Saturday, June 3, 2017

In Search of Lovecraft Suffers from Poorly Motivated Characters

Poorly motivated characters are a common problem. These characters' actions are inconsistent with their previous behavior. Writers threat these characters as puppets, having them say or do things merely to advance the story, without regard as to whether that character, as established by his other actions or statements, would do that

Slasher film victims are a classic example. It often makes no sense for them to wander about the woods at night after everyone has strangely disappeared. Yet they do so anyway, merely because the writer wants to get that character from point A to point B.

In Search of Lovecraft (2008) provides another example. In this film, two TV journalists, Rebecca and Mike (Renee Sweet and Tytus Bergstrom), investigate a Lovecraftian cult. The film explodes with poor directing, acting, and writing, but I'll limit myself to a few scenes.

Who is this Mike character? Writer/director David J. Hohl establishes that Mike is an Army veteran who has seen combat. Mike carries a gun. He's strong. He's brooding. He's tough.


Dr. D'Souza (Saqib Mausoof) tips off Mike and Rebecca that information on the cult might be obtained at a certain spot in the woods, late at night. Mike and Rebecca drive there and park. Their intern, Amber (Denise Amrikhas), sits in the back seat. (above)

We hear a noise. The car shakes. A tentacle descends on the windshield. The creature breaks the rear window. The panicked Amber exits the car. The creature pulls her up and out of sight. Rebecca opens the car door, about to exit and rescue Amber.

Holding back Rebecca, Mike says, "You can't go outside."

"But we have to find Amber," Rebecca protests.

Remaining safe in the car, Mike shines his flashlight out the window.

"Do you see her?" asks Rebecca.

"Too late," says Mike. "Go! Go now! Go now!"

What are ex-soldier Mike's motivations? Is he really a coward? Or perhaps he only wanted to "go now" because he was protective of Rebecca, the woman he really cares about?

Let's see what Mike does next. 

The next day, Mike and Rebecca set up a meeting with Dr. D'Souza at a park in San Francisco. Upon spotting D'Souza, Mike rushes up and grabs him, as though about to beat up D'Souza.

"Amber's gone!" Mike shouts. "Will you tell us what's going on!"

"Do you have any idea what happened to us last night?" asks Rebecca.

"What the fuck attacked us?" asks Mike.

"I warned you about the cult," D'Souza replies.

Why is Mike attacking D'Souza? Up till now they trusted him. Mike never showed any concern for Amber in any previous scene. And if Mike did care about Amber, why didn't he try to find and help her last night? Instead of urging Rebecca to drive off now?

Mike is acting tough simply to act tough. Acting tough not from any motivation, but because writer Hohl wants Mike to act tough. Maybe Hohl thinks that having Mike bully D'Souza will inject drama into the scene.

And then Mike's character grows less consistent.

While Mike and D'Souza are bickering, a disheveled bum approaches Rebecca. He grabs her arm and presses a bloody handkerchief against it.

"Ow, you're hurting me! You're hurting me!" screams Rebecca.

Rebecca, Mike's love interest, is being attacked. Rebecca screams that she's being "hurt." How does Mike react?

Upon hearing Rebecca's screams, Mike slowly turns to see what's troubling her. And then does ... nothing. Like a block of wood, Mike watches the bum leave, having given the handkerchief -- containing Amber's ear -- to Rebecca.

So what is Mike's character? Tough? Brave? A hothead?

Mike is tough, brave, and hotheaded enough to bully D'Souza, who's threatening no one. But Mike doesn't attack the bum, who was "hurting" Rebecca. Even with Rebecca screaming right beside him, Mike only slowly takes notice of her.

Is Mike a coward? Afraid of the bum? Yet D'Souza is taller and younger than the bum. Mike might run from a tentacled monster, but if he can fight D'Souza, he can take the bum. So if Mike's not afraid of the bum, why didn't he defend Rebecca?

Is Mike a hothead? Hotheaded enough to attack D'Souza for an event that occurred last night. But not so hotheaded as to attack a bum who right now was "hurting" the woman he truly cares for.

Mike's instances of toughness, bravery, and hotheadedness are inconsistent. They come and go without rhyme or reason. Without any discernible motivation.

Mike does what he does because writer Hohl uses Mike -- and the other characters -- as empty-headed puppets, their sole purpose to move things along from scene to scene. Mike runs from the monster because Hohl is finished with that scene. Mike shouts at D'Souza because Hohl thinks it's dramatic. Mike ignores the bum because Hohl wants the bum to leave. 

Mike acts according to Hohl's motivations because Hohl hasn't provided Mike with any of his own motivations.

Inconsistent, poorly motivated characters are less "real." Thus, audiences are less likely to sympathize and empathize with them. Which weakens the horror in a horror film.

To better understand why, read my post about the importance of characters in horror. Also read about the poorly motivated characters in Dark Floors.


For more practical tips for low-budget horror filmmakers, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.

No comments:

Post a Comment