Why I Refuse To Watch 13 Reasons Why

Why I Refuse To Watch 13 Reasons Why

Because I could have been Hannah Baker.

On March 31st, Netflix debuted its original series based on the novel Thirteen Reasons Why. The story is about Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who has recently committed suicide, but not before recording cassette tapes about why she committed suicide. Then, a bunch of people she knew when she was alive listen to the tapes, have moments of introspection, feel guilt, and experience character arcs. That's about all I know of the story. Despite the praise it's getting on all platforms, I refuse to read or watch it.

I tried reading it when I was in middle school. I'd just been diagnosed with clinical depression, and so I thought I could relate with Hannah Baker and maybe find some solace in the book. I wasn't able to finish it. At thirteen years old, it scared me too much to think that I may be capable of doing what Hannah Baker did: end her own life.

Depression and suicidal thoughts go hand in hand, and I'm no exception. After years of therapy, I'm fine and have my illness under control, but one of the scariest and most important things I've learned while healing is that when you want to die, you will find every reason to justify it.

"My parents will save money by not having to buy me groceries."

"My therapist will be able to take one more client."

"My little sister can get her own room now."

"If I write letters/record videos/send deep text messages, all my friends will feel guilty. They'll miss me so much. People's lives will be upturned and by dying, I'll create waves. Nevermind that I'll be too dead to see my impact. I'll have an impact."

That last one is really common. If it sounds ridiculous to you, then you've probably never seriously considered killing yourself. The suicidal mind doesn't work the same way as a non-suicidal one.

The suicidal mind latches onto any little tidbit that will encourage it to carry out its goal: to die.

And the idea of leaving something behind is intoxicating, especially when you feel you are doing so little in your life now. The idea that people will listen to your last words, knowing that the things you say right before you die are guaranteed to be important to people, is amazing when you're suicidal. You'll be too dead to see it, but you'll know that by dying, you've impacted lives. Half the fun of being suicidal is trying to leave something behind.

Now, if someone who wants to die watches Thirteen Reasons Why, that last line of thinking will be extended even further: "My friends will have glorious character arcs and will become kinder. They will become better people. They will become stronger. All because of me."

When you focus on the people affected by suicide rather than the suicidal person themselves, you are showing suicidal people what will happen if they go through with it. Thirteen Reasons Why doesn't encourage suicide, of course, but it isn't going to help someone who is desperately looking for a reason to die. It's morbid, but I know that if Thirteen Reasons Why had premiered at a time when I was sixteen and still didn't know how to healthily deal with my mental illness, I would have held onto it and never let go. It would have scared me. It would have disturbed me. It would have helped me to believe that my death would help more people than my life did. You cannot create a story about suicide and let the suicidal person serve as nothing more than a convenient plot point. You cannot. It's gross. It's irresponsible.

I could have been Hannah Baker. When I was younger, I would have wanted to be Hannah Baker. I have no desire to watch what my life could have been in the worst possible scenario. I don't care how kind it encourages you to be. I don't care how nuanced their portrayal of a rapist is. I don't care. I cannot, and will not, watch this.

Cover Image Credit: Screen Rant

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The Strangers: Prey At Night is Just as Disappointing as I Predicted

If cinematic abuse had a title, this would be it.

I wrote an article a few months ago when the trailer for The Strangers: Prey At Night dropped, and overall my expectations have not changed. In the car, I came up with a list of said expectations of the movie so I could compare and contrast what I was about to view after I got out. Overall, it can all be summed up easily as jump scare central, cheesy eighties references, and chases. I went in full knowing I was not going to get the same movie I fell in love with a few years ago, and was willing to accept that as I am not opposed to jump scares in films, in fact I believe that they can be done rather well. I suppose you could say, I expected something much more like Friday the 13th than the original Strangers.

Even with standards set so low, I cannot begin to explain how disappointed I was.

If you have seen the original, do you remember what you liked about it? Was it the creepy old record player filling the room to set the atmosphere? Was it the eerie subtly of the way the strangers crept into the house? The way you didn’t know where they were until you looked at it again? The way they camouflaged into the background, and were silent killers?

SURPRISE! Whatever it was, wave goodbye, because you won’t be seeing it again.

We start off the movie already on an awful misstep. (I was going to insert a comparison but I can not find the same title that was in the movie, as it is different than on the poster.) The title card and entire introduction is something which looked like a sad attempt at Alfred Hitchcock, which ended up looking more like the introduction to the 1995 Goosebumps series. Normally this nitpicking would not be something I would make a big deal about, but it truly did set the tone for the movie.

After a “surprise” death in the beginning, and after the horrid title card, we meet the family which is full of all the usual stereotypes. Moody teenage girl, hot mom, dorky and oblivious dad, and the sporty teenage son. Okay, I can handle these cliches, they are a well known cliche in the paranormal haunted house subgenre. The thing which bothered me wasn’t the cliche, however, but the caricature of it. It seemed as if the family was intentionally exaggerated, which earned an eye roll from me. But, I could handle it. They’re going to die anyway...or, maybe they’ll develope into something more.

Without spoiling too much of the movie (if you wish to view it) I would like to coin the rest of the beginning, middle, and end as an act of cinematic abuse. The way Prey at Night was shot was amusing, in the way that it looked like whoever operated the camera had just learned how to zoom in for emphasis. It seemed as though every few minutes, there would be something the camera wanted to emphasize eve if they did not need to do it. And it wasn’t even simple close ups, no sir/ma’am, it was slow zooms inward on faces of main characters in broad light,slow zooms on objects, there was even once where it zoomed in on nothing at all. They lended nothing to the audience's knowledge and became overall annoying.

And remember in the trailer when they made it pretty clear that the film would ride the eighties bandwagon to it’s death? Did it ever. I lost count of how many songs were played, but it had to be more than four, maybe five. It was shoved in your face so much that it was like visiting one of those tacky haunted attractions that used neon lights to distort your vision. The franchise- if you could even call it a franchise- took a complete 180 from the original from the get go. It was as if they looked at the movie at the last minute, and asked themselves-

“Hey, Bill, the eighties trend is big right now! How about we toss in a few references?”

And if you thought bright pink and neon green was enough to burn your senses, there’s more!

Jump scares never bothered me, in fact I liked them when done well. The problem with this is, they’re so easy to get wrong.

I’d be lying to say I didn’t jump once or twice, but that was all, and that was at the very beginning. Through out 90% of the movie, you are sitting there anticipating the jumpscare, and when it comes, it’s underwhelming. The film relies so heavily on it that they incorporate it so often, and it eventually becomes insignificant and leaves nothing left to give. If there was ever a film to encapsulate why relying on jump scares is bad, it is this one.

By the time the end came, I was wondering just what the hell I had paid to see. The story was confusing, and lended no knowledge to the movie whatsoever. We never find out about the strangers, nor do we find out about the characters. The film was just a vague plot pieced together with the only good horror movie to not have a sequel (and for good reason, clearly) and characters placed into the plot just to be killed off- literally! They served no purpose other than to be gutted!

I have never watched a movie and thought to myself that if I left in the middle, I would not miss something until I sat down in that theater of four (including myself). Again, I made no mistake in hoping for something like the first because it was advertised quite differently, but even then I was left disappointed, saddened, and even regretful.

The reason the first movie was so good was because it preyed not on the senses, but on the unknown. It allowed audiences to gravel in the way we knew things that the couple in the film did not. It fed off of the idea of realism, even with the Strangers moving in a way that was abnormally silent. The reason the first movie was so good was because of it’s minimalist design, the quiet house, the old record player, the fear of the unknown, and the knowledge that what happened to the couple in the film could happen to anyone.

Strangers: Prey At Night was so absurd that it was laughable. The original stood alone just fine, and hopefully the film will be forgotten. It is a sad excuse for a sequel, and even if, by any means, it comes to be revealed that this whole film was a joke, I will still regret giving that film my money.

Cover Image Credit: dreadcentral.com

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21th Century Cinema: The Death Of Originality

Since the start of the century, the world of cinema has experienced a sharp decline in creativity and original thought.

Derivative. This is perhaps the most appropriate word to describe the nature of the entertainment industry of the 20th century. So much of what is being created is predicated not only on films of the past but also on contemporary films.

The vast majority of films that emerge out of Hollywood are indeed formulaic. Interesting, unique, and engaging plots are becoming less significant. Often, they are either woefully simplistic in nature or hopelessly convoluted. Instead, the primary focus of Hollywood is to rely solely on the marketability, not necessarily the talent, of actors and actresses. Thus, charisma and attractiveness are more valuable than sensational acting abilities because often times these attributes yield a higher entertainment value and thus, a higher commercial value. Even the characters that these actors and actresses are portraying are indicative of a startling lack of originality. Looking at the protagonists of these blockbuster films, it’s easy to see that these characters too are formulaic. For instance, the overwhelming surge of Marvel movies that has dominated the cinematic landscape has yielded characters that may closely resemble the comic book characters that they are derived from but most of these characters' personalities are virtually the same. The protagonist is often morally compromised or at least isn't necessarily overly heroic or admirable. They are often sarcastic, witty, and charming and seem reluctant to be a hero. Yet, as we already know by the end of the movie they have accepted their role and “saved the day.” This is essentially the mold that most of the protagonists of today’s films fit into. Of course, there are obviously going to be deviations from this.

Why do these plots and characters that are seemingly unoriginal exist? Simply put, they are what the general audience is familiar and comfortable with seeing. The immense commercial value of successfully entertaining the masses is perhaps the primary reason why film studios have a strong preference for consistency and rely on this sort of formula for film-making. Yet, this simply is not the full explanation for the sheer amount of derivative and unoriginal films that plague modern cinema.

Many films and even television shows that have emerged in the last decade are either adaptations of various works or remakes of other films. The abundance of adaptations is not necessarily an indicator of the lack of creativity that is systematized in Hollywood. Adapting a particular work for the big screen is a tremendous and worthy endeavor. In fact, some of the greatest films in history have been adaptions of other works. Although the film deviated significantly from the source material, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now (adapted from Joseph Conrad’s book “Heart of Darkness) is undoubtedly one of the greatest films of all time. Although I previously criticized some of Marvel’s movie adaptations, the idea of converting a comic book to a film is extremely ambitious. My criticism with Marvel was primarily with their depictions of characters with seemingly indistinguishable personalities. For the most part, film adaptations can be unique, inspired works of art because they are not merely vessels meant to convey the original work but in a different medium. Rather, they often invoke a strong sense of identity in both works that strongly differentiates the two in various ways.

Thus, the lack of originality in modern cinema can be found in this idea of remaking films or continuing a film series long after its origination. In today’s cinema, there are so many examples of both of these things. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is perhaps one of the more recent examples. Numerous film series have been rebooted, including “Star Wars” and “Alien.” Even recent film series are being rebooted, such as “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Some films are getting sequels years later like “Blade Runner 2049” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” This phenomenon is not limited to the big screen as television is also following this trend. Some of examples include “Fuller House,” “Roseanne,” “X- Files,” and “Arrested Development.” Why is there a growing trend of remaking things that have already been done? While there is undoubtedly a plethora of reasons to explain this, the common denominator for most of these instances is nostalgia.

Nostalgia is something that ebbs and flows throughout time. There are periods in history where a wave of nostalgia seemingly dominates the people. We are living in a time where nostalgia is rampant yet again. Given that nostalgia is the common denominator in most of these films, there is one question I have to ask myself: Is nostalgia the true driver for the creation of these adaptations, spin-offs and remakes? Or perhaps is it something else? Given the formulaic nature of many of these films I would hypothesize that it is indeed something else.

Nostalgia is a relaxer, an anesthetic, that numbs people of the experience that they are about to receive. They are put in a trance, seemingly paralyzed by the powerful effects of nostalgia. Thus, what they are currently experiencing is irrelevant, so long as euphoria of nostalgia remains. The various limitations and faults of a film are often times overshadowed or at least partially obstructed by nostalgia. A lack of originality can be effectively masked under the guise of nostalgia. Therefore, the severe famine of creativity that plagues the vast majority of Hollywood is allowed to effectively metastasize.

Relying solely on the past will not yield revolutionary change or innovation. The past can undoubtedly lead to innovation and inspiration, such as the case with The Renaissance of Europe. Yet, even then, the great pioneers during that time were not afraid to deviate from the past and experiment and innovate.

Perhaps, when this high tide of nostalgia finally recedes, the world of cinema will be exposed to brilliant filmmakers that no longer adhere to the precedence of the past nor will they be unnerved by the possibility of taking risks. The idea of innovation and change will not frighten these filmmakers. Currently, there are already a few of these pioneers and with their efforts, perhaps cinema can finally be free of the immense reliance of the past.

Cover Image Credit: PhotoMIX Ltd.

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