Unbreakable: A Hero Among Us

It’s hard now today to imagine the comic book movie genre being dead, with the tons of sequels, reboots, Netflix TV Shows, spin-off TV shows, prequels, and crossing universe movies that are constantly being pumped out of the Hollywood machine. If anything, it’s oversaturated today. But that was not the case in the early 2000s, for the genre was fairly empty, many moviemakers believing there was no interest in it anymore. It was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002 that led to the resurgence of superhero films, and that shows no signs of stopping here in 2015.

In 2000, M. Night Shyamalan was hot off the heels of his massive hit The Sixth Sense. A hit which his career has yet to repeat. If anything, his career has been declining sadly ever since. However, Unbreakable stands as an underrated masterpiece, (despite the tacked on “twist” ending) equal to The Sixth Sense. It is often overlooked as one of M. Night Shyamalan’s few great films.

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What is especially popular with superhero films today is to make it “gritty”. The original Spider-Man was splashy, over-the-top, as if the pages from the comics were ripped and put on screen. That changed with Christopher Nolan’s incredible Batman trilogy. His dark and gritty trilogy aimed to rip Batman away from Joel Schumacher’s Bat Nipples shlock and put it in our real world. What if Batman was in OUR world? And it worked. Other superhero films quickly followed suit, trying to evoke the realistic edge of the Nolan trilogy by making the colors of their films equally dark as the writing. This doesn’t always work for every superhero, though. Perhaps notably, the latest Superman films.

While Christopher Nolan successfully put Batman in the gritty realities of our world, Unbreakable does so in tenfold. Unbreakable truly takes the idea of superheroes in our world. Or, as Quentin Tarantino put it in an interview, Unbreakable is about: “What if Superman was here on earth but didn’t know he was Superman?”

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It is a bit different than Watchmen, which was another deconstruction of the genre, also taking a look at the idea of “What if superheroes were in our world?” Watchmen took the traditional superhero tropes and subverted them, but it still has all the aspects of a superhero film that we like to see. The stylized action sequences that are not, well, very “real world” at all.  Unbreakable truly explores what it would be like if superheroes walked our streets. What would they be like?

Unbreakable is a sincere and moving attempt to recreate the superhero movie as a quietly epic tale of self-discovery and realization. And it works amazingly well. Unbreakable follows an ordinary man, with a failing marriage and son, who works as a security guard. David Dunn (our hero has an alliteration for a name, like many others Peter Parker, Richard Reed, etc.) becomes the only survivor, without a scratch, of a tragic train accident. He slowly discovers, with the help of Elijah Price (the anthesis of him, who has highly breakable bones and is dubbed “Mr. Glass.”) that he has never been sick a day in his life, and never truly physically hurt. In short, he is a modern day superhero.

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What is so striking about the film is how slow, solemn, and methodical the film is. David Dunn’s realization that he isn’t like others doesn’t per se fill him with confidence, but with a sadness and dread. He is aware that he is burdened with a separation from society that will change the outcome of his life. Here the famous line from Spider-Man does come into play “With great power, comes great responsibility.”” What will David choose to do with this power? For he is now ultimately responsible for helping save lives or not. As with The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan uses long takes and artful compositions to create an overall mood that is heavy with both loss and uncertainty.

Unbreakable embraces aspects of superhero traditions, mythology, and stereotypes but translates them to make sense in our world. His “costume” is his security guard raincoat (that looks quite like a cape in many shots). His friend becomes his arch enemy. Discovering his powers occurs in a slow and steady scene where his son loads up his weights, and he realizes he can bench up to 350 pounds. (500 in a deleted scene)

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This all culminates to the final climax, where David follows a suspicious man to a home, only to discover that he has been holding the family hostage, tied up. Tortured for days, possibly weeks. It is an eerily unsettling scene, one that brings to mind films from today like Zodiac or Prisoners. For isn’t that who the villains of our world are? Serial killers, psychopaths, strangers that break into innocent people’s homes, steal children, murder for fun?

If you are a fan of superhero films, definitely check out Unbreakable. It is a fascinating and complex character study, an incredibly unique take and translation of superhero genre. If you are a fan of the gritty looks that the Nolan trilogy brought to superhero films, you will enjoy the tone of Unbreakable. In my opinion, a highly underrated classic that is worth taking a relook with this huge boom of superhero films.

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It Follows: Suburban Horror Dream World

It Follows is one of the greatest new horror films to come out in recent years. It uniquely subverts the tropes of horror classics past while having a look, music, and plot elements that homages them. The teens-having-sex-and-then-dying trope is in the quintessential staple of slasher films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th. It Follows takes that trope and subverts it into something completely new and nightmare-inducing.  It’s villain is an STD that manifests itself. You must pass it along to someone by having sex with them. Or else, you will be followed by a creature (who could look like someone you know, or a stranger) and if they catch up with you, an untimely and gruesome death will follow.

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What is unique about It Follows, aside from its inventive plot, is that it takes the iconography of horror films past to create a timeless suburban slasher fairy world. Main characters drive vintage cars, living rooms have old televisions, the ones with the rabbit ears, on which they only watch old black and white horror films. It is an odd retro-futuristic mix, for we clearly see 2015 cars in the background as well. Also, one character has a tiny shell compact that is like a small Kindle. (It’s not real—I checked. Wish it was though!)

One scene uses this lack of modern technology to completely echo A Nightmare on Elm Street. Our heroine, Jay uses her landline 1980s style phone to call her neighbor that lives across from her, who she fears is being followed by the mis being followed by the dangerous “It”. She stares helplessly out the window waiting for him to pick up. We recall the infamous Johnny Depp death scene, where Nancy Thompson stares helplessly out the window as she tries to call her across the street neighbor and boyfriend.

The closeness of neighborhood friends reflects the story of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the small suburban community which horror is wreaking havoc upon, but that scene outright homages it. Think how different that scene would have played out with an iPhone. Would we have still called to mind that horror classic? It Follows has deliberately placed us in this other-world.

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Of course, any film about suburban horror will recall Halloween. But the shots of something walking and stalking is clearly reminiscent of the film, and echoes Michael Myers languidly following or slowly receding into the background. But it is the difference of music that marks an interesting distinction between the films.

Rich Vreeland’s lusciously surreal synthesizer score does what John Carpenter’s score did in Halloween but in a different method. (Though the scores are a bit similar) Though the shots are similar, the feeling the music gives is quite different. Carpenter’s infamous score is creepingly slow and atmospheric. It offers a quietly gripping tension. You know something is prowling somewhere.

Rich Vreeland’s pulsating rhythms fill you with a more imminent dread, a heart-pounding plunge down the roller coaster and going on the run. Michael Myers lurked in the shadows, but what is following you is here in broad daylight and you better run.

As the years go by, we wait for new horror classics but that is rarely delivered. We become nostalgic for the classics past. The looks of those films will forever be permeated in our culture. This causes us to wonder if horror films will ever be able to escape that and establish its own new look? It Follows chooses to soak itself in an overall nostalgic look, as if it could easily place itself on a shelf with those classics and not be mistaken for a modern film. It Follows uses elements in technology used, story and camerawork from horror classics to create a horror dream world. This is used quite effectively, for not only does It Follows echoes films of horror past, but manages to stand on its own as a potential new horror classic.

Scene Sound Off: Jaws

Though there are countless memorable scenes in Steven Speilberg’s summer blockbuster Jaws one of the most famous is Chief Brody witnessing the shark attack of the little boy Alex.

The scene begins with a shot moving left following an overweight woman going into the water.. This shot is a red herring, for she is what the audience would assume the most appealing victim to the shark. Next to her is a young man playing fetch with his dog.

jaws 2A young boy enters the frame wearing red shorts (not so subtle color choice there, once we realize the outcome) and the camera follows him to the right. We learn his name is Alex Kintner. We have a set up for the scene where he asks his mother if he can go out into the water for a little while longer. The camera follows the little boy until we see and focus on Chief Brody, who is watching the beach intensely. From his POV, we see the next few shots of our established three main potential victims – a dog, an overweight woman, and a little boy. We see shots of Alex diving into the water on his yellow raft, the young man playing fetch with the dog, and the overweight woman floating on her back.

This leaves the audience questioning just who is our potential victim? Would Spielberg really go as far to kill the child? One of the reasons this scene ends up being so terrifying is for the fact that the shark takes a young and innocent life.

The camera zooms increasingly closer and closer to Chief Brody following wipes of extras walking past the camera. These shots give you a sense of just how crowded it is on the beach. The more crowded it is, the more potential danger there could be. The shots heighten the suspense and give you a sense of Brody’s heightened anxiety and fear of impending doom.

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There are several little scares from Brody’s POV- a shape moving closer to the overweight woman, a girl screaming. All little things that prove to be nothing but beachgoers having fun. However, the audience continues to get a sense of Brody’s anxiety which is at an all time high. He can see the potential danger in everyone and everywhere, and the audience does as well. Is it going to be that girl? Or will it be the overweight woman after all? Chief Brody and the audience are simultaneously guessing and on the edge of their seat.

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Brody deals with several distractions. We have an effective and wonderfully used over the shoulder and split screen shot as beachgoers try to break Brody’s concentration by making small talk with him. Brody’s focus is always on the beach.

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jaws 1The next shot we’ve seen several times before in this scene- with various beachgoers changing in the background. Brody’s wife talks to him as we see children getting up in the background ready to go into the water. Brody is unable to control his environment.

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Shots follow of kids splashing and playing– the audience can sense that the scene is now building to a head. The frantic cuts and excitement is gives a sense of bubbling up and overflowing to the final moments. The next shot is a sure sign of trouble- the young man established from the beginning calls after his dog. There’s a shot of the fetch stick floating in the water. Trouble is here.

One of the most infamous shark POV shots follow, the shark moves closer and closer to the boy’s kicking legs as the infamous theme song builds and builds.

jaws 7We see the attack from afar- the POV Chief Brody.

Jaws 8The famous dolly/zoom combination shot follows, and is indeed an effective one. All of Chief Brody’s anxiousness has not been for naught. He was fearful that something would happen. The zoom shot represents Cheif Brody being thrusted into reality- all that he feared did come true. He sees clear as day what he has been waiting for, what he has imagined happening in every situation he saw that day. At that moment, Brody knows he should have listened to his gut instinct in order to close the beaches.

jaws 9The frantic and frightened beach goers rush out of the water, leaving Alex’s mom to helplessly call after him. In an eerie shot, his ripped yellow life raft floats ashore.

jaws 10This is why this is one of the most terrifying and emotionally effective sequences in film history. Every shot engages the viewer, we experience the same emotions as Chief Brody. We are as helpless as he his- everything happens before our eyes and there ends up being nothing we can do about it. It was too late.

The tactics used in each shot not only illustrates the suspense that Chief Brody is feeling, but heightens the suspense for the audience as well. We fearfully wonder who the victim (or victims) will be? We wait in terror as we know this tranquil summer day will be destroyed by one of the most fearsome animals in nature. One of the many taglines of Jaws was “You’ll never go in the water again!” After seeing this scene, it’s easy to see why many audiences felt that way the summer of 1975.

Watch the scene at the link below!