Saturday, September 12, 2015

FilmLight - Mental Illness Vs Hollywood

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

The Call Image

"I saw a man who had lost any sense of reality, a seriously ill individual whose crimes, though hideous, are also heartbreaking..."

In horror and thriller we are so used to villains being the monstrosities of the piece - some faceless, others grotesque. Just think Freddy Kruger from the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, or Jason Vorhees's horrific killings on Friday 13th... It is easy to hate these phantoms of fear, as they hunt and massacre their prey. But what is evil, and how is it truly defined in film? How to evaluate a character whose actions are motivated by mental illness? Think of Norman Bates, a man whose mind is clearly burdened, the killings a product of his mental state. Is he considered to be evil? Just when does an audience feel sympathy for a psychopath, or at least touch upon some level of understanding?

Recently I stumbled upon "The Call", a 2013 movie starring Halle Barry as Jordan Turner, a 9-1-1 operator who blames herself for the murder of a distressed caller, witnessed in the first act of the movie. Six months passes and Turner finds herself in a similar situation when the original killer strikes again, kidnapping another young girl called Casey Welson (played by Abigail Breslin). This time the girl is able to phone from the boot of her kidnapper's car, leading to a tense but exciting scenario in which Turner attempts to locate the girl's whereabouts in a bid to help with the police search. Michael Foster (Michael Eklund), the man eventually named as her abductor, is violent, killing whoever stands in his way. But further into the story we learn of his own tale, one of incest and love, loss and devastation. The trigger for his crimes later on in life...

In the concluding act of the movie, and taking matters into her own hands, Turner manages to track the girl down in a cellar, facing Foster in a confrontation that ultimately leads to him being imprisoned in his own hideout, where he will rot, never to be discovered... This is where I found some sympathy for the villain, and the final scenes very distasteful.

It is ironic that, at the end of a terrifying ordeal in which a young girl is kidnapped and facing certain death, I find the final behavior of Turner and Welson to be far more monstrous than the actions of a mentally-disturbed man. Even if you contemplated Welson's to be temporary insanity due to her recent experience, just what is Turner's excuse? Revenge for the death of the previous victim? Accepted, Michael Foster's crimes cannot be overlooked, nor is there any reasonable justification for what he has done, and so life imprisonment in a psychiatric institution should have been the outcome. Realising their decision to let him die alone, Foster pleads with them for mercy, to which Turner says, "It's already done!" - echoing the killer's own words during two previous phone conversations between the two characters.

In scenes that show Foster's prop head and the many scalps taken from young woman, I saw a man who had lost any sense of reality, a seriously ill individual whose crimes, though hideous, are also heartbreaking. His sister died while he was a young boy, and ever since he has yearned for her to be back in his life. His fixation with resurrecting her is similar and yet different in ways to that of Norman Bates, whose split personality called for Norma Louise Bates' return in the "Psycho" films. In "The Call", Foster wishes nothing more than to be reunited with his dead sibling, killing girls until he locates blonde hair that precisely matches that of his sister's.

As someone who suffers with mental illness, I can understand the fine line that can be crossed when not in one's correct frame of mind. Though I am far from Foster's state, there have been times when my own actions have later surprised, horrified and disgusted me, whether it is self-inflicted injuries or other. I have felt just how easily one might go insane when handed circumstances that overwhelm. Just where does true madness lie? Repeating my earlier question, what is evil, and how is it truly defined, whether in film or reality? Foster is no Hollywood 'monster', nor does he fit the same profile as Charles Lee Ray ("Chucky") or 'Pinhead' ("Hellraiser").

When the beast is slain, we usually punch the air in satisfaction, praising the heroes for their bravery against the odds. I felt for Welson during her captivity, wished for her to be safe. I even appreciated Turner's frustration and guilt. But, in the end, they were both the monsters in my eyes - Judge & Jury, coldly deciding his fate without any thought as to his own state of mind. After all, why should they? He is the beast... isn't he?

Follow Alwyn Ash on Twitter: @AlwynAsh. Image source courtesy of Greg Gayne © 2013 SPWAG (via Article © Alwyn Ash 2015. Quotes (if applicable) used for publicity purposes only. No infringement of copyright is intended.