Interesting. Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation of the true story of the daring rescue of the Thai youth football (soccer) team from the flooded cave is faithful to the wikipedia page, but with an impressive addition of underwater cinematography. Thirteen Lives chronicles the seemingly impossible rescue that captured the attention of the entire world in summer 2018. While Howard’s docudrama is well-made all the way around, what audiences will find most fascinating is the mechanics of the rescue. It took thousands of volunteers in the labyrinth of caves, mountain peaks, and basecamps to bring all the boys and their coach to safety. Although none of the performances particularly stand out, the film delivers solid casting. Thirteen Lives is a different kind of “based on the true story” film, because it does not have particularly strong plotting to map-out the narrative. On one hand, it is a simple plot rescue the boys, but the film ultimately plays as a blow by blow description of what happened. Upon viewing the film, I thought to myself, why not just make a documentary instead; and then it occurred to me, that there would have been little to no footage of the inside of the caves. Therefore, docudrama was the way to go. There really isn’t much in the way of connective tissue between plot points; events just happen. That’s not to say that what we are watching isn’t terrifying in places–it certainly is–especially if you have kids; but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a cinematic story in the conventional sense. Even though we all know how the true story ends, the film focuses on the steps that were taken in order to rescue the youth soccer team. Is it good? Well, it’s not bad. It just kind of is. Often we see based on a true story films that take so much dramatic license that it’s no longer a faithful big or small screen adaptation; sometimes, character or situational nuances or motivations are lost in translation. Thirteen Lives is so incredibly focuses on a dutiful adaptation, that it sometimes forgets that it’s also supposed to be finding the narrative amongst the facts. I wouldn’t wait to see this on the small screen, catch it during its limited theatrical run because the visuals are impressive.
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
Blumhouse and Amazon would like to Welcome [You] to the Blumhouse! Four films from Blumhouse hit Amazon Prime over the next couple of weeks. The Lie and Black Box release on Tuesday, October 6th followed by Nocturne and Evil Eye on Tuesday, October 13th. Each film in this anthology series explores concepts such as family, loss, and love through the lenses of redemption or destruction. The series even tackles the subjects of systemic prejudice and racism. Through the decades, the American horror film (and I say American because my area of expertise is the American horror film) has proven to be far more truthful than any conventional drama could ever hope to be in terms of exploring that which is difficult or risky to express through a typical drama or the like. There is something about horror films that beckons the audiences to find enjoyment in that which in real life would not be enjoyable—and not only see it once but repeat it over and over again. And furthermore, find the unfamiliar and grotesque fascinating to behold as what should remain hidden comes to light. The return of the repressed. Perhaps there is a deep-seated reason as to why millions of people find entertainment value in horror films. The running theme throughout Welcome to the Blumhouse appears to be Sigmund Freud’s writings on the uncanny.
Although many of the conclusions drawn by Freud have been challenged over the years, he spent a great deal of time on the uncanny; and his analysis on such has helped a great deal in understanding the psychology behind horror. The word uncanny comes from the German word unheimlich, which is literally translated as something unfamiliar. However, that which is unfamiliar is not necessarily uncanny. In particular, he was interested in the return of the repressed. And, in this return of the repressed, “other” scenes found in or separated by liminal spaces, to which we do not have direct access, would reveal themselves. It is this revelation that is what Freud terms the uncanny. This theory is an explicitly aesthetic inquiry regarding what in art (or life) produces sensations of dread and horror, repulsion, and a return to such unpleasurable sensations. There are many elements or groups of elements that Freud deemed as uncanny. Each one is burdened to exceed intellectual uncertainty in order to fit the definition of uncanny as laid out by Freud.
Freud claims that the source of the uncanny in literature is the recurrence of something long forgotten and repressed. However, not everything that returns from the psychic depths of repression is uncanny. The mere return of repressed feelings and experiences is not sufficient for the uncanny to occur. It requires something repressed having returned but represented by an unexpected and outside the realm of reality. This is easily accomplished in literature (and by extension, movies, and plays) because fantasy is different from reality. Just because something works as uncanny in a work of literature doesn’t mean it can work in real-life as well. Within literature, if the author makes a pretense to realism, then he or she opens the door to supplying the story with the uncanny. Often times, the uncanny in literature and film is the projection of the psyche of the central character on another object or person combined with a warped view of the objective and subjective of a given situation. It’s like something within the fictional world creeps into the real world.
The first film in the upcoming Welcome to the Blumhouse is The Lie (2018). Originally a limited release in 2018, The Lie is the first film in the series, but to be perfectly honest, you can skip it. In short, it was boring, lacking in any characters that you could root for, and incredibly predictable. Not sure why Blumhouse and Amazon decided that this was to be the first film because the run the risk of customers not wanting to see the other three because of the lack luster start. To call it a horror or even horror-adjacent film is a bit of a stretch. For all intents and purposes, The Lie is a heavy family drama in the veins of an early A24 picture. Even though I did not care for the storytelling, I won’t venture into spoiler territory. The story is about how a lie consumes and tears apart a family and friendships. While The Lie suffers from uninteresting storytelling, it does boast some solid performances. If you enjoy analyzing performances, then you will find enjoyable elements in this first of the four films in the Welcome to the Blumhouse series.
The second film in the anthology series is Black Box. And I greatly enjoyed this one! While I feel that it would make for a more effective story had it been a hour-long Black Mirror or Twilight Zone episode, it definitely skewers far closer to horror that the previous film. That said, Black Box is still not horror, but one could make the argument that it is horror-adjacent. Definitely much more in the veins of a science-fiction thriller, but it contains more horror elements than The Lie. The two lead performances by Mamoudou Athie and TV icon Phylicia Rashad are excellent! The plot execution is held back a little by the unjustifiable slow pacing. It feels as though it began as an “hour-long” idea, but was inflated to fill a “feature film” runtime. Not to say that it wasn’t engaging–to was! But I do feel that the story would’ve been just as impactful, if not more so, had it been a.bit more streamlined and lean. What I appreciate most about this story is the exploration of the boundaries of ethics and science, and that liminal space between the two. Athie plays Nolan, a single father of his precocious little girl following a tragic car accident that killed his wife and left his memories scattered. He is perpetually on a journey to regain the memories he lost while balancing how to be a father and take care of himself at the same time, not to mention working through the trauma of losing his wife. Rashad plays Dr. Brooks, a neuroscientist that has developed a cutting edge technology that seeks, identified, and visualizes repressed memories, and brings them to the surface of the mind for the patient to deal with. Under Dr. Brooks care, Nolan is able to explore the depths of his repressed consciousness and memories in order to regain that which was lost after the accident. Unfortunately, tis procedure has a nasty side effects of drumming up past trauma that Nolan has great difficulty reconciling. Even though there are moments that this feels like a slow-burn, you will be vested in these characters and will be on the edge of your seat as Nolan faces the demons of his mind on his journey to recapture what was lost due to the tragic car accident.
Come back next week for reviews of Nocturne and Evil Eye.
Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Ryan is also the creator of the Four’s a Crowdsitcom podcast now streaming on your favorite podcatcher. Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!