Tag Archive: Subtlety

I saw Hidden Figures back in early January at a preview screening at Odeon. Since then I’ve been bombarded by trailer after trailer for the film, attached to almost every screening I’ve attended since.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it were a teaser we were talking about, but no. The final Hidden Figures trailer is the most tragic case of spoiling an entire film since we saw the same thing happen to Room around this time last year. These aren’t isolated cases, either. Trailers for Batman vs Superman and Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic were the other major culprits from last year, and I could list more if I wanted to spend time thinking about it. The unfortunate mentality of sheer desperation – of studios and editors thinking the only way to get audiences to pay for a film is by showing everything to them beforehand – is currently one of my biggest problems with the film industry.

Honestly, this is a case of a film blowing its entire load prematurely – and yes, the analogy to an overeager, desperate man unable to contain his excitement for the payoff is entirely appropriate. Within the Hidden Figures trailer – having seen the film and liked it very much, I can tell you for certain – we see brief clips from every major scene in the movie, beginning to end; we hear literally every relevant piece of dialogue, swiftly cut together at speed so as to fit it all in; and the overarching theme of the film is thrust upon you with virtually no sense of subtlety.

I’m going to put the trailer below to help illustrate my point. However, I will say this: if you have not yet seen this trailer and plan to see the film anyway (it is actually worth your time, hence my frustration), don’t watch it. Don’t ruin it for yourself. I know if I had seen this trailer beforehand, I likely would not have enjoyed Hidden Figures as much as I did. But then, I like to be surprised when I watch a film; perhaps you see a cinema trip as more of a risk and like to know absolutely every detail you’re going to see, in which case go ahead and watch this trailer. We’ll just continue to not understand each other.

There is a clear stopping point for me in that trailer – or rather, a point at which it becomes obvious they’re giving away too much. It is the line “I don’t know if I can keep up in that room”, as the general tone shifts to not-so-subtly make it clear that ‘hey, this is a film with a serious message you know’. Tonal shifts like this should be the film’s domain, not its trailer. But again, the trailer is too focused on squeezing every possible detail into two minutes, to let you know you might like this movie, if you liked its incredibly condensed version. It’s not too difficult to decipher, as well, that there is likely an agenda at play with the trailer for this film, if not the film itself. However, I’m going to save this part of my analysis for another article on each of the nine Best Picture nominees.

In contrast, the first trailer for Fences, another Best Picture nominee this year, is a much better example of a well executed trailer than the fast, desperate cutting of the Hidden Figures equivalent. If you watched the one above, now check out this trailer, and observe the clear difference between the two. Note there has since been a second trailer, similar to this but with only a few extra details added, though I haven’t seen that version shown in UK cinemas.

We’re left in no doubt from the Fences trailer that it also tackles some interesting themes and social issues; but it communicates this in much less words than the Hidden Figures equivalent, and does it without spoiling many of the film’s major scenes. In fact, this trailer communicates its message through clips from (seemingly) two major scenes, showing only brief glimpses of a few others while leaving the rest to the imagination, in effect building anticipation for the overall film. I think Hidden Figures could have achieved this too, though perhaps not to the same effect (there aren’t many actors with the screen presence of Denzel Washington, after all).

Bear in mind my comments here are not directly related to the quality of each film; rather, I’ve focused entirely on critiquing their trailers, though to do so is important as the quality of a trailer does correlate with how many people are going to see the film in question. I will be giving my thoughts on the films themselves when I give my breakdown on each of the nine contenders for the Best Picture Oscar in a separate post, to come soon.

A quick word on “horror”.

Today of all days seems to bring out the people who suddenly have a lot more than usual to say about horror and what it ‘means’. The main word they throw around in relation to horror is ‘evil’ – because in the West, it seems, that’s all this rather broad term means to people.

It’s a genre in literature and film that carries with it this inherently negative connotation. I’ve heard people say they think horror films are literally evil. They don’t specify exactly which ones, or what type of horror film they’re referring to. Horror itself is just branded ‘evil’ and in their mind, that’s simply all there is to it.

Now to a certain extent, in a manner of speaking, I might be willing to agree, if we were judging the genre exclusively by what Hollywood regurgitates with its generic production line studio movies released year-on-year. People like to be scared, and audiences in the West, much to my disdain, seem to prefer demonic jump scares over other types of horror.

Yes, there are other types, you know. Horror is bigger than ‘demons’ and ‘monsters’; indeed often the most monstrous elements of some of the best horror films or literature have little or nothing to do with the supernatural – at least not overtly. There is such a thing as subtlety, after all.

Not that I’m saying there is any problem with art portraying the supernatural. It’s been overdone in horror, especially in the Christian-dominated West, but there is no problem with one enjoying it. A film portraying the image of a demon does not make that demon real, even if you otherwise believe they are so. It is a story – even if based on a ‘true’ account (and take such a claim with a pinch of salt, especially when it’s Hollywood doing the claiming), it is still merely a portrayal of something put together to provide some kind of entertainment. You may not find entertainment in it personally. That’s fine – when it comes to a lot of stuff Hollywood does, nor do I.

Someone else will, and someone else does. You know why? Because we’re different; we have different tastes and opinions, and someone who doesn’t share your own does not necessarily fall into the default ‘evil’ category.

I have always enjoyed horror from a young age. I kind of enjoy the feeling of being unsettled; of being on the edge of my seat; of smiling in satisfaction when a film or book is suitably frightening. A lot of people won’t quite understand that – if they say they do they’d usually say so in a somewhat condescending fashion – and I have no problem with that. I’ve never expected nor particularly wanted everyone else to share my tastes or opinions, because these are things that are personal to each of us. To spend your time trying to force them onto others is, in the end, to rob yourself of your own individuality. If everyone was like you, you wouldn’t quite be you any more.

My next film essay will focus on one of my favourite films of 2014, and what has become quite possibly my favourite horror movie of all time: The Babadook. I love this movie for many more reasons than its genre, yet its genre is central to its power as a film and the story it tells.

There is a monster in The Babadook – as its title states – though it is not your typical supernatural fare. It is instead very much a ‘psychological’ horror movie; one in which the true monster is suppressed feelings such as guilt, anger, grief, depression… These things are all very real, intrinsic in most of us, and yet they are things many of us do not like facing or even acknowledging. We go through life thinking we can ‘get by’ without truly dealing with certain issues because it may be too painful to do so. The Babadook, if nothing else (though there is a lot more to it), is a film about facing up to these things, and you know what? To do so is scary. It can be extremely frightening in fact. But in facing up to them, you’ll most likely come out the other side stronger; more comfortable and confident in yourself.

That is a side of horror that I think is often neglected. So yes, though Halloween was not really the central point of me writing this short piece, I for one hope the tradition continues for many generations to come. I hope horror in general continues to make people confront things they feel uncomfortable with. I hope we never get to a point where we’d rather brush it all under the carpet and walk around with sugar-coated smiles as we celebrate how blissfully ignorant we all are. Not on my watch.

The horror genre is, for me, the most raw, the most emotional of all genres. If more people gave it a chance I think it would help them learn a little more about themselves than they knew beforehand. But hey, if you’d still say it’s just not your thing, that’s cool. If you don’t have the same tastes as I do, I get it. Though at least now, having taken the time to glance through this, I’d like to think you won’t simply categorise me as someone who likes ‘celebrating evil’ or something.

That kind of dogma is the very thing good horror exposes, actually. Perhaps, deep down, that’s why they fear it.