Last week, I saw two movies, and both made me think about certain angles that Hollywood cinema has taken in the last decade or so.
I was looking forward to The Forest, because of its subject matter – Japan’s infamous Aokigahara forest, aka the Suicide Forest. You would think it would be difficult to go wrong with such a grim, creepy and morbid central matter. But within just the first few minutes of The Forest, you get the idea that it’s the same old, same old. Jump scares that have nothing to do with the plot, dot the proceedings. That immediately raises the alarm. It’s as if some studio executives decided a horror film cannot go on for more than 10 minutes without a scare, no matter if it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. The audience just need to be reminded that they are watching a horror film.
The Forest leads you into the strange world of Aokigahara, capturing its serene beauty and at the same time, underlining its otherworldly aura. This is fine, except that the story goes nowhere fast, and spirals downwards towards the usual noisy, falsely-induced disorientation that’s supposed to evoke some scares, instead of capitalising on the slow dread built up till then to really get under the skin.
But the bigger problem here relates to a certain trend that’s been going on that could be attributed to post-911 trauma. It’s been 14 years but that trend has not dwindled, simply because American kneejerk reaction abroad has not dissipated.
Quite simply, The Forest is yet another symptom of The Foreign Horror. Basically, anything that is outside of America is weird, horrific and could kill you. Films like Hostel and ilk, and even non-horror films like Taken, place their element of danger in a foreign country, essentially underscoring the fear that anything outside of the comfort of America is bad and dangerous.
In The Forest, Natalie Dormer’s character, Sara, who goes to Japan to rescue her twin sister, patronises a sushi restaurant, and is served a shrimp that is still alive despite having its head chopped off. Now, there’s two things wrong with this – firstly, shrimps don’t stay alive that way, and secondly, live seafood is a staple in South Korea, not Japan.
This is, of course, the filmmakers’ creative licence, much like in Lost in Translation, that portrays the Japanese as weird. Similarly, the scene at a tourist centre in Aokigahara that stores dead bodies found in the forest, in its basement, telegraphs that the Japanese are strange people. So, if you step outside of America, be prepared to meet some weirdness, which sometimes can even kill you. This is so much in contrast of, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that was made in an era of more American introspection than now.
The second movie I saw was The 5th Wave. Here’s the thing. Millennials seem preoccupied with death, destruction and the end of the world. In their world, dead people come to life (zombies and vampires) and the landscape is post-apocalyptic and dystopian (The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner).
Contrast this to my time as a young person when we had life-affirming films such as John Hughes’ colourful character studies. Every generation has its dark clouds over its heads. Mine had the Cold War, the 90s generation had 911, and the millennials, they seem to have a lot – climate change, wars, disasters man-made and otherwise, and more. Perhaps that’s the reason for all the obsession with death and the end of the world.
Of course, it always comes with the promise of hope and renewal, but always with the idea that young people are on their own, and no one can help them except themselves.
The 5th Wave is yet another adaptation of a young people’s series of novels. And its saccharine, cloying romantic tropes make it somewhat like a sci-fi version of Twilight, with its own versions of Edward and Bella in Evan and Cassie.
And like Twilight, it confuses feminism with romantic conventions of the Mills & Boon’s variety. On the one hand, The 5th Wave has strong female characters. On the other hand, it has one scene of Cassie ogling at Evan bathing shirtless in a river, and the camera lovingly adores Evan’s sculpted physique. Yes, I can handle all the bad guys and aliens, but I still need an awfully good-looking guy to save me sometimes.
As such, The 5th Wave is really a teeny romance made for girls that is more Twilight than Hunger Games. And at some point in the last decade, movies for young people turned into soulless creations empty and devoid of meaningful reflections on what it means to be young with a whole life ahead of you.