would be abundant with generations of ghosts. What I love about The Sixth Sense is that the ghost imagery is both terrifying and sad. Once Malcolm learns to communicate with them rather than be terrified (though rightfully so, he is only 9) the audience begins to understand that the ghosts are just sad, lost and looking for some absolution. The ghost scenes are exquisitely executed, such as the school teacher who helps Malcolm with his makeup for the school play. We realize that she was killed in the 1950s school fire and probably just wants to help a student again like she used to. Haley Joel Osment’s monologue about his dead grandmother that visits him makes me cry every time. one of the saddest moments in film. For me, The Sixth Sense is more than a horror film but also a beautiful meditation on death. I know The Sixth Sense is talked about so much that it seems redundant, but I honestly feel it is genius and a work of art. –Caroline Madden
ParaNorman is a 2012 3-D stop-motion animated film produced by Laika Studios, the same company that brought you the film adaptation of Coraline in 2009. It’s about a boy named Norman who can see and talk to ghosts. His family’s not exactly supportive, with the exception of his grandmother (who happens to be dead). It should come as no surprise that all the spirits Norman communicates with have one thing in common: unfinished business. The music in ParaNorman is great. There’s a scene with schoolchildren singing “Season of the Witch” that was pretty entertaining. The animation is killer too, and there’s a (sort of, anyway) openly gay character. I’m hesitant to call ParaNorman a ‘kids’ movie,’ because audience-based categories are sort of silly anyway, but it does contain a nice balance of kid-appropriate scares. Looking back, ParaNorman has a lot of merit–so much that it’s probably unfair to make the movie a target of criticism because of one line near its end, when Norman attempts to free the people of his town from a witch’s curse. Still, while a single line of dialog might not ruin a movie, it definitely affects my opinion of it. And from my perspective (a perspective which, by the way, contains spoilers), the scene where Norman calls the 11-year old witch ‘just as big a bully’ as the townspeople who murdered her is pretty misguided. Anger can be productive. Anger can be powerful. This single line served to silence the girl without truly understanding where her hurt came from. It was sloppy writing, in short. Ultimately, ParaNorman manages to redeem itself. Norman tells the girl it’s not worth it to waste her time or anger on the townspeople when she’s filled with so many other wonderful qualities. I guess I can get on board with that line of thinking (I mean, it’s not like “Hold onto your anger, kids!” is a viable hope for a movie’s message), but just because ParaNorman ends on a good note, does that justify the use of faulty logic to get there? I don’t know the answer to this one, but it’s interesting to think about. Warning: this movie contains a heartbreaking and cute-as-hell scene with a boy and his dog which will absolutely make you cry and miss all your old pets. So, you know, proceed with caution. -Juliette Faraone
After the first time I watched El Orfanato, written by Sergio G. Sanchez and directed by J.A. Bayona, it became one of my favorite films. I used to say it was one of my favorite horror films, but I feel like categorizing it into one genre would be unfair. The film itself is dark and sometimes twisted, but it also depicts sorrow, loss, and love. This film reminds me of Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón’s aesthetic styles. If you’ve seen del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth, you know that he’s a fan of showing beauty in dark times. For example, his character Ofelia spends time in her fantasy world in order to cope with her new family life. Cuarón also has a knack for taking dark situations and making them beautiful. A classic of his that I feel fits this is The Little Princess, but there’s an even more accurate representation of this: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I might be one of the only people who thinks it’s the best Harry Potter film out of all of them, but have you SEEN the aesthetic of it? It’s so dark and spooky, just how Harry Potter should be since living in his world would actually be terrifying, but the cinematography is absolutely stunning. Going back to del Toro–even his new film, Crimson Peak, is a blood bath but I was in awe at the utter beauty of it. In an interview Del Toro said the film was not a ghost story, but a story with ghosts in it (something one of his characters said), and I feel like that is applicable to El Orfanato–which is cool since del Toro was the executive producer of it. Generally speaking, I think it’s interesting that hispanic films tend to include spooky elements into their films, without letting those elements take over. With holidays like Dia de los Muertos and stories like “La Llorona”, it makes sense that ghosts are prominent in hispanic cultures. I come from a hispanic background and like to think that it has heavily influenced my interest in the paranormal and the afterlife.
El Orfanato tells the tale of a woman named Laura who decides to revisit the orphanage she grew up in. As an adult, she and her husband Carlos adopt their own son named Simón. She seems to be very affected by her time in the orphanage and her adoption that she renovates the orphanage in hopes of creating a home for disabled children. During the open house, she gets into a fight with Simón over news that his friend Tomás told him, and then Simon mysteriously vanishes. Tomás is actually a creepy kid in a sack mask–two of the things that scare me the most. There are actually quite a few creepy kids in this film, but most of them are ghosts, hence why I chose it. There is one particular scene where Laura plays a game with the ghost children that is easily one of the most unsettling things I’ve watched, which is probably why I initially labeled the film as a horror film. This film, however, has you question the characters who scare you. They are simply misunderstood because they have yet to tell their story to someone who will listen, which I think is the very essence of ghosts. Let’s go back to “La Llorona” for example. I often think that I’ll never forgive my mom for telling me that story but it’s actually quite heartbreaking when you view the story in the perspective of the ghost. El Orfanato and films like it are able to make the audience feel empathy towards those who have died and see hope in death. –Cristina Vazquez de Mercado