and sometimes poetry

Insidious (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I didn’t actually see Insidious. The New Yorker described its leading little boy as a “nest of evil spirits” and no doubt the movie trotted out every weird-shit-on-walls/mysterious-thuds-overhead/doorknobs-turning-of-their-own-volition/static-on-random-electrical-devices horse in the Stygian stables that is the Possession Genre. Instead, I stayed in and watched a real horror film: Junebug. The fact that this movie is often housed under “drama” or perhaps even “comedy” should not fool you. If the pact we make with horror is a boozy, adolescent one—trading the pinot noir of plot and cabernet of character for the warm 40 of shock—Junebug attends to the murderous, blinding bath-tub brew that is actual terror, in our actual lives. Its potent swill of family, class, culture, and shame induces a visceral reaction that few horror movies can, for what we react to is not a “nightmare” (realized in the shaky camera effects and suggestive soundtracking we’ve been trained to recognize one as), but the contours of what approximates real horror in our post-secular, post-bourgeoisie, capriciously capitalistic, and endlessly commodified times. The camera freezes on interiors in Junebug as if a crime has been committed: the carpeted stairs leading down to the basement, and the fake wood paneling in that basement; the Stairmaster at an odd, sad angle in the master bedroom; the matching cherry dining set. Everything came from someplace like Furniture Barn or Wood Unlimited, and did so 20-25 years ago. Junebug’s protagonists are middle-class, and monstrous. When the prodigal son returns home with his expensive, elegant wife, what happens, happens. And it’s scary. And I hid my head in my T-shirt more than once.

And it reminded me of what else I did today: attend a teach-in. My political history is vague and unwinning: I once slept at a “peace camp” protesting the rerouting of a highway through contested sacred Native American ground in college. Then I committed myself to poetry, the discovery of sex and booze followed soon after, and the political, except as a whetstone for whatever theoretical model I was attempting to learn the jargon of, limped out of my life like a pudgy, discarded BFF. Distancing oneself from the grimy, sweaty, generally unattractive earnestness of “activism” is a time-honored tradition of the intellectual classes. Whether you advocate to rescind the inhumane system of capitalism in favor of a just and equal socialist nation (as one speaker at the teach-in did), or accuse those who organize events like the one I attended today as “whiners” (a-hem), you’re equally drowning in the gooey vat of diagnosis; in stopping at the café of the critical-descriptive, you miss the mad rush for the spit, where the hordes grill and devour the endless, rotten meat of the so-called civilized, and their civilizing process. I spout nothing new here. The facts I heard today were discouraging, and horrifying. The response I felt in myself even more so. For when asked to stand and chant, “Tax the Rich!” did I stand and chant? Did I want to?  Here is Susan Sontag on Emil Cioran: “His aim is diagnosis. For relief, it may be that one must abandon the pride of knowing and feeling so much—a local pride that has cost everyone hideously by now.” Sweet dreams, folks.

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