‘Alone with You’: Living With Mental Illness During a Pandemic - Bloody Disgusting

2022-06-16 16:47:53 By : Ms. Gacky Leung

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There’s a moment in Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks’ Alone with You when Bennett’s character Charlene becomes locked inside her apartment. Paranoia and loneliness have already set in, but given no options to escape on her own, she unleashes a guttural scream. Tears stain her cheeks, and reality grows even colder. Strangled by depression and anxiety, she begs for help 一 but no one hears. And even if they do, they simply don’t care.

The film, shot in the early days of the pandemic, is an emotionally-bulldozing experience. It’s a low-scale horror piece about one you ng woman’s devolution, ignited from a traumatic breakup, and the toll living with mental illness takes on you r soul. At times, it’s an excruciating watch; as someone who has battled depression and anxiety for 19 years, I found myself witnessing my darkest days replaying on screen.

I’ve written frequently about mental illness in horror, a genre with a long, complicated history of wrestling with such dark themes as a way to both analyze it and vilify sufferers. The surreal turmoil of a madman informs much of the artistic approach in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) , while tortured characters in Cat People (1942) and The Seventh Victim (1943) are crucified as totally hinged and pushed further to the fringes of society. Throughout the ensuing decades, the approach to mental health issues in film largely continued to equate illness with evil, from the negative impact of 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 一 a 1983 study indicated that many who watched the film “developed a negative attitude toward people with mental health issues and the institutions/practices meant to help them” 一 to Session 9 (2001) .

It’s only been with in the last 10 years that filmmakers have actively sought to deconstruct these erroneous beliefs and the stigma around mental illness in their work. The Babadook (2014) , The Haunting of Hill House (2018) , Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) , and The Night House (2021) , among several others, have ripped back the contaminated layers in a way that regrounds those afflicted as real human beings.

You can add Alone with You to the growing stack of thoughtful commentary. Bennett and Brooks dig their teeth into mental health and frame it with in the context of a global pandemic, a period during which 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported struggling with depression or an anxiety disorder (up from one in 10 the year prior). Negative impacts on well-being grew more specific with many citing difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), and increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%). People have been pushed over the edge at a more frequent and terrifying rate. Symptoms in teens doubled with 25% experiencing depression and 20% struggling with anxiety. 

We’re in the midst of a full-blown mental health crisis 一 with new clear way out, much like Charlene. In the film, Charlene, a professional makeup artist, is preparing for the arrival of her girlfriend Simone, a photographer away on a work trip, on their one-year anniversary. She pops open a lush red wine and runs a hot bubble bath. Her life couldn’t be better.

But something dark and insidious creeps just below the surface. Mental illness, manifested through auditory and visual hallucinations, pushes against her from all four walls. Despair is not always suffocating, and sometimes, you don’t even notice it at first. It seeps through the cracks like weeds poking through concrete. When it blooms fully into view, it explodes across you r life.

Charlene’s paranoia and intrusive thoughts converge in two video calls from her mother (played by Barbara Crampton), a religious zealot far more concerned about puritanical beliefs than her daughter’s life. Maybe it’s what she really thinks, as she berates Charlene for “what’s she’s become” 一 or its more likely depression’s grip on her perception of reality. On the worst days, you r thoughts are never you r own, and the delusions coerce you further to the ledge.

Bennett and Brooks piece together the story with a rich mental complexity. With Charlene navigating religious trauma and mental health searing red hot, the past shows up in fervently pastel glimpses, tortured nightmares that further contexualize the severe state in which she constantly lives. She revisits the past over and over and over again with out ever really meaning to, and each time, the images grow more grotesque and surreal. Before too long, she even loses a grip on time, and her days and nights bleed one into the other.

There have been countless stretches in my life when I slept for days on end. Night felt too overwhelming, and days were too bright. Slumber brought the only peace I knew. Long before the pandemic, time meant nothing more than sticky sand in my fingertips. Over the last two years, that sand shrunk until it completely vanished, and my apartment walls pressed hard against my shoulders. I didn’t hear literal voices as Charlene does 一 a disembodied voice blubbers and cries for help through her vents 一 but the voices inside my head began to scream and rattle my brain.

Charlene turns more frantic as her connections to the outside world falter. Dropped calls with her mother and good friend are the least of her worries. When she calls 9-1-1, she pleads with the dispatcher to send help in breaking down her door, but the woman on the other line is listless and unconcerned. “Can you help me?!” Charlene screeches into the phone. “Help is on the way,” the woman responds, barely audible. 

Later, her drunk friend Thea presses her to come get hammered at the bar, but Charlene snaps back, “I need help. No one will come here and help me.” She’s in full crisis mode, and everything designed to help, from medical professionals to loved ones, fail her. She spirals out of control even more, dancing in the past with her thoughts and memories, and it soon becomes unbearable. The voice in her vent mocks her, shouting, “No one’s going to save you .”

“No one is going to care when you ’re gone” is my most common intrusive thought. The number of friendships and relationships it has cost me is too many to count. Mental illness wrecks you r life, leaving you scraps and jagged shards behind for those rare good days. When you are able to climb out and feel the sun again, the world has cataclysmically shifted. Nothing is the same as it once was, but you salvage what you can by confronting it and setting you rself free.

Charlene, whose story has been nothing but a severe spiral down, kills herself in the final moments. The film’s ending is certainly up for interpretation, as heartbreak and grief feed into the overarching narrative, but my reading firmly lands on the tragic. Charlene takes a butcher knife and slits her own throat. In her mind, a saran-wrapped version of herself has been tormenting her the entire time, forcing her to rip away the plastic to reveal the truth, swollen and mangled beneath. She is finally free like she always wanted to be.

I am fortunate to say I am free, as well 一 but I’m still here. I owe films like Alone with You and The Night House for literally saving my life. And a new antidepressant doesn’t hurt either. Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks’ visceral and honest exploration into mental health is a defining entry of 2022. While it speaks specifically to living through a pandemic, Alone with You carries with it all the chills and thrills you want in a ghost story, alongside a timeless poignancy that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life.

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In this edition of The Silver Lining, we’ll be covering Daniel Espinosa’s recent comic book adaptation Morbius, which is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

From Adventures into the Unknown to Tales from the Crypt, comic books used to be a popular source of horror stories until the Comics Code Authority began cracking down on adult-oriented material back in the mid 1950s. The organization even specified a general ban on “all scenes of horror” and imagery involving “walking dead”, fearing that these scary stories were having a negative effect on children.

Luckily for genre fans, these regulations became more lax in the 70s, which led to a resurgence of monstrous characters in comic books. Among the spooky creations that rose to notoriety during this period was Morbius the Living Vampire, a sci-fi take on a traditional nosferatu. Initially appearing as a tragic Spider-Man villain, the character would eventually spin off into his own anti-hero adventures, becoming more popular in the 90s alongside the similarly themed Blade.

Now that the Venom movies have proven that audiences are inexplicably hungry for stories that only tangentially relate to Spider-Man, it makes sense that Sony would try their hand at replicating the Lethal Protector’s success with another edgy vigilante. That’s how we got to see 2022’s Morbius, another Spidey villain origin story sans the iconic web-slinger.

Funnily enough, a solo Morbius film has actually been in the works since the late 90s. The project was trapped in development hell since a rights issue prevented the character from showing up in Guillermo Del Toro’s Blade 2, with the Living Vampire even having a cameo in a deleted scene of the first film, played by director Stephen Norrington. The solo project was eventually revived when Jared Leto became interested in the character, recommending Daniel Espinosa (who had previously helmed 2017’s Alien-inspired Life) to direct the picture after the two met during a Thirty Seconds to Mars tour.

While this is where I’d usually talk about how audiences had high expectations for the picture, I think readers are well aware of the film’s questionable reputation ever since the first trailer dropped all the way back in early 2020. Following the brilliant Dr. Michael Morbius as he accidentally turns himself into a super-powered vampire after attempting to cure his debilitating blood disease, the film promised audiences yet another by-the-numbers origin story for a character that didn’t exactly boast a massive fanbase.

Even so, after a series of shifting release windows, Morbius finally hit theaters nearly two years after it was originally meant to come out. And the internet would never be the same.

Grossing a little over $163 million on an $83 million budget, it’s clear that Morbius didn’t exactly reach Venom levels of box office success. Adding insult to injury, the film currently sits at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics agreeing that the incoherent script and bizarre attempts at establishing a cinematic universe with leftover intellectual property resulted in a poor introduction to this supposed Marvel Legend.

Digging a little deeper, you’ll find that the picture’s messy story is largely due to some aggressive over-tinkering behind the scenes, as at least four writers were involved with the script despite only two being credited. The film was also re-shot and re-edited to hell during the pandemic, with the ever-changing tide of super-hero movies influencing Morbius’ place in Sony’s proposed Spider-Man universe. There are also rumors of executives and test audiences reacting negatively to some of the plot’s excesses, which may have resulted in neutered action/horror scenes as well as a series of abrupt cuts and abandoned plot threads.

In fact, Tyreese Gibson’s Simon Stroud was originally meant to have a much larger role in the story, with his character boasting a high-tech robotic arm and more action scenes in the original cut of the film. J.K. Simmons was also meant to reprise his role as J. Jonah Jameson, though he ultimately had to be removed from the film (alongside several other Spidey references) once the producers realized that Morbius couldn’t take place in the same world as the MCU’s Spider-Man movies.

This sort of legislative mess is par for the course in Sony’s Marvel adaptations (which is why Tom Hardy’s incarnation of Venom lacks the character’s iconic spider logo and explicitly villainous origins), but the real problem with Morbius is how it ended up being less interesting than the sum of its parts.

It would be really dishonest of me to sit here and try to convince readers that Morbius is some kind of misunderstood masterpiece, but I genuinely think that critics went a little overboard when complaining about this spooky super-hero flick. In a world ruled by episodic blockbusters that try way too hard to set up multiple sequels during the course of a bloated runtime, a briskly paced standalone origin story can be a breath of fresh air (even if it features one of the most awful post-credits scenes in recent memory).

Despite being surprisingly faithful to its source material, I’d argue that Morbius is more fun if you enjoy it as a b-grade vampire flick rather than a run-of-the-mill comic-book adaptation. In fact, the movie kind of feels like a more kid-friendly version of those action-horror hybrids that were so popular during the early 2000s. While it doesn’t feature the entertaining gore and monster effects of those films, there are certainly elements of Underworld and even Blade running through Morbius’ veins.

It’s also worth noting that Jared Leto made a surprisingly compelling effort to bring this tortured vampire to life, going so far as to slow the production down by insisting on using his character’s crutches whenever he needed to go to the bathroom. Regardless of what you think of the actor’s controversial methods and off-screen persona, there’s no denying that he’s a talented thespian and took the role seriously.

Matt Smith’s campy interpretation of the villainous Milo was also an unexpected delight, with the actor clearly having the time of his life as a desperate millionaire who found a new lease on life after embracing vampirism. Smith even admits to channeling a bit of Kiefer Sutherland in his hammy performance, inspired by the antagonist of 1987’s The Lost Boys.

Speaking of classic vampire flicks, I think horror fans will appreciate the subtle genre references peppered throughout the film. Not only is the cargo ship from the beginning of the movie named after F.W. Murnau (director of Nosferatu), but there are also several allusions to the mad science of popular Gothic literature, as well as nods to previous adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. On an unrelated note, I also really enjoyed Milo’s ridiculous vampire dance, which should be a campy treat for any Doctor Who fans out there.

Morbius may not be as cartoonishly fun as Venom, but there are enough schlocky thrills here to appease vampire enthusiasts despite an unfortunate lack of bloodshed. While I admittedly enjoy the ironic memes that have overtaken the film online (I have a particular soft spot for the absurd “it’s morbin’ time”), it’s a shame that so many people missed out on this mercifully brief blockbuster that harkens back to simpler times when comic-book movies were allowed to be a little sillier.

Watching a bad movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad experience. Even the worst films can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we’re trying to look on the bright side with The Silver Lining, where we shine a light on the best parts of traditionally maligned horror flicks.

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