Smart Horror. They Make Those? They Make Those!

A brief look at award-winning Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan and his beloved fright flick, Felicia’s Journey.

felicias_journeyFelicia’s Journey is a 1999 horror film directed by Atom Egoyan. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s best to experience this movie without knowing anything. I’ll talk a little bit about the director, and then a little bit about the film. Hopefully I won’t spoil anything (i.e. Bob Hoskins is really dead Bruce Willis helping weirdo kids).

Atom Egoyan is a Canadian director that has made an art out of making films that with-hold key information from the audience. His narratives are typically told out of order in a way that produces tension out of curiosity. It helps that his movies are usually funny too. The stories come from the characters, how they relate to each other, and what drives them. Egoyan has a way of keeping you interested, even though you don’t always know why characters are acting a certain way. He’s always leading you somewhere, and it’s usually a place you wouldn’t normally go in movies.

The first Egoyan movie I saw was The Sweet Hereafter (1997). It’s a film about a school bus crash in a small town and how the people deal with the aftermath. I was instantly intrigued by the jumbled storytelling method. Even though it’s told out of order, the movie had a very real emotional arc that somehow remained in tact. After seeing that movie and Felicia’s Journey, I had to track down and watch the rest. My favorites are probably Exotica (1994), Family Viewing (1987), and Ararat (a 2002 film dealing with the Armenian Genocide by dissecting a movie being made about the subject). If there is one word to describe Egoyan’s films, it’d have to be “Meta.” This guy using so many different media to tell a story that you’re often not sure if your watching through his eyes or the eyes of his characters.

In Calendar (1993), for example, the director himself plays a photographer hired to go to Armenia to take photos for a calendar. The film is divided into 12 sections using the months in a year intercut with handheld video footage he shot of his wife (played by Egoyan’s real wife Arsinee Khanjian) being seduced by their tour guide. This is mixed with scenes of him watching the footage and scenes of him bringing different women back to his house. The serious tone is lightened as he offers each woman a glass of wine, they respond by asking to use his phone, and they all end up having passionate phone conversations in his kitchen while he is left to awkwardly listen. It all adds up to this weird system of human insight and comedy that is totally unique to Egoyan.

Felicia’s Journey is a great first Atom Egoyan film to watch because it’s his only straight genre film to date.

The movie follows Mr. Hilditch (Bob Hoskins) and Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) as their paths intersect in an industrial part of London. The story is adapted from the novel by William Trevor, but Egoyan has made several changes, including adding elements of video (an obsession of his no doubt). The best way to describe this movie without spoiling anything is to talk about the effect it had on a friend that I showed it to years ago.

This friend is a self-proclaimed horror nut. She unashamedly loves everything with zombies (except Day of the Dead) and anything with gore. You know who I’m talking about: she collects toys from movies, has seen all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, can quote lines from the original Halloween, has at least 10 pairs of black boots, etc. So when I brought up watching this little movie, she was amazed that she had never heard of it. It’s rated PG-13, so she was a little bummed, but we started the film anyway. What followed was one of those rare instances where I was actually able to see her being terrified; she was speechless after the movie and had nightmares about it that night. She was almost mad at me for showing it to her because it had such a strong effect. And all this from a PG-13 movie? But how?

Well if that situation sounds at all desirable then you have to see this film. It’s smart horror that doesn’t pander, and definitely worth a watch. Unlike the last movie I discussed, this one should be pretty easy to track down. Also keep an eye out for Egoyan’s new film, Adoration. Oh wait, it was only in Richmond for a week. Dammit.

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Scott Burton

Scott Burton is a tireless composer and guitarist in Richmond. He writes reviews about obscure movies for RVANews, and he writes music about obscure movies for the avant jazz group Glows in the Dark.

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