Thursday, 4 June 2009

My High School Sweetheart Did It: Today's Trauma for a Wholesome Anti-feminist Final Girl.

This, it seems to me, is the premise and thus a more suitable title for recent horror DVD release (in the UK anyway), My Bloody Valentine (2009). I wanted this piece to publish at the same time as the film was released on DVD (and yes I realise I'm two weeks late there), most notably because I never got to go see it at the cinema in 3D (a most irritating admission on my part considering my own vested interest in 3D as a medium; I wrote my frickin' masters dissertation on it). So, what follows is my review of the film in 2D, which will of course ignore what I can only assume are the few redeeming features of the film, for most likely the blood splatter and bullet-time cinematography would have been far more stimulating up close and personal in 3D (and no, sitting extra close to a 2D screen is in no way a worthy substitute). But as the two dimensionality of its home viewing counterpart fell relatively flat, I'm going to hone in on the absurdity of its characterisation, specifically of its female protagonist, the emptiness that she embodies, and her ultimate effect in rendering the film a huge disappointment. Basically, it shits all over the very good work other films of the genre have done in presenting powerful, contemporary, kick-ass final girls. 

As a female viewer, one of the great things contemporary horror gives me is the presentation of a Final Girl (for more about this term see Carol J. Clover's excellent book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, 1992), who is strong and willful in the presence of societal/patriarchal horrors; she survives despite the odds being favourably against her. But, unlike such films as I Spit on Your Grave / Day of the Woman (1978), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) and Martyrs (2008), the protagonist in My Bloody Valentine is pathetic and reassertive of capitalist/religious/patriarchal ideologies. 

Jaime King plays Sarah Palmer, the busty, beautiful final girl and 'all-American moral mom' whose extreme stereotype is pit against the other similarly overdrawn female characters in the film; slutty and outspoken Irene (Betsy Rue) and bitchy back-stabbing mistress, employee and friend to Sarah, Megan (Megan Boone), who both, unsurprisingly for their respective 'sins', die bloody and violent deaths. Not exactly new territory here, and certainly a thinly veiled cinematic confirmation of the sanctity of marriage & the virtues of heteronormative life. Dull yes, but at least the deaths are interesting in their exploitation; Irene, who is seen having rampant sex with a characterless man finds out she is being filmed and treated like a prostitute, (unsurprising really, most women who have sex in a non monogamous manner in horror flicks get punished according to their so-called 'crimes'), but Irene bears no shame and, tits out, runs outside following said man to retain the video footage of her exploits- a thinly veiled guise for what's left of her dignity- but failing (of course) to retrieve the tape, she watches as the man who she just fucked gets killed and then runs timidly (breasts still bouncing) back into the sleazy motel room, home to her 'sins', before being bloodily butchered herself. Nice. 
Megan's death is even more interesting for as she carries the unborn child of Axel (boss and supposed 'friend' Sarah's hubby), her punishment is not just death but the most bloody & smeared death of all; the excess of blood involved in her murder accounts for her 'deserved punishment' (in a Freudian sense) as woman who cannot bleed. Pregnant, she is unable to menstruate and so she is almost situated in a position of machismo; certainly she is shown to be stronger and ballsier than Sarah is. Her punishment is the ultimate: body and bastard baby bloodily smeared all over a wall so that the Other woman who challenges the holy sanctity of marriage is publicly and brutally punished for her anti-ideologically sound crimes.

As the film goes on it appears to be increasingly confused about its own identity and no sequence better illustrates this than the typical psychoanalytical nexus: the Freudian moment. Sarah is confronted in the mine/mind by her two beaus - one of which has cheated on her and the other who left her. The 'return of the repressed' is evident in Tom's return to Harmony, but also through his own character's troubled repression of events past. Unfortunately, layering repression isn't as fascinating a filmic device in this instance as one would usually find because of what follows: as Sarah confronts them both trying desperately to pin 'psycho-killer' on one of her former fucks, she enters her own psyche; Sarah is the Id, Axel her ego and Tom her superego. She listens to each of them in turn unsure as to which is telling the truth. That her fragile mind is represented as a woman in doubt conflicted by the two patriarchal voices in her head is insulting enough, but My Bloody Valentine takes it further and presents the choice as one between unrequited love/road to adultery and the sanctity of holy matrimony. Wait, can you guess which one she chooses? It is at this juncture, abandoning the Freudian moment altogether, that her asshole husband takes the moral high ground telling her to shoot them both - at least then she won't be stuck down in the mine with a psycho-killer. Aw, isn't that sweet? The adulterer would rather die than see his missus with another man. No wait, that's also misogynistic. Ok, let's continue then. Suddenly, the viewer is supposed to side with Axel who, as it is poorly revealed, is innocent and the sanctity of their marriage lives on? Just to be clear then, so long as your hubby isn't actually a serial killer and so long as his mistress and their unborn child are dead, you can still have a holy fucking happy ending? This is more retarded than the most ludicrous of Shakespearean resolutions.

What remains then, is the godly couple with their golden child living happily ever after. Although, the killer 'lives on' as the promise of a sequel hangs in the balance- Valentine's day occurring annually giving plenty of time for production and another no-plot plunder to make its way to a cinema near you. If anything, V-day is all about the money, so on some level the film did communicate its main message to the youths of today: you just can't evade Valentine's Day - a deeply capitalist, heteronormative, patriarchal holiday - but, if you're a woman then you should be careful harbouring feelings for an ex, or any other man for that matter, because you never know when he's gonna turn out to be a psycho-killer. Stellar message.