Friday, October 12, 2012

"Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" (2010)

It is perhaps unfortunate that such a good example of the way the horror genre can be used to communicate important ideas is also an example of the gorier end of the genre. There are some important messages here about fear of the “other,” discrimination, intolerance and the self-fulfilling nature of prejudice. It is a timely story for the culture of the war on terror, but it is unlikely that the people who most need to understand these ideas will ever see a film like this one. People who hate immigrants and support violence against suspected terrorists as always justified are not generally the type to watch gory horror violence for entertainment, nor should they start.

So, here is this film in a nutshell. A group of privileged, self-absorbed, college kids head out to the woods for a week-end of debauchery—eh, camping. Along the way they encounter some hillbilly types who scare them a bit, but they carry on with their plans. So far, we have a basic horror formula.

However, the hillbillies are just a couple of normal, country boys who are also headed out to the woods to work on their newly acquired cabin. When one of the girls nearly drowns, the hillbillies save her, but the college friends are so scared they fail to see the situation correctly. They assume that the hillbillies are going to kill her and set about a rescue. Miscommunication and an incredible series of unfortunate accidents lead to a series of gruesome deaths, all feeding the impression that the hillbillies are crazed killers.

All the while, we slowly realize that the ringleader of the college kids is actually a bit off his own rocker. He is filled with hate towards hillbillies, and leans towards killer material himself. He is a perfect stand-in for the sort of people in society that foment fear and drive the masses towards prejudice and violence. As is also often the case, it turns out that he is partly the very thing he hates. His real father was a hillbilly. By the end of the movie the hillbillies have become the heroes and the crazy college kid is a full-blown serial killer.

This film does an effective job of showing how much of the source of intercultural fear is built on misunderstanding and lack of communication. How leaders exacerbate things when they use fear to increase their power and how crowds are scary because they don’t think. Yes, there is evil in the world, but one of its most powerful manifestations is in the ignorance and fear of groups of people.

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