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Mindless Self-Indulgence


 

 

Breaking the 'fourth wall' between film and audience was always seen to be little more than a gimmick seen in films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and TV with the likes of Malcolm in the Middle, however it has become an ever more popular comedy trope of late with Deadpool (2016) overusing it to such a degree, Ryan Reynolds basically owns the style now. The character Deadpool addresses the audience constantly throughout the film and even obnoxiously describes exactly how typical the camera work is at the end of the film as the camera proceeds to zoom out into a long shot. 

      The fourth wall break is one of many tricks set in the dos and don’ts of filmmaking, in among the section about films referring to themselves in a 'clever' and referential way. Seven Psychopaths (2012) is a prime example of a film that successfully references itself, without being crass and wholly over-the-top. The Martin McDonagh film is set in its own timeline; the plot is about a screenplay writer named Marty and the strange life he leads on the run up to writing a film about seven psychopaths. Unfortunately this is one of the only films that hide the 'meta' element just well enough for it to seem intelligently thought out, as opposed to a comic addition to a bad script.

      Horror films have attempted to be self-referential many times in the last thirty years, The Human Centipede 2 (2011) being a worthy example. In Tom Six’s sequel to the infamous 'First Sequence', the lead character, Martin (Laurence R Harvey), becomes obsessed with the first film of the trilogy and vows to create his own human centipede, but with many more people. Throughout the film, Martin is seen to be watching, enjoying and at one point masochistically touching himself with sandpaper to The Human Centipede (2009) while he works as a security guard in an underground car park. The sequel works well because it covers the age-old idea that people who watch horror films will definitely go out and copycat murder people, while presenting the audience with their own sick voyeurism.

      Often, the horror genre will break film conventions in this way to get a laugh or to continue a copycat storyline. The Scream franchise is well known for its self-referential fun-making and jokes about the genre itself, so when Scream 2 (1997) came along, its no wonder they decided to have the protagonists go and see a film called Stab in the cinema, which just so happened to be based on the events of the first film. As copycats begin to crop up in the local town, along with people simply dressing as the killer from hit-movie Stab, the murder frenzy begins once again, leading the franchise even further down the road of comedy horror. 

      Occasionally a horror sequel will refer to its predecessor in a way that is entirely necessary to the plot. Final Destination is a 2000 film about a student named Alex (Devon Sawa) who sees his and his classmates deaths on board flight 180 from New York to Paris, only to wake up just prior to lift-off and find out it was all a premonition. Final Destination 2 references the previous film right at the beginning when main character Kimberly (AJ Cook) is asleep in the dark, while on the television there is a news report about flight 180 and the events that took place during the first film. This is relevant to the plot because Kimberly has her own premonition on the anniversary of the flight 180 crash, and she solves all her problems by learning of what happened before her.

      When is it right to break cinematic rules? Cloverfield is taking the lead by creating sequels that are almost entirely separate from the first found-footage monster film, so much so that it is sparking a debate as to whether the films are even connected at all or if they simply share a title. Perhaps sequels really don’t need to constantly remind people of their origins, or maybe setting a sequel outside the first film’s universe is the way to go, as with THC. As sequels aren’t usually well regarded anyway, let’s just enjoy the gimmicks that grace our screens and hope to find solace in the knowledge that Jamie Lee-Curtis will obviously survive in the new Halloween H40.