Other Thoughts

Fear and Complicity

Confession Time: For a very long time, if you asked any of my close friends to name my favorite movie, they would say, “Cloverfield.” Go ahead, judge away. The fact is, that movie rocked my world. I felt like I was running around New York with Hud, Jason, and all the others. Because I didn’t have the distance a normal movie usually allows, there was a much stronger feeling of connection to the characters, emergence in the action, and fear of the monstrous creature stalking the streets of New York.

Yes, I had seen Blair Witch, but it didn’t resonate with me the same way Cloverfield did. That ugly, giant monster made me look at movies a little differently. I started seeking out films that gave me a completely different experience than what I had grown accustomed to. It was in this stage that I grew fascinated with audience complicity.

Anyone who paused at the end of that last paragraph, unsure of what I mean: go to Amazon or Vudu, find The Dirties and watch it: that is audience complicity. And while The Dirties represents a “found footage” style type of complicity, there is another film, a horror film, that not only forces the audience to feel complicit in the events unfolding, but also morbidly curious about what is about to happen. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is hands down my favorite horror film. I went in knowing nothing about the plot, characters or setting, and it was such a wonderful surprise it has made its way into our Halloween rotation along with Cabin in the Woods (another interesting study in audience complicity), Halloween, Friday the 13th, Psycho and other defining gems from the genre.

Without giving anything away, Behind the Mask challenges the audience (as well as the lead characters) to not only follow a man determined to be the next Freddy, Jason or Michael, but to also try and not like him. Leslie Vernon is the most charismatic, charming and hilarious villain I have ever seen. He is loveable and adorable, witty and fun–he is someone you’d want to be friends with–except until he reminds you of his life’s goal. Not only is the audience complicit with the atrocities Leslie sets out to complete, but you like him so much that you almost root for him. The complicity quickly changes to dread, guilt and realization at just what the filmmakers are doing to the audiences’ since of morals, ethics and overall schadenfreude. No other film has made me feel quite the sick, wonderful, and all consuming rollercoaster of emotions that Behind the Mask  provided.

Can you think of any films that make the audience feel complicit in events that otherwise would seem horrifying?

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3 thoughts on “Fear and Complicity

  1. Gabe says:

    Glad to know some one shares my high opinion of Cloverfield. I am rather shocked Cloverfield never had a video-game entry (unlike so many massive flops!). I think the novel premise of trying to capture useful footage instead of incessantly shooting things could have been an FPS breakthrough. To me, Cloverfield was about the quest for the truth, even in the face of mortal peril, and Hud was the ultimate “reluctant hero.”
    I suppose “Funny Games” was rather transparently about audience complicity. I saw the European original and cannot bring myself to go through it again in English, even though Roth and Watts are two of my favorite actors.

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