Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Mood Isn't Right For Ghosts

Dark Tower (not the Stephen King book or adaption) is by no means a good movie, however as a flick that you’d probably catch late at night when you’re half asleep is a different story. Aside from the stale acting and hollow plot the film, from what I noticed, tries to use Kubrickian style suspense and atmosphere to make the audience feel uncomfortable and on edge. To achieve a good mood or atmosphere most, if not all, film elements needs to be present including the actor’s performance and unfortunately this film hardly accomplished any. I am aware that it is very hard to achieve Kubrickian style suspense because you’d need to really know the material that you’re handling and you’d need a keen eye to detail. Not many people have that and it seems that Kubrickian style suspense/horror is the best “type” of horror when you’re on a budget, since it requires very little special effects. Additionally, it seems like Dark Tower was trying to go for a Carnival of Souls homage as well, which it did well only in terms of how they revealed the ghoul that’s haunting the tower.

Taking specific scenes from The Shining we can see that Kubrickian horror/suspense relies heavily on music, lighting and performances because without any of these, there would be no mood. Scenes that involve Jack being seduced by the hotel’s wickedness feel hypnotic and uncomfortable mainly because of Nicholson’s frightening performance as he descends into madness. Dark Tower, doesn’t have good performances; the performances are quite stale and cardboard so the viewer doesn’t feel like they should be caring or even watching any of the characters. By creating captivating heroes or antiheroes, a director can sway the audience’s emotions, thus putting them directly into the movie. Since Dark Tower’s characters are hollow, I found myself organizing my iTunes playlist rather than watching the movie.

Lighting and the “color” of the film also create the mood and atmosphere. Most of the interiors of the Overlook have this faded yellow or mustard yellow color to them, giving it a vintage ominous atmosphere. Most of the times, specifically the ballroom scenes, are dimly lit and have a sense of cautiousness about them. Reds come into picture when talking about brutal massacres and we can see this through the bathroom scenes and those scenes that aren’t “yellow” are blue. Scenes that take place outdoors or scenes that have the sun peeking in are cold and blue. They feel barren of any type of emotion in accordance with the main character’s changing personality. If we examine the colors and the lighting of Dark Tower’s setting, it’s fair to say that it’s average and unappealing. The coloring/lighting doesn’t seem to reflect any type of character emotion and the lighting seems stale and fluorescent.

The music doesn’t add any type of tension or dark, frightening undertones whereas Carlos’ score for The Shining is deep, haunting and foreshadowing. It plunges the audience into the realm of spirits, mystery and terror even though it’s completely synthesized. Using cues from famous operatic compositions and Indian chants, it effectively puts the viewer into the mindset of the hotel itself and makes them feel unease. Dark Tower, however, is the direct opposite since it does not put me into the mood but I will say that I still like the score. It brings an innocent 80’s, B-movie feel to the picture that sort of provokes its inner “midnight movie” personality. Like Carlos’ score, it’s also synthesized and shrill at times.

Setting aside the formula for creating good Kubrickian horror, there is one scene that really pays tribute to Kubrick’s Shining is the ending where our heroine is being chased around the construction zone of the building by her dead lover. She runs, in absolute fear of her life, from whatever ghost or monster is chasing her as the camera follows closely behind her. I think the director wanted to take a jab at trying to stage his own version of the anti-climactic ending The Shining had but I think it falls flat for one primary reason. It’s obvious that Danny and Jack are running through a massive maze and Kubrick accomplishes a sense of confusion and disorientation because we don’t know if Jack is close to Danny or if Danny has evaded him. Kubrick pulls this off by never showing an overhead perspective or any clear shot of the relationship between Danny and Jack as they run through the maze. He focuses only on them as a whole and jumps back and forth between the shots. With Dark Tower, the director effectively shows that the construction zone is a maze but since we never actually see what’s chasing her, we assume that it’s always behind her. The audience then assumes that the camera following behind her is in fact the ghost so we loose that sense of disorientation. Still, it does do an okay job of leaving the ghouls to the imagination… for the most part.

I might be a little harsh on the film because it seems very independent. The way that I see it, the director sought out to try and replicate Kubrickian horror/suspense but it fell flat and I can’t blame him. I probably wouldn’t have done better either. What the director did achieve is a mood and atmosphere that fits right into place when it comes to “midnight movies.” All the elements are there: the lighting, the acting and the on-location setting. Dark Tower ceases in becoming a horror movie and instead becomes an artifact that faded into 80’s obscurity. I think the movie has potential and I would like to see a remake of it, sees as how the original set the groundwork.

Note: I realize that Dark Tower has two directors, not one.


Anonymous said...

The saddest thing about this movie, to me, is the waste of Jenny Agutter, who was poised at one point to be one of our greatest genre actresses. Instead, she descended into drivel like Dark Tower, roaming about the same hallway photographed at different angles and screaming. She's better than that. We deserve better than that.

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