SPOILERS: small spoilers for Cabin in the Woods, bigger spoilers for Boogie Nights and The Neon Demon.
The above picture is a merman/woman from Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. Its not what you typically think of when you think about merpeople. They’re usually relatively sexy on top and magically aquatic on the bottom. Sort of like a water centaur.
The film gets a pretty big laugh when this guy shows up. And then something very bad happens to a major character. Whedon does a masterful job making this gag work.
Comedy has always been an important element of horror. You have to have a few laughs in there to break the mood and divert the audience’s attention. Here, like in most jokes, the humor comes from inverting what is expected.
On Wednesday, I’ll be recording the fourth episode of Scary Thoughts, this time it’s about The Neon Demon. In this film there are some antagonists, but I think the real “monster” in this film is Elle Fanning’s character, Jess.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn has been pretty explicit about her being the actual Neon Demon. She is abnormally beautiful and shockingly comfortable in her awareness of it. Unlike the other models in the film, you never really see her fully, by that I mean fully undressed.
Part of that certainly has to do with legality, she was 16, but it also sort of obscures her in the way that monsters are slightly hidden in films (which often has to do with how crappy the effects are, but heightens fear).
It’s ok if you don’t buy into my monster theory. A other effect of Fanning never showing the goods is that the audience is sort of forced to imagine her. Again, in horror the audience is often asked to imagine something monstrous or torturous off screen.
Refn does an interesting thing in this film where he asserts that one character is way more beautiful than three others. This is pretty subjective, and I actually found the other two models more my speed, but as you go deeper into the film, you sort of react to the other character’s reactions to her, and accept her as the most pretty.
Hiding a creature and using reaction shots is a given in horror, but it’s less often used to affirm beauty. Off the top do my head I can only think of one other film that does this, Boogie Nights. Basically anytime the camera is supposed to be looking at Dirk Diggler’s dick, you don’t see it, you just get these hilarious reaction shots. The one from Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the best.
I wonder if Refn would’ve done things differently if Fanning was 18. I wonder if he’d show her body. Personally, I think it works better this way.