Scary movies are NEVER WORTH IT. This is a lesson I should have learned when, at age 14, I innocently flipped to HBO and watched to my horror as a teenage boy’s bowl of rice suddenly transformed into a bowl of slithering maggots. To this day, I always check twice when opening up a chinese takeout container (I still don’t know what film that scene was from, by the way, and am still too scared to try looking it up).
The lesson finally stuck in college after my friend Sacha and I decided to attend a free screening of House of Wax (yes, the Paris Hilton one… I know, I know, but it was free, okay?!). Three excruciatingly sleepless nights later, I got a phone call from Sacha: “I haven’t slept in three days; I keep replaying it in my head.” I knew exactly the scene she was talking about because I’d been replaying it in my head as well. I will spare you the details because I wouldn’t wish that torment on anybody, but let’s just leave it at the fact that I still remember that scene in weak moments.
My inability to forget these god awful images is ironically exactly what I love about the film medium – it has an uncanny ability to disrupt your daily life by grabbing hold of your brain and sticking in your mind. But while many films use this power for good, most horror movies tend to use this power for evil, and after my harrowing House of Wax experience, I have learned that no matter how “not scary” someone tells you a horror genre movie is, it is simply NEVER WORTH IT.
These ramblings are all to say that I consider myself a person who would never watch, let alone enjoy, a vampire movie (Twilight included). And yet, due to the fact that I am human and also kind of a sheep, I found myself attending not one, but TWO vampire movie screenings at Sundance this year after hearing such good things about them and, let’s face it, wanting to get in on all the action (baaaaa). Both of these films were definitely vampire movies, but they also both took the genre and turned it on its head.
What We Do in the Shadows. The set up of this film is so simple – a mockumentary about four Vampire friends living in modern day New Zealand – and yet the writing and performances were so freaking good that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the fest, both for its humor and for its cheekily gory images (I told you, I have an inability to forget scary things). This may very well be one of the funniest films I have ever seen, and the first example I’ve ever encountered of a film where the gory parts were actually worth it. I literally can’t wait until this film comes out in theaters so that I can finally talk about it with everybody I know.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. A unique persian sort of western style vampire love story with some feminist undertones, the likes of which I have never encountered before and doubt I will ever encounter again (until director Ana Lily Amirpour makes her next film, perhaps). This is a beautiful, quiet yet energetic film that captivated the entire theater with its bold camera choices and subtle humor. Watching the director speak her mind at the post-screening Q&A, I found myself tearing up at how inspired she made me feel. Disclaimer: by about the fourth day of Sundance I am usually so exhausted that I cry during pretty much any and every film. However, I have never cried during the Q&A and so for that reason, I deem this instance noteworthy.
It should be mentioned that I saw a ton of other great films at Sundance this year, including I Origins, Happy Christmas, Infinitely Polar Bear, The Skeleton Twins, White Bird in a Blizzard. There were also, of course, a ton of great films that I didn’t get a chance to see. But I thought it somehow interesting that two of my favorites were in a genre I normally stay away from. I guess it goes to show that rules are sometimes meant to be broken.