I’ve recently been binge-watching Fringe for the first time. It’s a series about the “Fringe” division of the FBI, where Agent Olivia Dunham and her team investigate strange and paranormal events, visit parallel universes, and save the day by being smart and badass. I honestly can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get into a show that’s three parts X-Files and one part NCIS. I found myself most intrigued by a strange one-off episode during Season 2 that was actually filmed in Season 1, but aired out of order on a different night for boring, time constraints reasons. Fans aren’t even certain exactly where it fits in the show’s timeline. It’s called “Unearthed,” and was panned by a lot of critics.
But this rather bad episode succeeds at one thing: giving its audience portrayal of a real religion that isn’t wildly offensive or inaccurate. It does a great job giving us a small window into what Catholicism looks like today. Catholicism pops up all the time in science fiction, maybe because its trappings are easily identifiable for audiences. I’m happy to see a show get a lot of the details right, even though it’s tucked away in an episode no one really cares about. The most shocking thing to me is that the narrative doesn’t make these characters into perfectly good Catholics, either. They’re much more real than what I’m used to seeing.
I obviously have my bones to pick with Penny Dreadful, but from a horror series point of view, I was pleased with its level and style of horror. The clear stand-out performances came from the one and only Eva Green, whose character Vanessa Ives had some extremely notable scenes in which she was possessed by malevolent forces. These scenes got me thinking aboutan extremely common plot device in demonic/spirit possession stories: when possessing a body and in general wreaking chaos in the lives of those around the possessed, a demon loves to ruin everyone’s day by… telling the truth. Truth is something that is extolled as a virtue and associated with goodness and morality, and one of Satan’s many nicknames is “the Prince of Lies”. Yet we consistently see demons using not lies, but rather the truth, when seeking to unsettle or harm humans. Let’s take a closer look.
Major spoilers for Penny Dreadful and American Horror Story: Asylum after the jump. Continue reading →
Possession is one of the most terrifying staples in the horror genre’s arsenal. Its terror stems from two main sources: firstly, the fear of lack of control over one’s own body, and secondly, the shock of seeing someone you know and love doing bad things. But aside from the visceral discomfort viewers feel from seeing a possessed person, how is possession used in the overall narratives of a work? In other words, what is the point of possession? I think it largely depends on who or what is doing the possessing, and the character development impact that the possession has for the character being possessed.
Season 3B: I did lose my mind, thanks a lot, Jeff Davis. I also lost my faith in humanity, my hope for this show, and also my dignity.
I’ll examine two notable examples from recent television. For those of us who are somehow still Teen Wolf fans, the latest season, which wrapped up this past week, featured an extensive possession story arc. This season, everyone’s favorite Loyal Best Friend, Stiles, came to the forefront (look at many promotional image for 3B, like the one above; Stiles was literally in the forefront, featured as more central than the Teen Wolf himself, Scott). Stiles was possessed by a malevolent Japanese fox spirit, called a nogitsune. Fox possession may sound strange to Western audiences, but in Japanese mythology, it’s totally a thing. On the other hand, most American media will feature the more familiar demonic possession, exemplified for the purposes of this post by the case of Sister Mary Eunice in 2012’s American Horror Story: Asylum.
Ironically, I find horror movies about possession and the devil to be one of the most pro-Catholic type of movies, even if they are a bit misguided. In the real world, many people are uncomfortable when the Pope, or any religious figure, says something about evil, or, specifically, the devil. Yet they seem relatively comfortable with the idea that if there ever is a real need for an exorcism, the Catholic Church can handle it. Many people try to make a belief in demons or the devil out to be superstitious and silly. I personally know some Catholics who find it embarrassing that the church still believes in such things. But whether or not you believe in demons and the devil, I think all people fear a loss of control and the unknown. And so the idea of a religious institution that battles these fears can be pretty appealing, even to those people who don’t believe.
As a religious person, what most aggravates me is how wrong exorcism movies tend to be in their portrayal of the battle between good and evil.
Demonic possession. It makes up a large chunk of the horror genre, from classics like The Exorcist to B-grades like The Rite and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The idea that a spiritual being could commandeer our physical forms is both fascinating and terrifying to viewers.
Now, I’m pretty much the opposite of a horror buff, so instead of any of those movies I’m going to talk about Supernatural and Blue Exorcist, and how possession is portrayed and fought in these series.