October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Synopsis: Norman is an 11-year-old boy who lives in the Salem-analogue town of Blithe Hollow, which which has made an industry of its’ own witch hunting history. Norman is obsessed with zombies and the dead, largely because he can see and talk them. Unfortunately, this also makes him an outcast and no one understands, not even his own family. He meets one boy, Neil, who insists on being his friend even though Norman tries to reject his invitations. One day, after Norman has experienced even stranger than usual visions, a crazed old man comes up to him and tells Norman he’s his uncle, and that Norman will have to follow in his footsteps by performing a ritual every yeah on the anniversary of the famed Blithe Hollow witch’s death to keep her from rising and destroying the town. Shortly thereafter, Norman’s uncle dies. Norman reluctantly retrieves the book (which turns out to be fairy tales) and goes to the graveyard to read it as instructed, but is interrupted by the school bully before he can finish. The men and women who sentenced the witch so long ago rise from their graves as zombies, and the spirit of the witch begins to grow and exert power over the town, causing a huge lightning storm. Norman ends up teaming up with his sister, Neil, Neil’s older brother Mitch, and the bully to try and escape the zombies and find out what to do next. After a lot of chasing and the town getting up in arms over the threat, they find out that the zombies only wanted to talk to Norman to make sure he was going to perform the ritual correctly, because they were sorry for what they had done to the witch and didn’t want to make it any worse. It turns out the witch was just a little girl with strange powers named Agatha Penderghast, a distant relative of Norman’s. She was killed by the town council because they were afraid of her, and the ritual each year was to read her a bedtime story so she would stay asleep and not take vengeance on the town. Norman seeks out her grave and talks to her angry ghost, explaning that he understands what it’s like to have people afraid of you, but it’s not okay to hurt others just because you were hurt. He helps her to think about her mother who loved her, and she finds peace. She releases her hold on the town and sleeps, and the zombies return to their graves as well. In the end, Norman’s family accepts his abilities and they all hang out together – with his dead grandmother.
ParaNorman, from the makers of Coraline, is one hell of a sweet movie, particular given that it’s all about death and dead people, and faces some historical ugliness head-on (although the reality is that far more of the witches killed in the 1600s were old women than young girls). Aside from being an incredible feat of stop motion and CGI animation with fun character designs and a well-realized mythology, it’s is just bursting with humor and the exact kinds of messages both kids and adults need to hear. It doesn’t shy away from some of the more gruesome aspects of its plot, nor does it try to sanitize them. Although it does make death less scary – there’s even a scene where Norman has to pry the book out of the rigor mortised hands of his dead uncle which is both funny and disturbing.
The notion that a parent might be afraid for their child, and that this might cause them to take it out on the kid, is not one that is often addressed in kids movies so directly, but one I feel is hugely beneficial. I think it’s great for kids to see examples of loving parents who get it wrong, because they all do at some point, and to try to see things from their parents perspective. When you’re young, you don’t quite get that your parents are just people. Norman’s relationship with his parents is imperfect, and they may never totally understand him, but by the end they’ve moved to a place of mutual acceptance and love, which all any of us can hope for from our families, really.