The appropriate response to women who hang around haunted houses, despite being terrorised out of their wits? Die already!
My philosophy of trying to know as little as possible about a movie before watching it bit me on the behind last Saturday, when I stepped into a theatre screening Chaarulatha. (It’s a Kannada-Tamil bilingual. I watched it in Tamil.) From the press reports and stills and early, I knew it was about conjoined twins, played by Priya Mani. I knew one of them wore glasses. I knew they played the violin. And I knew they wore generally hideous outfits. And before leaving for the film, a colleague informed me this was a remake of a Thai movie.
But that’s it. You don’t get to see stories about conjoined twins every day (though soon, we will see Suriya essaying one such role, or two such roles, in Maattrraan) — so the subject alone was incentive enough. Whether the film turned out to be well made or not, there is some sort of historical significance at play here. So off I went.
What I did not know was that it was a horror film. Before the opening credits, there appeared a disclaimer about how belief in malevolent spirits is a personal choice and that people’s mileage may vary when it comes to the supernatural — and I slumped in my seat. I hate horror films. It’s the one genre I cannot abide. I just don’t see the point of sitting through a couple of hours of silence followed by a loud burst of sound followed by silence followed by a loud burst of sound, ad infinitum. For, that is what these films do.
I don’t like to be scared. I ended up watching about half the movie — the half that was set in daylight. (I closed my eyes through the night-time half, which is when things go bump and a lot of boo moments are brought out.) Why do people like to watch these films, which are mostly just manipulations of sound and light calculated to make you jump in your seat? I suppose it’s the same reason you’d strap yourself to a roller-coaster. I like my food in my stomach, thank you very much.
A former colleague used to argue with me, saying that I was a critic and therefore I needed to develop a taste for this genre. (What if an important, well-made horror film came along some day?) I’d say no — they could get someone else to review these films. I am not talking about films such as The Exorcist, which are genuine works of art that contain elements of horror, but about these cheap shockers.
In Chaarulatha, we’re informed that one of the twins died after an operation was performed to separate them. The other twin returns to the family mansion (it’s always a mansion, and there’s never any neighbour for miles around) and discovers, very early, that her dead sister is out to kill her. And what does she do? She continues to live in that mansion. All alone. And then her fiancé joins her. And he realises she’s telling the truth. And they still don’t move to a hotel or move in with a friend. You know what? If you’re that stupid, you deserve to die in the unimaginably gory ways.
And since I have no empathy for these people, the movie is a lost cause. In films, we need characters to empathise with, to draw us in. We need to care about their successes, their failures, their love lives, and, in this case, their survival. Why should I care about someone who keeps returning to a haunted house, and then complains about being terrorised by a ghost? And what these films offer is mere pandemonium — it’s like jumping when a gun goes off near your ear.
I know this is not exactly the right example, but consider the office-robbery scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie, which unfolds in near-complete silence. Because we empathise with Marnie, we don’t want her to get caught. And because we don’t want her to get caught, our hearts are in our mouths, urging her to please be done with whatever she’s doing and get out as quickly as possible. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m more a fan of suspense. As for horror, I swore off it after I finished Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and found myself sleepless for weeks.