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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Russian Horror Film, "The Bride" (2017) Does Not Disappoint

I recently saw the Russian horror film, The Bride (Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy, 2017).  The film is often listed as HEBECTA (pronounced Nevestia – which means “The Bride” or “The Fiancee”).

Any good horror film worth its salt is subversive. This film reminded me of that.

Okay, to start, let me make a confession. I’m not a fan of horror films. In fact, I would say that I avoid them whenever I can. I’m not sure why I thought that the Russian film, “The Bride” would be a chick flick. Probably because I did not watch the trailer. I was also wrong in thinking that it would be in Russian with English subtitles.  It was dubbed. So, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

To my surprise, I liked it. And, I was reminded that horror is something that, if it’s really good, gives you insight into the dynamics of our social and political milieu, but in coded form, if you will.

Like the best horror films, the premise is of a scientific breakthrough and technology gone horribly wrong, combined with creepy anthropology and folklore.

Moscow University. Professor is talking about two things: first, the belief in the 19th century that the silver emulsions used in photography captured not just the image but the essence of the soul of the subject. So, they took to taking photographs of their dead loved ones .. painting eyes on their eyelids.

Second, the ancient Slavic belief that a wedding ceremony was actually a funeral ceremony for the bride, because she was dead to her old life – hence, the bridal veil (inspired by shrouds used to wrap the cadaver), the color white (of death; “purity” would have been good old nunnery and nun’s habit black), and the flowers.

Now, in the case of the movie, the bride died, and so a replacement bride was found to inter with the dead girlfriend and a silver emulsion containing her soul, with the hope that the silver plate would be as potent as lightning in Frankenstein’s laboratory. Yeah, a bit weak, and very derivative, but the fact that the entire film was shot in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast made it interesting.

So, here is a checklist underpinning ideas and psychological / existential anxieties:
Fear of women’s sexuality: CHECK
Suspicion of technology: CHECK
Belief in the suppression of scientific discoveries of the 19th century: CHECK
Belief in a hungry, devouring, undead entity that seeks to steal your healthy body, will killing your soul: CHECK
Belief that the body-snatcher is consumer culture?? NO NON NYET NYET NYET
Belief that the body-snatching soul-stealer is the GOVERNMENT (or that the “Bride” is ‘gasp' a politician!) CHECK CHECK CHECK

The special effects of horror leave me cold. I am disgusted by them.  I do not care to see wormy cadavers, or to vicariously experience a rotted zombie female checking to make sure that the prospective new bride is a virgin so she can consign her soul to her rotting cadaver, thus using the new, living bride for her evil designs.

Okay, I liked the Russian house. It made me think of the Romanov times, and the museums I visited in Russia. I also recognize the metonymical significance of secret passages, hallways, and ducts in the old house. The metonymical potential of the silver nitrate images on glass, and the images of candles, winding stairways, foggy trackless forests are also clear to me. I enjoy them, but they are like eating candy corn for breakfast. You’ve just substituted discounted Halloween candy for the tough, bitter, adult palate that prefers something steel-cut.

The subversive elements of The Bride have to do with the vexed relationship a culture has with its past. The past is usually mythologized, and history is hammered into a weapon or a plowshare to do the bidding of the one's in power. To have a past that persists, and actually devours today is quite a subversive message, especially in a culture that tries to build on past accomplishments to reinforce a national identity capable of cohering and fending off outside threats.  To have a being from the past who insists on taking over the body of a young, virginal woman admits that there is a profound fear of one's own latent impulses. Dostoevsky's doppelgangers (The Double and Notes from Underground) are alive and well.

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