Thursday, May 14, 2015

Structure in paranormal thrillers

I went looking for a decent monster movie.

That's a tall order, unfortunately. A lot of monster movies are action- and horror-formula killfests with precious little introspection. To make matters worse, I didn't want alien monsters or scientifically created monsters. I wanted magical ones. Cryptozoology, if you prefer. Which shortened the list even further.

I wanted something to prod me into thinking about how people react when confronted with something they've long believed was mythical. Aside from reaching for a weapon, that is.

Out of necessity, I started moving toward what might be more accurately called paranormal thrillers. They were more thoughtful and more focused on the characters. I also started to notice structural similarities.
  1. Gadgetry & denial: The main character arrives in a state of denial. Science is called in to explain the initial situation. Gadgets are deployed, tech-speak is thrown around, and surely science will save the day. 
  2. Facile solution: Spooky things happen. A rational answer is found. The question seems to be resolved. We're done here, right?
  3. The hook: No, we're not done. Something inexplicable happens that touches on the character's tragic past. More on this later.
  4. Confrontation/Acceptance: Science and logic are abandoned. The main character starts reacting emotionally and/or intuitively, and the paranormal reveals itself. As a result, the character relives the past trauma and changes internally.
  5. Fallout: Objective reached, the paranormal withdraws or is conquered. The main character has to deal with the emotional and practical consequences. 
Best of the three, IMO
The one thing I particularly noticed about the three pretty-good paranormal thrillers that I watched -- The Awakening, The Mothman Prophecies, and Oculus -- is that the main character in each is wrestling with the death of a loved one(s). Central to the paranormal revelation is the ending of the grieving process in which the character has been "stuck" for however long.

Interesting that being touched by death seems to be a prerequisite for being able to properly confront the paranormal. Having to face our helplessness against death preps us, perhaps, to face something else that's outside our control and understanding: the paranormal. Something which science can only do so much to stop. So in a way, stories about the paranormal are be stories about helplessness... which can be terrifying.

Naturally, having seen a pattern in these stories, I want to mess with the pattern. My character has already faced the death of a loved one (this is a sequel story) so he already partly fits the mold. I had not thought about this story in terms of his grieving process, though.

So maybe I succeeded in prodding my brain despite the deck being stacked with awful B-movie fodder.

Seen any good paranormal thrillers recently?

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