Friday, 24 October 2014

Matilda and the Horror of the Chokey

Matilda is supposedly a charming children's movie based on a charming children's book by Roald Dahl, who specialised in writing charming stories for children to read charmingly.  But in reality it is a terrifying tale of child endangerment, domestic abuse, Carrie-esque displays of supernatural telekinesis, and torture.

Oh, and by torture, I mean the torture of children because of course I did. Little children who are often tortured in cruel and unusual ways. By adults. By adults who are their caregivers and should be keeping them safe and nurturing them but are too distracted either mentally or physically torturing them to waste time actually looking after the children in their charge.

Because what else would we expect from the man who wrote an endearing story about a crazed, creepily eccentric factory owner who systematically picked off children one by one through terrible and ironic means until only one was left?

"No matter which form I take, no child is safe from my wrath."

Now, you may have noticed a recurring theme in couple of my blog posts of late, and that theme is that some children's entertainment is absolutely terrifying and more deserving of a "Horror" label than any family friendly stamp of approval. Children's entertainment such as horror movies that disguise themselves as children's animated films, or that have terrible and troubling concepts at their core, such as promoting the idea of unjust imprisonment and the forced slavery of others.

Matilda, however, falls into a third category: children's movies which are just straight up behind-the-couch-hidingly scary but are still somehow regarded as children's movies, I guess because there are kids in them? Unlike The Brave Little Toaster, which sorta tried to disguise itself as a lighthearted animated movie despite the terror contained within, Matilda doesn't even remotely try to conceal the fact that it is genuinely terrifying. It begins with parental neglect when Matilda's parents forget her in the car when she is newborn baby and gets progressively worse as the film continues.

But the poster implies a fun family film, seemingly about a girl witch with a crystal ball that she can balance on her finger.
It lied to us!

To be fair, it does have a number of cutesy moments in the first third of the film, such as the scene where the four year old Matilda makes herself pancakes or later when she pulls pranks on her abusive and dominating father. But within the context of this movie, these early cutesy moments are more like the first act of a horror movie where we are introduced to the main characters and see them interact. This is so we develop some connection with them and will actually feel something when they are gruesomely killed off in the next two acts of the film.

Now, there may be a conspicuous absence of gruesome deaths in Matilda's second two acts, that is not because of lack of trying. Characters are regularly threatened physically by larger and physically intimidating antagonists, put in life threatening situations, subjected to torture, attacked by vicious people armed with dangerous weapons, or are thrown over spiked fences by their pigtails. You know, typical horror movie stuff.

I supposed that the only thing that might justify the fact this is not considered a horror movie is the fact that no one actually dies. But then again, only one person is killed in The Shining and that is considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time, so body count is not always necessary for a great horror movie, although it can't hurt.

Oh, yeah... this also happened in The Shining. Thanks for that particular nightmare and my enduring fear of little twin sisters holding hands while talking in unison.

What makes Matilda so terrifying you ask? While it is true that it lacks eerily disturbing twins in matching outfits, it does have that whole torture of children thing going for it. Now, although Matilda's parents are neglectful and abusive, the real antagonist/monster of the movie is the school principal, Miss Trunchbull.

Played to absolute menacing perfection by Pam Ferris, Trunchbull is a fantastic horror villain. All of her actions are scary since they convey the unrelenting cruel streak of her vile personality, her eyes full of malice and manic hate. Unafraid to look disgusting or repulsive, Ferris endues Trunchbull with a grossness that underpins just what a truly horrid and malicious person she is.

Furthermore, like any good horror monster, Trunchbull has the seemingly supernatural ability to be aware of her surroundings, almost instantly sensing the presence of intruders, sniffing the air with her nostrils flaring like a bloodhound when Matilda and Miss Honey sneak into her house.

And just to be clear, she used that hammer throw ball to try murder trespassers on her property.
Did I mention one of the trespassers was Matilda? A six and half year old girl. No? Probably should mention that.

And it is Trunchbull that really pushes Matilda into horror territory. She is the one who physically manhandles children, throwing them by their pigtails towards spiked fences, holding them upside down by the ankle to empty their pockets, belittling them and giving them cake. Sorry, did I say give them cake? My apologies. I meant force feed them an entire cake as part of an ironic punishment that is essentially torture and probably where Kevin Spacey got the idea for the Sloth murder in Se7en.

And while we're talking about torture, there is something we can't go with out mentioning when talking about Matilda and that is the Chokey. Sorry, I said while we were talking, but we're not talking, I'm writing. This isn't a discussion, that's silly. But yeah, the Chokey. According to the Roald Dahl wiki: 

"The Chokey is a very tall but narrow cupboard that is 10" square so no one can sit or squat in it. The Chokey is filled with broken glass sticking out in the walls with nails on the door and whoever wobbles will either be spiked by the glass or the nails. Sometimes kids are kept in there all day."

Yeah... this is DIY iron maiden (the toture device, not the pioneering heavy metal band).
Just to reiterate, Trunchbull puts children in there as punishment and sometimes leaves them inside ALL DAY.

Look at that. No, really. Take a good look at it. If that appeared in a Saw movie you wouldn't bat an eyelid. You eyelids wouldn't even think to bat because why would they bat at something not worthy batting at since it obvious belongs in torture porn movie franchise? I mean, why the actual hell would you put that in a children's movie and still pretend as though that movie is charming family entertainment? You wouldn't, right? Because that is a legitimate torture devise. It has nails and glass and metal and pointy bits!

The Chokey is an onject of utter terror and the mere mention of its name is enough to make the students at Cruchem Hall tremble in fright and fall straight into line, suffering the verbal abuse and belittling that Trunchbull hurls at them.

And this is the last face they'll see before the door with giant nails sticking in the general direction of their entire body is slammed shut.

Moving on from that nightmarish vision of despair and sadistic abuse, remember how I said there were Carrie-esque displays of supernatural telekinesis? Because I totally did. Well, Matilda is just like Carrie in the fact she unlocks telekinetic powers over the course of the movie.

But you know, instead of Matilda's telekinesis symbolising her blossoming womanhood as she hits puberty like Carrie's, it instead symbolises her intelligence and capacity for reading. Or perhaps it's a karmic reward for reading Moby Dick at age six and half without dying of boredom.

Achievement Unlocked: Dickin' Around.

And this is actually where it becomes interesting, since here there is a switch where it is Matilda who becomes the instigator of horror as she uses her powers to torment and terrify Miss Trunchbull. But instead of shooting this in a light hearted humorous way that would signal the comeuppance Trunchbull so richly deserves, these scenes are shot in a manner that is legitimately scary. If I didn't already know Trunchbull was a horrid person, I would think that Matilda is a evil little girl with supernatural powers tormenting a lonely woman in her home.

The lighting is similar to many horror films, while the manner in which Matilda uses her powers to scare Trunchbull even follows typical horror movie scare structure: start small with a single object or act (changing the time on the clock), repeat a couple of times, gradually adding more and more creepy things like odd sounds and lights flickering, before going full tilt with the scares.

[Watch from the 2:14 mark on]

And then in when Matilda again uses her powers to convince Trunchbull that it is Miss Honey's father's ghost that is tormenting her? Well, it's more of a shock to discover that that scene wasn't written by Stephen King than it would have been if he had actually written it.

Because that's what Matilda is. A Stephen King novel. It's basically Carrie for kids, only with less blood and more torture. Such a charming children's movie based on a charming children's novel.


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