Now back from Green Man, where UD ate a lunch (spiced chickpeas, cucumber, roasted beets, housemade pickles, lemony herbed yogurt [they substituted tumeric-tahini sauce] over organic farro) she only a short time ago would have considered, well, a horror (she’s on a health kick), I return to my sermon on horror.

Where were we? … People will flock to Hereditary, says a reviewer of this brutal horror film, because they “want to be fucked up.” No sane, rational person (you’d think) would pay money to sit through the hideous relentless dread, and the extremely gruesome visuals (I won’t describe them, but having listened to a detailed spoiler, I know what they are), this film features. But given the hype – and given the amazingly great reviews (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) – millions of people will indeed pay money to sit through this film. Many of them will want to watch it repeatedly. Because they want to be fucked up.

But what does this mean?

Put aside the obvious somatic pleasures, for some people, of lurid excitement, voyeuristic bloodlust, etc. This film transcends routine horror film payoffs. “Hereditary is far more upsetting than it is frightening.”

UD would put it this way: People want their intuition that life is a horror (ja, ja, life is much more than a horror; we’re talking here about the horror) actualized; they seek opportunities to feel the sharp actuality – visualized, narrativized, aestheticized – of what they sense to be true of human existence. They want this because most people want to feel that they are living reasonably lucid and undeluded lives – that they are not denialist cowards in the face of very difficult human realities.

There are high and low, reputable and disreputable, orderly and disorderly, ways to achieve, or feel, this actualization. UD wouldn’t be caught dead at Hereditary, but she’ll pay much more than ten bucks to attend a performance of King Lear. So maybe part of this is snobbery on her part, but more interestingly I think it’s about preferring orderly expressions of disorder, Apollonian openings onto Dionysianism, to the messy horror plenitudinis of offerings like Hereditary.

The first half of Hereditary feels like its own thing, while the second is a kind of highlight reel of things we’ve seen before, with [the director] conjuring up the specters of a half-dozen horror classics and letting them take over; by the end, the movie has become an empty vessel for its references rather than a fully inhabited drama… It’s ambitious to try to make something that balances psychodrama with paranormal activity — to draw from the DSM-V and the Necronomicon — and the ratio here is off. It’s frustrating to watch the intricate psychological architecture of Hereditary’s script collapse under the weight of gory, aggressive schlock — or else reveal itself as nothing more than a pretense for that shlock in the first place. By sacrificing subtlety and suggestion for a blunt-force attack, Hereditary reaps a cheap sort of reward.

Its intricate psychological architecture having been successfully built into a provocative and even – disturbingly – plausible house of horrors, in other words, Hereditary collapses into a wreck of genre cliches and gratuitous scary bits, or, as another review of the film puts it, a “patchwork-quilt concoction of ghoulish clichés.” Which of course the audience is ready for, because our sense of life as nothing alternates with our sense of life as far, far, too much (see my Rilke quotation in Part One). But throwing all that muchness at people risks aesthetic failure.

********************

I think that the special horror of a high-profile suicide like Robin Williams’ or Kate Spade’s resides in our sense that their act of self-destruction somehow comprehends both nothing, and too much of everything, and thus gives us a double jolt of horrible clarity. They were blessed with over-rich lives (success, adulation, money, beauty galore galore galore), but this very over-richness maybe was part of the problem – the pure too-little (Rilke’s language) insidiously tipped over into the empty too-much, and they were drowning in it. Maybe what I’m talking about gets diagnosed as mania.

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One Response to “UD’s Sermon on Horror: Part Two.”

  1. dmf Says:

    In my life and clinical work I have found the exact opposite of this “UD would put it this way: People want their intuition that life is a horror (ja, ja, life is much more than a horror; we’re talking here about the horror) actualized; they seek opportunities to feel the sharp actuality – visualized, narrativized, aestheticized – of what they sense to be true of human existence. They want this because most people want to feel that they are living reasonably lucid and undeluded lives – that they are not denialist cowards in the face of very difficult human realities.” both with the general population and those who love the horror genre (as they love say roller coasters), part of what is so disjoining/alienating about real-life traumas is that they tend to be the sort of thing about which we say “I can’t imagine____”, Masha Gessen has noted how much this denial plays a role in Trump shock, often the people who can give you chapter and verse of say the school to prison pipeline and or the colonial horrors of patriarchy were the most caught off guard and now most in disbelief about his presidency, even in Russia we see how people still hold onto myths of normalcy/salvation…

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