(No, there are no spoilers here, or rather, not of any of my work. I promise.)
A few weeks ago I had the misfortune of catching the movie The House at the End of the Street on TV. I say “misfortune,” because no one watching this thing could ever feel that they were experiencing anything but bad luck, or the laughter of fate. It’s not that it’s an awful movie; that’s the problem. It’s not interesting enough to be awful. It’s just dull, a series of nothing moments that lead to nothing, and every time the movie makes you think something interesting is about to happen, it decides instead to show you another very dull or pointless thing.
This isn’t a movie review, or rather, the movie itself isn’t the subject of this post. Spoilers are the subject of this post, and it was conversation about this movie that inspired that subject, so I’m talking about the movie as background and example. And along the way I’m just saying–for informational purposes, really–that The House at the End of the Street pretty much sucked, despite its rather interesting and spooky-sounding premise.
Here is that premise: A girl and her mom move into a big expensive house on a secluded street. The house across the street (or behind them, I’m not exactly sure; what I do know is that neither house was actually at the end of a street) was the scene of a murder years before, wherein a teenage girl murdered her parents and then presumably drowned, though they never found her body. The movie give us one moment of “Hey, what’s that? That’s creepy” when Elisabeth Shue (who plays the mother and looks gorgeous) sees a light on in that house, and looks scared by it. Lucky for us, though, the movie is quick to reassure us–almost immediately, in fact–that there’s nothing to be frightened of, there’s just a dude living there. No ghosties or anything, just the son of the murdered parents/brother of the murderous sister, who is around twenty-one now. He was away visiting an aunt when the murders occurred, so of course, like any normal young person, he wants to keep living all alone in the big huge secluded house fifteen miles outside of town where his parents met their violent ends at the hands of his sister. Makes sense to me, sure.
So. There’s some dumb scene with a subplot or something with some guy who skeeves all over Jennifer Lawrence (and, okay, I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. I do not see the “OMGMOSTBEAUTIFULGIRLEVERANDSOCHARMINGANDTALENTEDTOO” thing. Sure, she’s a pretty enough girl, but so is just about every other young actress. JMO.) and her walking home from a party; it’s a ten-mile walk, we are told, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t try to get someone else to take her or attempt to call a cab or anything. A Mysterious Guy drives past and asks if she needs a ride; she wisely says no, but then it starts to rain and she gets in the car after all.
It turns out–here’s where the post topic comes in–that this guy is Ryan, the suburban murder-house hermit. It turns out he’s taking classes at community college, slowly making his way toward, and saving up for, a four-year college education. Anyone might be forgiven for thinking, “Dude, if you sold that enormous chunk of real estate you rattle around in by yourself, you could skip the community college,” but apparently it’s all Ry-ry has to remember his family by, and that’s why he stays, all by his lonesome in a house where his family were slaughtered in a town that openly loathes him. Yes, Ryan, I’m sure your parents would want you to struggle and be ostracized in their death house because pictures just aren’t enough sometimes.
Anyway. We meet Ryan. He drops Jennifer Lawrence at her house and goes home. We watch him for a minute or two as he wanders around, a tiny lone figure in a huge house, and makes some soup from a can or something (it might have been spaghetti-Os? I don’t recall). He puts the food on a tray and heads downstairs into the basement, where he pulls back a rug on the floor to reveal a trapdoor, which he lifts, which reveals a whole ‘nother underground hallway–I mean, not a tunnel, but a full-on hallway–which leads to a locked door (he leaves the key above the doorframe, because why would you keep that key with you?), beyond which is a small bedroom, and in that bed is a girl in a slightly ragged nightgown with semi-ratty blonde hair. The girl sort of grunt-screams and tries to attack him, but he sedates her with one of those tranq syringes it’s so easy for people to acquire just in case. “Calm down, Carrie Ann,” he says, and we in the audience stop rolling our eyes and guffawing long enough to gasp! In shock! Carrie Ann is the name of his murderous sister! Clearly he, when he was a teen, dug and remodeled this sub-basement to keep his sister a prisoner because he loves her and can’t let the law or a hospital have her (or maybe his parents did so, because they wanted an extra guest room and thought it would be fun to treat their guests like prisoners at a gulag? Maybe they just really wanted to dig out a secret room under their house as an experiment in engineering? Maybe they planned to mine coal in secret, for kicks?)! Clearly, this is why he stays in town–it’s not the memories, it’s so he can keep his sister locked in this sub-basement rather than keeping her in some other above-ground bedroom somewhere nobody knows them and thus would not recognize her! Clearly he keeps her there because it would be awful to alert the authorities and thus get her the help she needs! It makes perfect sense!
Now. At this point we are barely thirty minutes into the film. We have just met Ryan, and the camera has essentially stayed with him from the moment he meets Jennifer Lawrence all the way through his fascinating food-making and into the basement to his conversation with and drugging of Carrie Ann.
I went hunting around for reviews and such of this film, and found many that mentioned this plot point: Ryan lives in the house and keeps Carrie Ann in his basement.
Every one of those reviews had someone–often numerous people–bitching about the “spoiler.”
You guys, something the movie shows you in the first half-hour is not a spoiler. It’s a plot point.
When a movie introduces you to a major character in that first half hour, and follows him back to his house to show you-the-viewer what’s in his amazingly professionally-finished sub-basement, that’s not a spoiler. That is a character and plot point that the movie wants you to know before it goes any further.
When a movie’s trailer essentially says to you, “ZOMGYOUGUYS CARRIE ANN’S LIKE TOTALLY STILL OF THE LIVING CHECK IT OUT” by showing you characters conversing with and about Carrie Ann…that’s not a spoiler. It is a plot point. (Seriously. That shit is in the trailer. See for yourself.)
A spoiler is something the movie makers (or author/s or songwriter/s or whatever) want to keep hidden. When M. Night Shyamalan made The Sixth Sense, he did not, in the trailer, show any bits of the film’s final scenes. He did, however, include the kid whispering, “I see dead people,” which tells you that it’s not a spoiler to say the movie is about a kid who sees dead people. In fact, even without the trailer, it’s not a spoiler to say the movie is about a kid who sees dead people, because not only is that a pretty intrinsic part of little Cole’s character, which we as viewers are shown this pretty much right away when we’re introduced to him, but it’s an intrinsic part of the movie’s plot.
So, to get to the essence of my point, I personally think any events which take place in a movie’s first half hour or so–or the first third or so of a book–or any character points which are brought to light while we are introduced to that character, are not spoilers. They’re plot points which must be laid in place before the rest of the story can unfold. Every damn thing is not a spoiler.
What do you think?
(Oh, and if you’re curious, the House at the End… movie goes on to be a basic, and very dull, sort of quasi-slasher movie, where people do stupid things for stupid reasons and it never occurs to anyone to call 911 like a normal person would do, and it’s all just dull, dull, dull. It’s not even fun to make fun of, it’s so dull and insipid.)
Also not a spoiler: I’ll have some news for everyone soon.
Also also not a spoiler: I have been very busy lately, making lots of new words.