There are many different kinds of horror film out there. Psychological, supernatural, slasher, “torture porn,” whatever. Usually, the horror films with the highest body count and the most blood are what win at the box office, which in turn ups the violence ante. Before you know it, audiences are lining up to see horror movies with no substance and- perhaps the bigger crime- no style. There is very little story and even less character development. We don’t care about what’s happening or to whom. We only want the gore. There are no real scares here; just a series of bloody executions. Then the credits roll and we move on, having had no real emotional connection with what we’ve just seen. We forget it the moment its over; we don’t carry the horror home with us.
As we have seen from films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Descent, and The Exorcist, sometimes the best way to truly frighten people is to have long bouts of nothing, as opposed to throwing one thing after another at the audience. We need time to settle in; to really get to know the world the characters are inhabiting.
In Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath’s superb film Entrance, that world is Los Angeles. We’ve seen films about Los Angeles before, in which ensemble casts interact with each other in roundabout ways. These films are meant to illustrate that Los Angeles is a place of chance meetings and coincidences, made all the more unusual by the fact that there are so many people living here.
And, indeed, Los Angeles is strange among American cities. While many large cities, such as New York and Chicago, are primarily vertical- with their skyscrapers jutting ever upwards- Los Angeles is decidedly horizontal. It spreads out in front of us for as far as the eye can see. It is this sprawl that can create such a sense of loneliness. Whereas Chicago and New York contains millions of people all bunched together- and, thus, unable to avoid interacting with each other- Los Angeles inhabitants are very spread out. Since the city is so sprawling and the public transit system isn’t very dependable, almost everybody has at least one car. “Hey, you have to have a car in this city,” goes the familiar refrain. As discussed rather clunkily in Paul Haggis’s Crash, cars may make getting around the city more convenient, but they work wonders in keeping us isolated from each other. There is a reason that the carpool lane along the 405 is always so empty; one car, one person.
Add into the equation the number of people that immigrate to Los Angeles in pursuit of show business dreams and you have a steady stream of anonymous strangers all living in the same city, interacting with each other, but never really seeing one another.
These facts come into sharp focus as we follow young barista Suziey as she slowly but surely heads towards an emotional breakdown. In spite of having a fairly social job and living with a close friend, Suziey is very lonely. Every day is the same. She wakes up, makes coffee, feeds her dog, and goes to work. She would normally drive to work, but her car has just broken down, so we are treated to long shots of Suziey walking, her head down. She stopped being interested in the goings-on around her a long time ago. Now she just wants to get through the day. The only real joy in her life comes from her beloved dog, Darryl.
These days, though, something seems a little amiss. As Suziey showers, she hears what she thinks are footsteps in her apartment. Her roommate is out of town, so who could it be? She investigates, but finds nobody. Must be her imagination. But then, who was that slipping out the door behind her, so casually? Was it the roommate’s boyfriend? I thought he was out of town. What is going on?
Tensions continue to mount. One night, Suziey is followed by a car, driven by somebody that obviously has no qualms about letting Suziey know that she is being followed. She keeps walking and it eventually drives away, leaving her scared and breathless.
Strange that such a thing can be happening in the middle of a densely populated city. But such is the nature of cities in general, and Los Angeles in particular. Among the notable achievements of the film is the way the filmmakers manage to always have Suziey in sharp focus while any peripheral character is obscured, looking away, or out of focus. These are not fully developed people to us, which puts us in the same emotional position as Suziey.
This might explain why Suziey never expresses her paranoia to her roommate or friends. She doesn’t feel close to them, so why would she ever trust them with what must sound like a crazy story?
Suziey’s breaking point comes when her dog goes missing. She doesn’t know what happened. How could the dog get out? She looks all over the house, puts up pictures around the neighborhood, and even calls the local shelter. Not a trace of him. That does it. The dog was the only real friend she has, and, without him, she really has no reason to stay.
Suziey makes the decision to move out of Los Angeles. Her roommate is frustrated, more out of financial panic than any concern she may have for Suziey. Eventually, though, Suziey and her friends gather for her going away party. And this is where the film takes a dramatic, horrific turn, which I have no intention of revealing. You have to experience it firsthand. All I can really say is that leaving Los Angeles isn’t quite as easy as it would seem.
Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath have created a fascinating film that is reminiscent of early Roman Polanski in its depiction of urban paranoia. However, to compare them to other filmmakers might imply that they are merely evoking somebody else’s work, rather than creating a unique vision. That is not the case. Here, they have crafted a horror film that works primarily because it does not declare itself to be a horror film immediately. In many ways, it is a straightforward character piece about a lonely person’s desperate desire for companionship in the midst of an unfeeling city. The filmmakers really make you care about Suziey and her situation, so that, when the true horror reveals itself, we are invested in the outcome. We are on her side all the way. Much credit is due to actress Suziey Block, who creates a completely believable character under increasing pressure. Suziey is like anybody we might know in a stressful situation; trying to get through it, desperately wishing she had a better base of support.
Entrance is exactly the kind of horror film that I love. It takes its time; it earns your fear, rather than simply demands it of you. And it is so well executed that, I’m not ashamed to admit, I found myself getting a little paranoid at my own Los Angeles apartment the night after I saw it. And as I went to take out the trash last night, the short walk to the building’s dumpsters seemed a little bit longer- and more treacherous- than normal. If that’s not horror, I don’t know what is.