Characteristics of the Postmodern Horror Film In our world today, box offices are flooded with giddy teenagers seeking a thrill from horror movies. Horror movies date back all the way to the 1890’s so what is it exactly that keeps viewers wanting more? According to Isabel Cristina Pinedo, there are four key elements to the success of the contemporary horror film. Today’s successful films constitute a violent disruption of the everyday world, transgress and violate boundaries, throw into question the validity of rationality, and repudiate narrative closure.
The movie Final Destination (2000) is a more recent horror film that consists of three out of four of Pinedo’s elements. While the movie does not apply to all four elements, the characteristics of the three present are strong enough to allow the film to still be considered a horror film. Final Destination is loaded with scare tactics that closely resemble the characteristics described by Pinedo. The film is based off of a series of deaths that are unexplainable and unpredictable, matching the first element of characteristics of the postmodern horror, “horror constitutes a violent disruption of the everyday world” (Pinedo 17).
More specifically relating to this element are the mysterious tragedies that take place throughout Final Destination. In this film death comes at random times violating “our assumption that we live in a predictable, routinized world by demonstrating that we live in a minefield” (18). Death is just that, a minefield. The characters feel they have no control over their lives because while Alex, the main character, figures out that there is an order to these deaths, nobody is certain exactly when their time will come. Also contributing to the students’ constant fear is the way the deaths are occurring.
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One boy, Todd slips in the bathroom and is accidentally hung from the shower clothesline, another girl, Terry, is hit in the middle of town by a speeding bus, and a teacher is killed from an unlikely house explosion. All three deaths treat “violence as a constituent element of everyday life” (18). The incidents occur in ordinary settings involving items typically used on a daily basis, creating fear that one cannot escape. Not only are the deaths strange, they are extremely violent and gory. Pinedo states, “the disruption takes the form of physical violence against the body” (18).
Blood is prominent in the death scenes as well as mutilation of the bodies with the use of sharp objects, knives, electrocution, and hanging. Pinedo’s idea that death can happen anywhere does not lack in this movie and the realistic gore provides more evidence to support the idea that this film is without a doubt, a horror film. In horror films, confusion is a great way to create even more fear. The deaths in Final Destination are dramatic and in our world unheard of and fall right into place when exploring Pinedo’s characteristics of recreational terror.
The way these deaths happen “[throw] into question the validity of rationality” (17). The concept of irrationality is Pinedo’s third element and is huge in her eyes. She claims “characters who survive must come to terms not only with the irrationality of the situation but also with their own ability to be as single-mindedly destructive as the monster” (24). Final Destination begins with Alex and his classmates boarding a plane for a school trip however, that trip is short-lived due to a fatal explosion that oddly enough, Alex had already seen in a terrifying premonition.
Alex’s premonition makes little to no sense but he chooses to believe it and is able to cheat death. This is just as Pinedo explains. The rationality of Alex’s world is gone and his premonition leaves him to wonder what is true in his life. The other characters throughout the movie continue to think Alex is crazy for having these ideas that death is following them. They “insist upon rational explanations in the face of evidence that does not lend itself to rationality [and] are destined to become victims of the monster” (24).
Throughout the movie Alex makes it very clear that he believes there is a specific time and place for each character’s death. Alex does not doubt himself or his premonition once and is able to remain alive until the end of the film. This is just what Pinedo means when she claims “the ones that survive necessarily suspend their rational presuppositions and trust their gut instinct” (24). There may be a more realistic explanation for these deaths or, there may be no explanation at all but one thing is for sure: the characters who choose to not believe anything at all is happening, are dead by the end of the movie.
In this film Alex would be considered the protagonist or the hero. When discussing the hero, Pinedo claims, “postmodern horror compels its hero…to rely on intuition; it requires [the protagonist and the monster] to be both violent and to trust their gut instincts” (25). Alex fights hard to get the others to believe in his original premonition as he tries to stop the order in which it will come. He figures out who is next on the list and uses all power to save the remaining students. Generally speaking, the most important part of a horror film is the ending.
Viewers wait on the edge of their seats in fear that the protagonist will not prevail. However according to Pinedo’s fourth element of postmodern horror, it “repudiates narrative closure” meaning that “the film may come to an end, but it is open ending” (29). Throughout Final Destination viewers watch Alex try to solve the mystery of death. At one point in the movie, Alex and his friend visit their late classmate Todd where a mortician tells them “in death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes…we’re all just a mouse that a cat has by the tail. Alex is certain that now that he knows death has a plan, he will be able to solve the pattern within his high school. Although, by the end of the movie, there is still no resolution. Death continues to seek prey and “we are left with this open ending, unable to determine where the nightmare begins or ends, or whether it ends at all” (33). Alex cheats death one more time and the remaining students are finally able to take their trip to Paris but in the final scene of the movie a hotel sign swings down and comes right for Alex’s head. The audience never does find out whether or not Alex survived or if death is stopped.
Pinedo is right on target with this element and this horror film almost identically matches her characteristics. Violence is a concept easily recognizable in this film, however, does not seem to directly follow what Pinedo describes as “horror transgresses and violates boundaries” (17) where she goes into depth about the importance of a specific monster. Pinedo states “the monster violates the boundaries of the body in a two-fold manner: through the use of violence against other bodies…and through the disruptive qualities of its own body” (21).
In Final Destination the monster is unexplainable. The “monster”, death, does use violence against other bodies by murdering the students in very violent manners although it does not disrupt through the use of its own body. The feared “monster” in Final Destination does not come in a physical form thus creating a more complex mystery for the characters without harming itself. Another point Pinedo makes is that “it is only when the monster is truly dead and subject to decay that it ceases to threaten the social order” (22).
Because death is the monster in this movie and is not an animate object, it is unable to be subject to decay. Alex discovers that if the order of death is disturbed, the pattern will be rearranged and he who cheated death is placed at the end of the list instead. He seems to have accomplished total destruction of the “monster” by solving its mysterious death pattern however, alive or dead, it is impossible to avoid threat to the social order thus proving Pinedo’s point incorrect in this case.
In classical horror films an audience got a little scare yet left the theater with the comfort of a closed ending. As discussed in Pinedo’s fourth element of postmodern horror, movies today leave their viewers wondering what will happen next. Perhaps the fourth element is the most important because it is what follows the audience into their everyday lives. A successful horror film gives the viewer a chilling fright and then leaves an impact on their life after the final scene.
It is those movies that leave us afraid to look under the bed, afraid to walk alone at night, or afraid of certain sounds and images. Pinedo does an excellent job of going into detail about well-done modern horror films. Although, Final Destination does follow Pinedo’s characteristics and leaves viewers with one agonizing question: Can you cheat death? Works Cited Final Destination. James Wong. New Line Cinema, 2000. Film. Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror. Albany: State U of New York P, 1997. Print.
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