What I Learned from Foreign Horror

This weekend, I watched a horror movie. To be fair, I watch a horror movie almost every weekend. Call it a knee-jerk reaction to not having been allowed to see anything scarier than Goonies until I was a teenager. (Jesus Camp is a pretty good filmic equivalent to my upbringing.)


I usually go with a nice foreign film, though lately my long-suffering husband has prohibited me from watching any more Asian thrillers; he claims they all revolve around a murdered schoolgirl coming back as a spirit, usually through either natural sources of water or household plumbing, to avenge her death. He has a point (See Oldboy, Ah Rang, and the original Thai version of Shutter).


So last night, we decided on the French film Ils (marketed in the US as Them). The French rarely have plumbing-related plotlines, but favor ruined estates. Ils didn’t fail us there. Five minutes into the film, we were ready to move to rural Romania for a life of genteel poverty in a gorgeously dilapidated estate complete with an enormous greenhouse. The movie itself was surprisingly light on plot and dialogue, but impressively heavy on tension. Brilliantly paced if safely shot, it was a creepfest right to the final credits. 


While most horror movies are good for entertainment purposes only, I did, in fact, come away with a little something from Ils. In the opening scenes of the movie, Lucas, an aspiring novelist, shuts his laptop as soon as his wife gets home from work, claiming that, even when he’s not writing, he’s writing. He claims that he’s always at work, even when he’s producing nothing. Lucas is then (stop reading here if you don’t want the plot spoiled for you) savagely murdered by a pack of feral, tunnel-dwelling children. 


Okay, so this is unlikely to happen to me. But I do think the idea of the non-writing-writing can be dangerous. Yes, sometimes it takes a bit of time off to gain perspective on a sticky problem, and a well-defined vacation is never a bad thing. But some writers I know have gone seriously awry with the idea of writing without writing–some have stopped producing new work for years at a time. I can only imagine what happens to a writer’s craftsmanship or imaginative life during such a long time away from the work. Maybe some writers do just fine, but I’m sure I’d founder. 


So maybe restlessness, lack of mojo and even laziness aren’t nearly so adrenaline-pumping as a bunch of murderous kids waving two-by-fours at my head. But, I’m happy to say, at the end of this flu-filled weekend away from the manuscript, that I’m seeing that pack of tunnel children looming over the edge of my edge of my laptop, ready to “play” the moment I let up on the work.

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