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Old 01-26-2015, 08:49 PM   #1
‹bermensch
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Default 'Realism' vs. 'hyperrealism' in horror films

This is a very difficult thread to make, because not everyone is going to agree on my definition of these terms, and a lot of people would argue, with some plausibility, that even the most gritty, 'realistic' horror film will contain elements of what I call the 'hyperreal' just by virtue of their subject matter.

Let me begin by trying to define my terms.

A hyperreal aesthetic, which is also sometimes called 'heightened reality' by some critics, is not concerned with making its viewers buy into its concept as something that 'realistically' occur. This doesn't necessarily imply the presence of a supernatural element in the given work of film or literature, either. A film could be completely 'realistic' in its storyline and plotting, and still be 'hyperreal' because of the way it's filmed or written. A good example of this, in my opinion, is the early Coen Brothers film Barton Fink. There's nothing really unbelievable or explicitly fantastic about the movie's plot, but the cinematography, the music, the acting, and other aspects combine to give it an unnatural aura (which makes it a tremendous picture).

Realism is a little more understandable: any piece of cinema or work of literature that tries to seem as completely plausible within its own space can be said to be 'realistic'. An obvious contemporary choice is The Walking Dead: the story is actually completely absurd, but within its own context it's almost certainly the most realistic zombie media of all time, and goes out of its way to use realism as a draw. (Personally, I can't stand it).

Sometimes the same franchise or storyline will give good examples of both. Consider the first two films in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre series: both films have basically plausible storylines, insofar as there's nothing impossible about a family of Sawney Bean-like cannibals living in the Texan hinterland. But the first picture plays this completely straight, with its stripped-down, documentary aesthetic, which is so tight that it almost becomes hyperreal itself. The second film, on the other hand, is very deliberately different tonally and aesthetically, being a Grand Guignol, high gothic spoof of the original film.

In general, which do you prefer in a horror film? I know the obvious answer is "it depends on the movie", but I'm betting most people will naturally prefer one to the other.

As for myself, I say damn reality, full speed ahead. I'm a Batman Returns kind of guy, much more so than The Dark Knight; and this preference is reflected in my absolute favorite horror films as well - Phantasm, Valerie & Her Week Of Wonders, In The Company Of Wolves, Shadow Of The Vampire, Society, and many others - make no effort to seem grounded in anything like a recognizable reality. I far prefer this to naturalism in horror, and as naturalism has been the predominant approach to the genre since at least 2002, I find myself consequently less interested in modern horror movies.

Which isn't to say I can't enjoy a film in that style. Take the Maniac remake, one of my favorites. I don't think anyone who has seen it will deny that it plays things as close to reality as it can (and no, things like "the police would just trace him on that dating site" don't really count), and that this is part of its appeal. Nevertheless, it's still much more stylized than most slasher films, and to my mind edges right up to the border of the hyperreal without going over.

This is long and I am drunk, so, in conclusion: which do you prefer?
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Old 01-26-2015, 09:00 PM   #2
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I prefer anything so long as the film is executed well. Not going to judge a film for what it isn't. With some ganja anything can walk into hyperrealism and with horror, realism shouldn't be important.
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Old 01-26-2015, 09:05 PM   #3
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I prefer anything so long as the film is executed well. Not going to judge a film for what it isn't. With some ganja anything can walk into hyperrealism and with horror, realism shouldn't be important.
This is the obvious, default consensus, but let me push you on it.

Say you've got two A+, 10/10, would watch again horror movies in release. One is ultra-gritty, high-def, extremely realistic. The other is surreal, dreamlike, bizarre.

Which do you more want to see?
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Old 01-26-2015, 09:13 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by ‹bermensch View Post
This is the obvious, default consensus, but let me push you on it.

Say you've got two A+, 10/10, would watch again horror movies in release. One is ultra-gritty, high-def, extremely realistic. The other is surreal, dreamlike, bizarre.

Which do you more want to see?
Probably the surreal, dreamlike, and bizarre film. Though for me, that's more because of the drugs I do than an actual subjective preference. I have found that with hyperrealism in that context, filmmakers are able to put much more symbolic and metaphorical nuances into their stories than filmmakers are with a more grounded approach.

Eh, point is that they both have their place. Good is good, fun is fun, bad is bad.
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Old 01-26-2015, 09:35 PM   #5
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First, I'm glad ‹bermensch is back and bringing some film dissection to the board.

I suppose I prefer hyperreal if I'm understanding the definition correctly. Kill List is one recent film that I completely love. The events in the film are plausible but it's also very dreamlike and creepy. I loathe "realistic" films and am tired of the whole FF movement as it attempts create more and more realism in horror. For example, I was totally interested in the film Wer because I dig werewolves and some folks were recommending it. After watching the trailer I was content on not wasting my time with the film as it was just another attempt to make a supernatural creature seem very real, which is counterintuitive to me. With that said, I need to check out In the Company of Wolves because that one missed me.
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Old 01-26-2015, 09:43 PM   #6
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Danke, Doktor.

Kill List is, like Maniac 2012, one of those movies that skirts the line between real and hyperreal. The story was plausible, but its style and construction were certainly 'heightened'. A very solid picture.

In The Company Of Wolves is probably the first "dark fantasy Grimms fairy tale" type of film ever made, or at least the first major one, but it benefits from not being an overly-glossy MTV piece of shit like Snow White and The Huntsman. Very dreamlike, and childish in the best possible sense. It's a much darker, more visceral affair, but it's kind of like the Bowie/Henson Labyrinth in its treatment of reality.
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Old 01-26-2015, 10:31 PM   #7
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Danke, Doktor.

Kill List is, like Maniac 2012, one of those movies that skirts the line between real and hyperreal. The story was plausible, but its style and construction were certainly 'heightened'. A very solid picture.

In The Company Of Wolves is probably the first "dark fantasy Grimms fairy tale" type of film ever made, or at least the first major one, but it benefits from not being an overly-glossy MTV piece of shit like Snow White and The Huntsman. Very dreamlike, and childish in the best possible sense. It's a much darker, more visceral affair, but it's kind of like the Bowie/Henson Labyrinth in its treatment of reality.
Sold. Will track it down soon.
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Old 01-26-2015, 11:53 PM   #8
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Well if I absolutely had to pick only one it would be hyperreal. The dreamlike, strange and hard-to-pin-down nature of these more bizarre and abstract movies attract me more than something downright realistic or grounded in reality. I love being transported even if it's only the style of something that gives it a bizarre edge.

Not to say I don't like both... but if I had to pick... well I guess I'd rather watch something like Barton Fink or Inland Empire than just about anything else.
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Old 01-27-2015, 12:00 AM   #9
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Does that go for your taste in horror films in particular, too? I know a lot of fans love that sort of thing, though I personally feel like the ratio of 'realistic' horror films to 'fantastic' ones has been badly skewed in favor of the former since the early 2000s. I don't know whether it was Scream, The Blair Witch Project or Texas Chainsaw '02 that kicked off Hollywood's preference for that approach, but it definitely has been the dominant one since around that time. I would contrast this with the early-mid seventies and the late eighties/early nineties (post-slasher crash), when more fantastical styles dominated.
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Old 01-27-2015, 12:05 AM   #10
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Does that go for your taste in horror films in particular, too? I know a lot of fans love that sort of thing, though I personally feel like the ratio of 'realistic' horror films to 'fantastic' ones has been badly skewed in favor of the former since the early 2000s. I don't know whether it was Scream, The Blair Witch Project or Texas Chainsaw '02 that kicked off Hollywood's preference for that approach, but it definitely has been the dominant one since around that time.
Yup, definitely. Stuff like the aforementioned Kill List and Maniac are way better than most horror modern horror movies.

Stuff like Horns, the Babadook the Lords of Salem (yes, I like this movie a lot), Resolution and Sightseers are movies I much prefer in the horror genre and I think they all fall under the hyperreal category.

These movies are most certainly not the movies that get pushed on mainstream audiences. I think people want the more realistic approach. Even most supernatural movies or movies based around some sort of otherworldly entity/concept that are mainstream tend to try to explain their more surreal elements in a realistic way. Think Insidious... A movie I really like but it has a very surreal central concept that is explained in the most down-to-earth way possible.
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