On In Fear
In Fear may be the most brilliant horror movie ever made. In fact I’m willing to make the slightly hyperbolic statement that so many people do (best this, worst that) and proclaim it as the best horror movie in depth and plot, certainly that I’ve seen, but perhaps of the genre’s history. The beginning depictions of Lucy and Tom talking to one another and of course Tom’s awkward and nervous voicemail to her depict realistic human relations with a degree of depth that most Horror movies fail completely at. How their fears are conveyed throughout the movie also seems realistic and I enjoy this Horror flick as one of the few that doesn’t worry about body count or have the standard formula of starting with six or seven people and slowly killing them off one or two at a time.
With the standard Slasher Flick we have Intro, Sex Scene, Murder, Minuscule Story Development, Dual Murders, Sex, Sex, Final Confrontation, Conclusion, each scene being in a sense stand alone films almost as if each reel (or even more fragmented than that) had its own individual story segmented into an episodic hodgepodge; but with this film we have an eighty minute movie that plays essentially all-the-way-through. That is, with no jump cuts to another teen’s house where a promiscuous red head takes off her bra and then is gutted by a machete wielding murderer underneath the bed teaching teens the implicit values of Puritanism. If you never go out of your way to try something new or enjoy life you won’t be murdered by psychopaths – good to know. I always thought it was funny that Conservatives hate violent movies (but love violent wars, guns and complain today’s kids are too weak) when it’s the Action and Horror genres that typically convey the most Right-wing messages. It’s Science Fiction and Intellectual Indie movies that Conservatives should be bitching about if they knew what their real ideological opponent in cinema is, but then they essentially do something worse by ignoring these films entirely due-to their anti-intellectualism and calling them “weird.” But back to the film.
The film builds up suspense quite well and leaves us guessing how things will be resolved or even if this hotel exists. When we run into Max, who is portrayed in an astounding manner by (please insert actor’s name here via Google search; thanks, so kind.) we wonder how many people are out there and whether or not he is “one of them” though honestly Max’s character – that is the façade he depicts and story of being jumped and cut by madmen – was something that was transparent immediately for me; though I thought he was working in allegiance with others. Yes the film has minor plot holes with something slamming Lisa’s door and then ten seconds later Max is standing behind Tom only to disappear into the darkness several seconds later. Also the car’s car alarm going off and keys magically appearing where Tom can find them is questionable, it is possible that he really did just drop them and Max is controlling the alarm with some type of customized second electronic key that’s fixed to Tom’s car’s frequency. But these minor flaws should not deter viewing in any regards nor did it even subtract enjoyment from my own.
However the film doesn’t become brilliant until we discover – once again “discover” – that Max has rigged this whole charade and he seemingly puts a knife to Lisa’s skull giving Lisa the choice to decide whether she or Tom will die. I won’t describe any of the scenes in the film in-detail, because I want everyone reading this (all two of you) to see the movie before reading this to both fully appreciate the film and this article in that order. And yes, that’s a cheap rationalization for being lazy and not wanting to describe the last half hour of the movie to you with the hope of discussing it more comfortably – you caught me.
Essentially the Hotel that they never arrive at can be seen as the fantasy “Pie-in-the-Sky” ideal that the foolish and desperate base their lives on whether it be Heaven in the case of the Christian or superfluous luxuries while others are lacking (millions have to be poor to create the desire and social perception of opulent luxury over others as an ideal) and social status in regards to the Capitalist ideal. This is their goal while they aimlessly go through life on a road predetermined for them by economic and ideological factors as-well-as the basic and base nature of human beings. People are conditioned – though it doesn’t require much considering basic human nature also contains deep superficiality and ignoring of human suffering – to be apathetic consumers to play by the rules in both a Puritanical and Capitalist game, and when either their house is foreclosed on (the injustice of the Capitalist system or persecution strikes them) or when their faults of being uncaring to the plight of others or not truly caring about right-and-wrong are mentioned their psychological response is something akin to a line Tom utters: We haven’t done anything wrong; we’ve followed the signs.
When Lisa has nothing to lose personally she does the morally correct thing and doesn’t tell him to go on. What’s also crucial I find is that though telling him to stay wouldn’t be immoral, she neither tells him to stay or go, essentially refusing to take moral responsibility for Tom’s actions. Now of course Tom is the one driving, not Lisa, so Tom has been put into the more difficult position of having to choose (though of course Lisa isn’t exactly deprived of the opportunity to make moral choices by the end of the film) but that’s a perfect metaphor for what life hands us. Some people don’t have to make difficult decisions in their lives, or at-least they don’t present themselves as immediately and pressing as the scenario with Tom and Lisa, and some people are often in circumstances where they need to decide as Dumbledore said, “between what is easy and what is right.” An example of Lisa doing the “right thing” when it is trivial is Max asking her to open a water bottle for him. How Max must’ve swelled and felt justified in his dark depiction of humans when seen is a perfect example of people masquerading as “moral agents” when it comes to opening water bottles or doors, but when it comes to a legitimate decision with significant consequences for the other party and perhaps ourselves, we choose to ignore the problem if we can, if we can’t ignore we rationalize, and if we can’t rationalize we choose our lives and luxuries over others and feel guilty over our reprehensible actions for about the same amount of time one might suffer from indigestion.
Also, Tom’s asking of her to decide whether or not to go forward is much-like Max’s demand to choose between her life and Tom’s. Both are putting her in the position to make the decision and adjudicating themselves of moral responsibility (though Max of course isn’t trying to rationalize his choice the way Tom is, and is merely trying to play a game the way the Joker would and show to himself that all people are fundamentally immoral, but merely lacking in empathy and are self-serving rather than malicious or violent, that is being explicitly immoral) and when Lisa has something to lose – namely her life – she chooses to sacrifice Tom so she may live rather than doing what she did with Tom and simply not respond.
Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of the film is when Lisa’s decision to essentially kill Tom by leaving him for dead in the woods is given its true weight and shown as-such in-terms of causality when she herself becomes the officiator of what physically kills him. This is a perfect metaphor for people who would like to classify their actions as right or justifiable simply because they aren’t evil. Just because she wasn’t the one who put Tom in the trunk, doesn’t make her leaving him behind in a situation she had no voluntary part in defensible. Human history is wrought with examples of humans suffering out of result of weather, disease, poverty – which once existed due-to earthly rather than deliberate economic reasons – and other things that they themselves had no say in, but as Thomas Paine eloquently put: These are the times that try men’s souls. And Thomas Paine due-to his adamant objection not only to slavery but apathy of it would understand that just because you yourself did not put the ball-and-chain around a man’s ankle or connect your potential love interest’s mouth to a tube connected to his car’s exhaust doesn’t make you right in leaving either to suffer and die. Ethics isn’t binary.
Returning to the analogy of the Hotel representing either Heaven or a vision of material wealth that creates a social status that necessitates human suffering and poverty for it to exist, most if not all of us to some extent are guilty of doing in-effect what Lisa did; only like Lisa the immoral actions we commit we believe are justifiable (Getting out of that particular situation though you’re still lost, chased by a madman and now alone. Analogous to others shunning those who are different or the “other” to receive affection and esteem when they still are in the same vicious social circle or economic system that perpetuates alienation in either the social or economic sense creating physical suffering, depression and existential deficiencies.) because we do not begin the “chain of evil” to use a slightly moralistic expression, and we’re willing to momentarily prosper while others suffer out of fear of rocking the boat and apathy derivative of both human nature and Capitalist society. That is not to say that Capitalism is the realization of human nature. Capitalism has created a new form of human nature in-part, but there are also aspects of humanity while being pliable to molding and manipulation; the specific traits being result of the epoch and society one lives in (see Marx, Nietzsche and Freud among others) but the raw essence which can be molded to a degree dependent on the particular trait and the particular individual are as innate in man as the number of rows of teeth you’ll find in the mouths of Tiger Sharks though that number is pliable to a pair of pliers.
The distinction between the situation Lisa is in in the car and the one she makes in the woods to me is crucial. In the car she must theoretically make the binary choice of her life or Tom’s being spared; this is rationalistic, and only in literature and film do these type of moral conundrums present themselves. The problem of being lost in the woods with a lunatic and friend does however accurately represent the hard dilemmas that many – including all of us to varying extents – must make a choice on. Do we take the “easy way out” to the illusion of a safe haven and leave our companions to be oppressed, suffer or die, or do we stay with them even though we may face the same grisly fate as theirs though the outcome remains uncertain? This is seen in political and economic struggles for people’s liberty and prosperity. Black people or homosexuals receiving all the rights of human beings just as the poor receiving the right to prosper and grow in a society that affords them the resources and tools of doing so does not diminish the rights of white people, nor does living in a well-managed society relinquish profits from anyone other than the Capitalists whose only “inalienable right” is to alienate and profit off the toil, suffering and genius of others.
The film ends with Lisa driving at Max full-blast wishing to kill him for torturing her and Max and putting her in the position to sully her conscious and take-part in murdering him. She essentially is given the opportunity to murder the guilty – but then wouldn’t she need to kill herself? I’m not saying that she deserves to die for leaving her friend, but she certainly isn’t in the position to execute the guilty when the blood is on her hands to a significant degree as well. The desire to punish evil is in-part the impulse to see justice done, but in many, and in this scenario I argue, it is primarily the psychological compulsion to absolve one of one’s “sins” – of their immoral deeds and apathy by placing blame on a Scape Goat whether they are responsible for the plight they’re being charged with bringing or not. When we too did a heinous act by watching suffering occur with indifference and therefore are not completely culpable. We – who are rational enough to be Anti-Capitalist, for others I could provide an example of persecution by Federal Law or discrimination and bigotry based on commonly held prejudice – rationalize our apathy and cowardice by saying “I’m not a Capitalist doing all these evil things; I’m just trying to make a living.” But in effect we are trying to rationalize a supposed goodness by not being evil. Simply not committing evil acts does not mean you made the right ones. Not making the worst decision doesn’t make the one you made right or virtuous.
Though in general it seems to me that since no man or woman or even child is guiltless we all can reasonably hold moral superiority and the wish to enact vengeance and retribution on those main actors who have made the world as it is; namely those in major places of economic and political power. Only Jesus argues that one must be guiltless to pass moral judgment – though I do like his message of not being judgmental of others – and Christians are typically the most judgmental people on the planet for the most arbitrary things such as sexuality and appearance while proclaiming morality is sacrificing your “good” for everyone else’s as if all moral problems were so simple or constructed so one must merely give what one has to improve the lot of others.
We don’t need to cut our wrists (suffer) to help those in need. In fact cutting our wrists won’t help anyone in the slightest. Don’t confuse my statement that suffering itself does nothing to improve the lot of mankind (in fact it will only diminish Mankind’s net enjoyment of life both due-to the moment of suffering and the psychological and physiological ramifications of said suffering) with portraying ethical decision as something of ease. Making an ethical decision and helping others can have dire and even fatal consequences in ages of persecution, ignorance and economic interests. Those who have the strength of mind and conviction to openly protest the evils of the Capitalists and then are beaten within an inch of their lives or murdered by their Holy Protectors are an example of this. Another obvious example being in the 60’s, ethical white people had to make a stand with minorities for their rights; though they weren’t treated as harshly as the black people defending their rights, they did suffer as a result of doing the right thing rather than passively allow those around them to suffer for the color of their skin or any other factor preventable or curable by today’s medicines or knowledge to cure suffering for that matter.
And that brings me to the most important and horrifying aspect of the film, namely its accurate depiction of the human condition. When presented with a moral problem Tom tries to “pass-the-buck” onto Lucy. Lucy effectively kills Tom to save herself. When presented with what she has done she weeps and bemoans Tom’s death, but while she was making the decision to leave Tom for dead, she rationalized her decision as, “better him than me,” or, “better one of us survive than both of us being massacred.” And while I’m writing this, while I’m depicting a fundamental aspect of human nature; our apathy and ease of rationalizing leaving others to suffer as long as we aren’t the ones directly instigating the suffering (though we encourage it with our consumerism and tacit approval of Capitalism if not through more explicit means displayed essentially in Conservatism) I myself have very little impulsion to alter my behavior and become a radically better person. Maybe I’ll treat people slightly nicer today, maybe I’ll open a few doors for people and make sure to say my please and thank-yous which I tend to do anyhow – because it doesn’t take any effort or have any cost on my part.
Plato was wrong in saying that reason alone brings us to right discourse. David Hume wrote that “Reason is and ought to be slave to the passions” and he would be right if only we could be regularly impassionate about science, philosophy and the plight of others – but we’re not. Well I am on the second and to a minor extent the first but I can’t look at my computer screen while I’m kissing my ass so I’ll hold that off until later. We as mammals aren’t designed to recognize the suffering of those in Nigeria, Moscow, Argentina or even very concretely the person next door. We might have fleeting moral impulses to help those in our tribe, only for reasons of collective self-preservation, but even this is frail when apathy and consumerism has been programmed into us from our births. That’s the horror of life. That we are the monsters. We are the fiends. It’s not Michael Meyers or some chainsaw wielding maniac that’s the real problem in the world. The real crime is that every single one of us knows that unspeakable crimes are committed systematically everyday and we do nothing to stop it.
Some rationalize it through political and religious ideology to actually convince themselves of the rightness of some of these actions, many choose to ignore the unpleasant realities of life and the human condition that they are implicitly enforcing through complying with evil, and most hear of these things and implicitly know that these things are wrong and they should do something for at-least one tragedy or another – of course the reality is that just as preventative medicine is the best way to keep a body healthy, demanding better education and living standards is the best way to prevent earthly horrors, rather than railing against them, starting a food drive and calling Man evil because he has Original Sin as the religious do – but deem themselves utterly incompetent to do anything when of course there are hundreds of examples of people banning together to fight for the collective and individual interests of all people, whether it targeted towards a specific demographic or not. The Civil Rights movement was not a movement for “black rights”, just as to stand up for homosexual rights to marriage and all-the-rest isn’t to fight for “gay rights” every single stand for every single group of the population even if it be one person, unless it was perverted by the concept of “racial rights, tribal rights, religious rights, etc.” is the fight for human rights; for the dignity and profound potential value in every man, woman, and child. That human beings have the capacity to be profoundly intelligent and moral creatures that no other beings we’ve yet to witness in the cosmos can even resemble; who can love, experience joys and sorrows, and dream dreams that no other being could duplicate identically even if they did have a similar degree of intellect. That’s the horror. We’re inches away from being angels, from living ideal lives of universal plenty, knowledge and fraternity but in reality most remain small-minded near-sighted self-interested animals and all of us turn a blind eye to the suffering of some spiky-haired guy on the street wearing mittens and rattling a tin cup. We’re all Steve-Os who simply have forgotten how to feel disgusted by our own lack of caring unless sad-eyed children are on the television. We’re particles of stardust who are the most unique things in the Universe – possibly – who have forgotten how to treat those who have always treated us well and been there for us. Instead we look for new and larger ways to further the manipulation and exploitation of love to base desire, of disenfranchised to Pizza Franchises, of gullibility to those who preach piety, of intellect to those who would have us live in ignorance and intellectual poverty, of good to evil; and ultimately of those who have the strengths and morals to create a perfect placid world to those who construct a perfectly plaintive one that’s become so dull and plain that people are too sad to feel sadness and too wooden to be wistful for love, knowledge, purpose, courage, beauty or anything unless it’s for the new grease pie at Pizza Hut.