Twin Magic And How Good Art Will Have Multiple Interpretations
I take monthly writing workshops to do two things: 1. Hone my skills. 2. Find new ways of telling stories. The workshops, taught by Garrett Cook, help me produce pieces, which aids me in becoming more prolific as I learn. It’s a win-win for me as a creative.
This month he has tested us with finding multiple uses of a verb to utilize as the catalyst for flash fiction stories. I chose the verb PAINT, and have sought to approach it as, well, an artist would a canvas. My goal is to leave each piece ambiguous, and allow the readers to find their own endings to the stories, in the same manner as a person observing a painting might find different interpretations in the art before them.
This mindset has me reading between the lines in anything I read or watch lately. A pair of horror movies, both released recently and both polarizing, have gotten my attention as a result. James Wan’s MALIGNANT and Sean King O’Grady’s WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING. Outside of the mixed reviews for both, and similar leering eyeballs on a crimson pallet theatrical posters, on the surface these films couldn’t be more different.
If not for an exchange of dialogue between two characters.
MALIGNANT is James Wan and Akela Cooper’s mash-up homage to a trio of generational horror tropes. One part 70s Argento giallo, one part Japanese 90s horror, and one part slasher flick, the film lingers between a low budget indy affair and a big studio production. Hell, he even casts Annabelle Hallis, who’s brunette locks transformed her into an Asia Argento clone, in the lead role. This movie is actually easy to follow if you know storytelling. The opening is a clear foreshadow of the climax and reveal. Most every story beat hits, and the third act? It’s as batshit crazy as anything we’ve seen in a horror movie. I was really impressed with the screenwriting and production of MALIGNANT.
Right up until the Hollywood happy ending.
And that’s why MALIGNANT ultimately fails to deliver, it promises you so much and then drops the ball. Everything that came before the ending was pissed away by a cop-out. Wan and Cooper forgot a cardinal rule: indy films don’t have happy endings.
WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING doesn’t hold back a single punch, and this includes the obligatory grim climax. It’s another example of a stellar script, this time by Max Booth III, the author of the film’s source material, an eponymous and just as polarizing novella.
Essentially a study on how it’s never a good time to come out, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING is driven by it’s lead actress, Sierra McCormick, a rising star in genre films, especially horror-centric genre films and TV. McCormick keeps the film afloat. She is such a great actor, and she out acts everyone on the film. Her recent turn on American Horror Stories gave the young woman a chance to shine and show off her versatility, much of which I saw in her portrayal of the teenager Melissa.
Focusing on a family trapped in their home’s bathroom after a storm, We Need To Do Something is a claustrophobic remix of The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, with a bit of Stephen King’s The Mist. It’s Lord of the Flies meets The Craft, dysfunctional family style, with a supernatural twist.
In true indy film form, when Amy, Melissa’s new found girlfriend, reveals she may have brought something to life within her, something that was once dead, the paths of two disparate films meet. What is this diabolic entity? Was there an evil twin within Amy? A thing similar to the cancerous twin Gabriel in MALIGNANT, whose body absorbed into her being while still in the womb? Did the magic, much like the domestic violence Maddy faced, bring that part of her back to life? Who knows, or better yet, who cares! I’m having fun with these movies, because they’re making me think. That’s the beauty of the ambiguous dark ending. You don’t know. Think of the indy film as a painting in an art show. You and everyone else who watch the film can, and likely will, come up with your own speculation about what actually happened in WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING.
In contrast, MALIGNANT plays with its hand revealed the entire time, and dresses it up in homages. Outside of that third act reveal, there are no questions, there’s nothing to stimulate your mind after. The third act was pretty predictable if you paid attention, truth be told. The rest of the movie, right down to the actors, is glossed over and too pretty to be the indy films it pays tribute to.
Its biggest transgression, though, is that goddamn “happy ending,” neatly resolving everything for Middle America’s consumption, while leaving it open for a potential sequel. The film’s climax leaves you cold and ambivalent, and not in a good way, to all that came earlier on the screen. It’s not that WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING is a better film because its ambiguous ending works, because it’s not. The movie, too, is not without its flaws. The middle drags, and it might have been about ten minutes longer than it needed to be. The film’s insistence on not showing its hand has shown to be a source of frustration, boring mainstream horror consumers.
Horror connoisseurs, however, will appreciate both MALIGNANT and WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING for their individual accolades. One is not better than the other, they are equal peers, and welcome additions to the horror genre. Thinking about the possibilities left open by both films has gotten my own creative juices flowing. I can’t wait to post this blog so I can get back to working on my own interpretations of what it means to paint with words. Art inspires art, no?