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O Magazine

Serial killers,
Bach flower remedies
and emotion regulation



By Aarón Rodríguez Serrano

It’s a bad time for cynicism. The last two conflicts I’ve had in social networks weren’t due to ideological or aesthetic questions; not even disagreements to do with occasional lovers or religion. Quite on the contrary, several jokes on homeopathy and reiki caused me different tense moments with virtual acquaintances that felt deeply outraged before what they considered a frontal attack to their beliefs.

The truth is I don’t know exactly at what point of the 20th century people started believing that simple thoughts –the power of the mind– were above reality: the healing mind; the ordering mind; the mind able, with the only force of its desire, to get the universe to act according to its plan. The two terms repeated again and again in the Billboard list of contemporary melancholy are “Healing” and “Success”, both, of course, on capital letters. Buses filled up with Paulo Coelho and Jorge Bucay books, of self-help pamphlets with the keys to succeed, of regulation and emotional intelligence. Obviously, no one wants to feel ill. No one wants to feel like a loser. In fact, it’s funny how self-improvement discourses seem to mix up both ideas: we are somehow ill because of our own failure. That’s why thousands of people inject or sniff insufferable collections of good habits that promise them, on every page, a solution. 

On the other hand, we have horror films. If you have read Robin Wood, you will probably know already that the genre –particularly in its most brilliant instances– isn’t only a collection of demons, frights and sombre interiors. On the contrary, it’s one of the best film tricks to X-ray the illnesses, fears and panic nucleus that make up a society. Horror movies as a format are able to talk about the things that don’t work, that we don’t dare to confess ourselves, but which somehow dominate us. No film talked better about the panic before new family models as The Exorcist; none of the failure of conservative ideological models as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; none of the horror before new audiovisual paradigms as The Ring. Horror films are, no doubt about it, an impressive mirror of our reality.

Less than a decade ago, Lars von Trier premiered a little masterpiece called Antichrist. In essence, the film talked about two human beings desperate to overcome the loss of a son. The funny thing is that the male character (Willem Dafoe) presented himself as therapist. He repeated sentences to control emotion and made up role-plays to try and “heal” his wife of the pain. During the first half of the movie, he seemed to be able to control the situation and to map up with precision, calm and professionalism all that was destroying his marriage. On the second half, he was savagely persecuted, tortured, mutilated and humiliated by his formerly loving patient. In Antichrist, the world didn’t give in to the power of the mind, it was the mind itself what destroyed all those good intentions, all those “healing games”, all those self-control and positive thinking techniques.

The thing would be no more than an anecdote if it weren’t because in later years that idea has started to systematically repeat itself in the horror genre: first, with The Sacrament in 2013. On that the same year, a bunch of kids that entered the jungle with lots of good intentions and under a “fashionable” multicultural discourse were kidnapped, humiliated and finally eaten up in The Green Inferno. And last year, it happened again with The Veil and extraordinary The Invitation. All these films –to which we could add the terrible melodramatic ellipsis of the absence of the protagonist’s daughter in Julieta– talk very clearly about a new focus of angst: the manipulation of sense frames, the failure of the new “healing and success” discourses, the stupid feeling that the sellers of hair-restorer lotion/self-help, once we’ve paid them our money, haven’t got a lot to offer. The contemporary subject suffers twice from illness and failure: in his personal life –when everyday life takes him back to his grey existence– and in his professional life –when trainers, coaches, team motivators and other smoke sellers invite him to motivate himself, to be inspiring, to achieve more and more benefits.

Horror films, with incomparable lucidity, are a continuous question about the presence of evil in the world, a portable theodicy. The most terrible thing, of course, is that its monsters, its threats, have started using the language that boasts about being able to heal us or make us better. The killers of The Veil or The Invitation use the same words, with few variations, that the woman sitting next to you in the tube reads in her book about “healing with magnets” –or Bach flower remedies–: overcoming pain, illnesses, leaving dissatisfaction behind. The victims of The Green Inferno are destroyed in tune with the great postcards of universal concord: love among the peoples, taking care of the environment, international cooperation. In Antichrist, before being drilled and mutilated, the eminent therapist proposes becoming one with nature, overcoming all fears, fighting pain from within; overcoming all limits, finding peace, reaching new goals. Yes, you have guessed it right: this isn’t only self-help jargon; it’s also the neolanguage of neocon companies. It’s spreading on motivational power points around the world while you read these lines. It will be waiting for you, hiding under your director’s chair, in the next quarterly meeting to control your productivity.

For new horror films, the nice kids that wait outside hospital doors asking whether you have five minutes to spare for the environment –or God– hold an undeniable deadly drive. Don’t trust any of those boasting to “have found themselves” –something, on the other hand, quite improbable, since apart from clear cases of psychotic division, the usual thing is to find oneself at all times–. Don’t pay attention to those that affirm they “are a lot better” since they started that new trendy therapy. Distrust all of those who, in an act of love and confidence, defend the great proselytist argument of our times: “it worked for me”. The films I mentioned give you the right answer: the true monster is the one trying to help you, affirming to have all the answers, managing the keys to –let’s remember– heal and succeed. The one that thinks there’s no salvation outside his therapy, his magic formula, his belief.

New horror films have detected the blind spot of contemporary discourse: every day we find more and more difficult to inhabit a universe which, let’s be honest here, doesn’t give a shit whether we get a promotion, if a millenary tribe is extinguished in a remote forest, or if a terrible illness starts affecting all of our vital organs. And the most terrible thing is not our incapacity to live with absurdity sleeping at the bottom of our pockets, but the certainty that a bunch of illuminati are queuing up to live –economically and existentially– off our angst.

For next Halloween, I propose this sociological exercise: have a walk around the self-help book section of El Corte Inglés and take a close look at the face of the buyers. Believe me: that is really scary!