I came across a couple of films recently on Netflix. They caught my eye for two reasons: Because they are horror films (which I quite enjoy) and also because the plot and setting of both films had to do with the former Soviet Union, and by association, especially in the mind of woefully ignorant Americans, Russia at the present time. Beware, the following reviews contain spoilers.
by Joseph Waters
The first film, Entity (2012), is a ghost story filmed partially from the point of view of a reality show. The story is about the English crew of a paranormal investigation TV show (“Darkest Secrets”) that goes to Russia to investigate a remote forest area where dozens of bodies were found, apparently having been executed. Led along by their Russian guide and also by a psychic who is able to communicate with the dead, the crew eventually wind up at an abandoned facility hidden deep within the Siberian forest. They came to Russia to try to make contact with the dead found in the mass grave in the forest, but the real action happens when they get to the deserted building that turns out to be a very haunted research facility / concentration camp where, they begin to discover, the Soviets brought psychics and other paranormally gifted individuals in order to study them and figure out a way to use their powers in the cold war; by means of “remote viewing” or whatnot.
Before I even watched this movie, one thing jumped out at me right away; that was the “N” in Entity spelled backwards on the movie poster, apparently in order to make the title of the film somewhat resemble the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. It’s not hard to imagine the reason why this is done (and it’s done a lot). The reason is quite obviously to communicate a sense of the foreign and play on xenophobic fears. Americans, more than any other group of people, have been conditioned to fear, despise and condescend all things foreign, but nothing so much as Russia and Russians. This particular nationality is perpetually portrayed as either being excessively stoic (devoid of human emotion), sinister, duplicitous, oafish and even as cold-blooded monsters. Both of the films highlighted here are no exception.
In brief, in Entity you have the Siberian forest, a haunted Soviet concentration camp (the concentration camp theme is consistently used to conflate the Soviets and the Nazis) where torture and human experiments take place and a duplicitous Russian fellow. What could go wrong?
The nonstop demonization of communism makes any rational person wonder: if communism was a system that was essentially self-defeating and unequivocally evil, why do we need to be constantly reminded of that, and so eagerly encouraged to hate it?
Scintilla (2014), renamed The Hybrid, takes place in a former Soviet Republic where foreign mercenaries are sent on a secret mission to recover genetic material of an alien-human hybrid. They make their way past sadistic and psychotic Russian militias (there’s a civil war going on) to an underground bunker containing the top secret Soviet-era laboratory where the genetic material can be found. It turns out that Soviet scientists recovered alien DNA from a meteorite and fused it with human DNA to attempt to create (what else?) a hybrid race of super-soldiers. In the underground research lab we encounter a bust of Stalin and a portrait of Lenin where he seems to be dressed in drag, or else kitted out like a punk rocker; mockery remains an oft-used and effective propaganda device to denigrate an enemy target. However, the head researcher that the mercenaries encounter in the subterranean realm turns out to be British. Why British?
This film was a Swedish production, but American films especially have always had foreigners (non-Americans) play the part of villains. In this case, when you want a sophisticated, intelligent villain you need an actor who will speak the “Queen’s English.” For a more grungy and sadistic villain you could use an Arab/Muslim, a Latin American or, of course, a Russian. But, back to the matter at hand – the demonization of communism and Russia more generally – it makes one wonder, if communism was a system that was essentially self-defeating and unequivocally evil, then why do we need to be constantly reminded of that, and so eagerly encouraged to hate it?
Joseph Waters is a political activist. He operates the blog, Proletarian Center for Research, Education and Culture (Prole Center).