Friday, April 29, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 29 - Your least favorite horror film of all time.

Coincidentally, my friend Nate and I were just talking about why I can’t stand this movie last night at the Murder Junkies concert. After my post about how it was unfair to judge Scream based on the hordes of awful imitators, I can’t rightfully hate on 28 Days Later because of the whole fast zombie thing. These weren’t even zombies, they were infected humans. The whole idiotic notion of running undead zombies that this movie kicked off was the fault of the imitators who missed the point, not the original. What I can hate on it for is the thing I hated about it before it became the standard way to shoot mainstream horror. That abomination is 3rd person shaky cam.

As I walked out of the movie theater, I said to my friends something to the effect of “why the hell would you spend that much on makeup and effects and then intentionally shoot it to where no one can get a good look at it?” Stills from the movie show some great makeup and set design. Too bad you can’t see it. Little did I know that this would become the predominant way to shoot an action scene in Hollywood. The effect has especially been profound on horror movies, and has nearly obliterated the suspensefully built and well crafted and framed horror sequence.

There is a big difference between first person and third person shaky cam. It makes sense when the shot is supposed to be the subjective view of one of the characters. In a movie like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Rec, or any of the “found footage” type of movies dating all the way back to Cannibal Holocaust, I have no problem with it. If it is a POV shot, like Jason watching campers through the trees or the opening sequence of Halloween, I have no problem with it. When the camera is supposed to represent the omniscient eye of the viewer and not a character within the scene, however, it doesn’t make sense.

I know the argument for the style is “it conveys the franticness of the situation.” That can be conveyed more effectively by effective panning, dollying, and other smooth camera movement. Ideally, it would be conveyed through the movement of the action within the frame. The score adds a lot to it also. The problem with this is that these things take more effort and skill. Shaking the camera to try to make a scene more intense is just lazy filmmaking. I’m not saying all shots should be static. Then they look like a stage play. You can look at Tod Browning’s Dracula for an example of that. What I’m saying is that there is a big difference in artfully done camera movement and making your film look like it was shot by a bobblehead doll.

28 Days Later wasn’t the first movie to use third person shaky cam. It’s been used since the early 80’s, primarily in war movies. During battle scenes, the camera would shake to simulate explosions and such. The first instance of it being used in a horror movie that I could find was Jacob’s Ladder, but that was in the war sequences as well. The difference is it was used sparingly. There’s barely a single static shot in 28 Days later. The freakin’ camera can’t hold still on shots of two characters talking for crying out loud!

I have a different theory of why the filmmakers decided to do this. They shot this film with Cannon XL-1 cameras. At the time, the technology of blowing mini DV up to show it on a screen the size of most movie theaters was in its infancy. It looked grainy. I think they shook the damn camera so much to mask the video quality in some places by not letting the audience get a good look at it. The merits of that can be debated, but since then filmmakers have used it to excess just because it’s the current style. It’s taken us all the way to Battlefield LA, which uses it to such overkill that it seems that they are intentionally trying to make their film unwatchable.

The modern fascination with third person shaky cam can arguably be traced back to the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Once again, it is a war movie, but it became the Hollywood standard. 28 Days Later started the horror genre’s use of the technique, so it holds a special place of contempt for me. I’m not blaming 28 Days Later simply for it’s followers, I hated the shooting style in that movie from the moment I saw it and before anyone decided to emulate it. Third person shaky cam is a poor substitute for well directed action and creative use of camera movement. It is a crutch used by those who don’t know how to properly shoot a horror action sequence. It’s a shame too, because 28 Days Later had a lot going for it. The bobblehead cameraman technique ruined it though. Two severed thumbs down. Nathan says don’t check out movies like this, and if you absolutely must, download them. If movies with third person shaky cam don’t make any money, maybe filmmakers will start holding the damn camera steady.


Bryan said...

Bryan Walsh says: "I really liked it. It made me kinda nauseous, which was a nice touch. Kinda William Castle-y."

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