Carlos E. Mejia Lopez
Horror and Film Noire
Although they are executed in vastly different ways, the Horror film and the Noir film share various elements in common. Yes, their main themes may be different, but in both genres we are invited to witness the journeys of characters that we will not root for as heroes, for their decisions will take them through a dark path, forcing them to makemorally ambiguous choices that will leave their respective audiences questioning both the characters and themselves.
To understand the similarities and differences, we must first understand what both genres stand for. Film Noir (French for black film) presents a story where with pessimistic tone, revolving around flawed characters, where morality is whatever the characters want it to be. It isusually set in an urban territory, where crime, corruption, and seduction thrive off society. The Horror film mainly consists in the exploitation of fear. It takes a concept and ideas, some that easily apply into people’s normal lives while others make comment on the workings of society, and gives it the form of an entity, most of the time a supernatural one.
Both of these genres inhabit verydifferent settings. The streets of crime ridden suburban cities fill the canvas of the film noir. The imagery has a lot of chiaroscuro(a term adopted from Renaissance), which consists of stark light/dark contrasts and dramatic shadow patterning, creating a sense of grittiness that easily applies to the not so black and white characters that inhabit the world of noir. In the film “Sin City” the cityitself plays an important role to the characterization of the atmosphere where the action takes place. Filled with dark alleys, decrepit buildings, and untrustworthy people, both criminals and cops alike, the audience can’t help to feel anything but unsafe in this city that is slowly rotting away by crime and corruption.
A similar sense of eeriness and danger is presented in the confined spacesthat the unwilling victims of the Jigsaw killer find themselves in in the film “Saw”. Contrary to the open cities and landscapes of Sin City, Saw uses enclosed spaces to terrorize the characters and the audience that witness the events they go through. The color schemes have their own distinctive style; exaggerating the context of the place the characters find themselves. The film mostly takesplace in a large, abandoned bathroom which is decrepit enough for the two main protagonists that are trapped inside it, but for the audience the exaggerated color patterns bring a sense of murkiness and grittiness that connects them visually to what the characters are going through both physically and emotionally.
The settings give the genres their own visual style, but it is the characters thatinhabit them that give them purpose. In both genres characters are forced (and in many cases, force themselves) into dangerous situations that will make them take morally ambiguous decisions, either for their own sake or the sake of others. But the reason these characters find themselves in these tough situations to begin with is due to the one characteristic that ultimately defines theme: they areflawed, filled with existential bitterness. As is the case in “Saw”, the protagonists (Dr. Gordon and Adam) are being held captive and being forced to go through a sadistic test because the Jigsaw killer has judged them unworthy of their lives due to their characteristic flaws. It is revealed that Gordon ignores his family in order to spend time with an intern with whom he has an affair at theexpense of his families’ wellbeing and Adam is a voyeur who gets his money by selling secrets and in the process has ruined many lives. Suddenly the audience has no “good guys” to root for and is left to choose between the lesser of two evils. And even more surprisingly, the Jigsaw killer is revealed to be a victim of circumstance. But it’s the choices that he made after those circumstances that...
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