The Nun (2018) and its prolonged induction into a haunting, part 2.

Rev., Apr 4, 2019.

This is part 2, of a two-part treatment of the opening sections of The Nun (2018).

After Sr. Irene’s walk in the field of crosses, now it is time for Fr Burke to be indoctrinated by having his dreams upset. Same night, he is now in the convent, a building adjunct to the abbey, so we are literally in adjunct space, it is not just a concoction of my model. It starts with a radio that goes on by itself, as is so common, even back then, media records the scare first.

nun 54he identifies the source, the instant his light hits it, it goes out

nun 55then he is lead by his personal guilt demon, Daniel, a boy he tried to exorcise, which failed, killing him, through the laundry room, hung with all sorts of bed sheets, a very old trope space, really surprising to see it here.

nun 56the movie is playing with things very carefully if it thinks that in order to take us back out into the field of crosses, and the cemetery, it needs to transition from his side too, from his bed to the crosses, so it takes us all the way through this zone. The field of sheets is a classic push-pull now-you-see-it-now-you don’t zone at the edge of the entoptic, for the field is entoptic in nature, but heading toward the glass onion, because it is always to see a figure in it (I have written about this with respect to Halloween (1978), then The Creeping Terror (1964) and Friday the 13th: The Orphan (1970)). It is a trope of some age, indeed

nun 57then things get interesting again. At one point, going out, Burke feels someone tap him on the shoulder, the left one, I think, then he spies out deep into the cross field and sees a figure way at the other end, barely discernible in shot

nun 58a figure sighted at the far periphery of the visuality of the Land of Nod is a conjure figure. It comes out of the corner of the eye, as the first inkling one has that there is a haunting here. It serves precisely this purpose here, so Burke is getting a more conventional haunting, transporting him entirely and structurally back into the field of crosses as they spread back around through the entoptic to the in-between.

nun 59the search for a conjure figure is always much more difficult, it wouldn’t be a conjure figure if you had no trouble figuring out what it is, or even if it is there, there will be white out moments.

nun 60And almost blackout moments, it is in the influence of the strobe effect which strikes the entoptic as well

nun 61but then we come to another homegrown targeted haunting, just for him. First, though, he sees the conjure figure close-up, and, then, once again, the movie overdetermines, by imprinting onto the appearance of a snake out of its mouth a whoosh-splat structure exactly echoing the same effect used to knock Frenchie on his butt before, and we get, even with the backup of an alibi formation statue, the boy, the snake and then its jump scare attack to us, in our face.

nun 62this then causes Burke to fall, so a classic whoosh-to-splat, the work of ephialtes, the leaper

nun 63but then with a quick splatting that almost kerplunks as it is a grave, he is then slammed into it, it slams shut, nearly a slapstick treatment

nun 65Then the camera comes up to tell us it is his grave, chosen for him, so this too is a spell

nun 66then he is stuck. This too strikes me as too precipitous, that is, exploiting the structural scare by echolating upon its lattice a miniature rendering of it, which did not, for having that quality packed into it, really scare that much (with many precedents as a trope in countless movies).

Then, two dream sequences are woven together, because now Sr. Irene must be woken up that first night for her to get her induction into the reality that they are dealing with, unmistakably, a haunted world, and yet at this point, she is fast asleep. She is pictured lying on her right side, looking away from the event out on the grounds, but in a shot cast to its side to make her vertical on the left, to represent that we are bouncing out of nightmare into a lateral adjunct space (I noted this in the movie Truth or dare (2017)). That light off to her side, if it was in proper orientation, would be the High Light, it is an expression of the impression of a blue dot on the sleeping mind in the entoptic state, and alerts you to a trouble, it signifies that she is sleeping lightly indeed, and that, for that, she is susceptible to being woken up if something in the world around her flashes at her. This shot then evokes the High Light, the light of too much consciousness still, which will interrupt her sleep; but here it represents the presence of the Ambient or Sentient zones lurking outside the dream.

nun 67Just like when you fear a monster is there, the curtain pulls back, the light shines on her directly, she opens her eyes, she is alerted, there is trouble.

nun 68once again (too much of this) the movie feels it needs to underline the point by doubling up on it, her brain is awake, it has received the symbol, and in a form, a lantern, that will take her walking

nun 69she now does a gown prowl and in doing so casting light on aegis pictures of mother superiors and the like around it is autosuggested by these iamata that she will be seeing her haunting in the form of nuns. (iamata are testimonials at an incubation site in ancient Greece from others coming before that they had success in their incubation, you would read a bunch of them beforehand to autosuggest to you that it can be good for you too), so, here, these pictures serve this function, moving down into and through the glass onion (symbolic) stage.

nun 70But, somehow, she feels that the haunting is coming from outside, so she goes out, then pauses at the top of the stairs. In the movie Nomads (1986), in which Brosnan plays a demon hunter, a nun gazing down the stairs in a vacant convent evoking the whoosh below is the caretaker, the one to lead us in, down, she assumes that role, partly, here.

nun 71this is reinforced by the fact that the movie pulls the camera back to a distant shot of her at the top of their stairs and this is such a classic Hammer style shot it announces that her gown prowl is elementary, I even saw it copied in Bollywood movies influenced by Hammer, so it speaks to the fact that she is now the one to head down into the belly of the beast.

nun 72But just before she does there is, back up in the house, a screenwipe

nun 73the demon is up, already haunting her, so she is walking into a trap. The haunting in this sequence is a lot like, and as franchises are often held together by the repetition of their signature elements, a haunting sequence in The Conjuring 2 (2017). In that one, Lorraine is in Ed’s studio, and has a creepy interaction with his painting, in a premonition. of something haunting her, a nun

nun 74then she sees a shadow exit one of his more scenic pictures, and walk across the wall

nun 75it then passes into the picture of it

nun 76to then take shape according to the scale Ed painted her at, the coat and hat acting as alibi formation

nun 77the closing of two dimensional space on the shadow space in three dimensional space, allows the image to come forward, ontologically, from being in the picture, to being in the room. This is then jumped further by the movie to allow it to take figure, and the mask turns into an impersonation, held by the hands of the realizing nun ghost

nun 78that then feeds off the model of the coats and figure, to urge it to take on fuller figurative form, it is as if at this point the figure in the shadow, given substance by canvas and paint, is now ready to use that hiding mask to figure itself out into three dimensional reality.

nun 79behind that barrier, but pushing it at her, this allows her to become embodied, and attack, in a classic whoosh to inyourface

nun 80this is what I call picture play, the haunting in this downstairs chapel space is similar, clearly aligned with the franchise-defining trope at the moment. In it, she thinks she interrupts the nuns having a prayer session after hours. In the lore of movies, interrupting nuns having an after hours prayer session is a deeply moving thing because the nuns are not living according to the rules of time as managed in secular society but have duties vectored to pay attention to supernatural issues, that, in itself, is mysterious, just like Hayley Mills assuming this view in The Trouble with Angels (1964).

nun 81but right away a shadow rises up over the cross

nun 82to then eclipse the cross, this then the realization of the negation of the cross she felt earlier, now it is real

nun 83then a bit of ambient red light touches the shadow and as if one two d form touches another it creates a plane of passage whereby the shadow is now activated in light-casting space so that it can walk out of the eclipse formation and stroll spookily around the walls.

nun 84as it walks, it is never far from an alibi form, so that she might think to herself, what are you looking at? it is only the angel giving off a vibe, not a shadow walking around the wall

nun 0then it comes all the way round near her, through a confessional, it looks like, to continue on

nun 86then it has come all the way to behind her back, in a mirror that was behind her (this a bit like the night mirror), and she now sees that the shadow is a real being in the other-side-of-the-mirror space,  in this splicing of spaces

nun 87then it makes itself known, her, whether in or out of the mirror problematic

nun 88she is freaked out, so she turns around and sees that all the nuns she thought were praying are gone, it was just an illusion, part of the haunting by the nun, making herself seem more plausible as part of a group of nuns. At this point, the attack comes, the mirror breaks out, so this is an acheirodiptheriac picture, that is, a killing picture, as I posited years ago, but she stands

nun 89it is the cross that falls, smashing to pieces, she runs

nun 90so, she has come out from the entoptic space of her rooms, and the convent, this then made of her the caretaker, guide from the lattice lower but in this case it is entoptic-through glass onion-to-lattice movement, where, in adjunct space, she comes upon a phantom group of nuns praying. But this turns out to be an illusion created by an ambient haunting demon who now ritualistically walks it back to find a mirror behind her back by which to spray glass in a whoosh at her, and chase her on. The fact that the demon failed by this haunting to kill her makes it somewhat questionable in its agency. The other fact, that in fact this scare caused her to run on and find Burke, makes its agency doubly conflicting in itself, as why would the demon do something that undoes its work on Burke? but it is the signature scare of the franchise and in this repeat of it we understand how deeply she is haunted by it, because it got Lorrraine too.

nun 91

in any case, now she is out in the cemetery, and, once again, for the fourth time, we are out amongst the field of crosses, which create the no man’s land between the country and the abbey, and she is now searching for some answer that she believes the haunting has pointed her toward

nun 92her search for whatever it is, she is uncertain, is made more complicated by the fact that all the bells on all the graves begin to ring as if a whole legion of zombies now in this spell wants to get up out of their graves and walk the earth

nun 93but, then, once again, things shift to the ambient, as after a point the bells en masse collect into a larger acoustic hallucination that she likens to one of her visions when young so it makes her dizzy, and she closes her eyes, and all but has another hypnagogic trance incident, much like her visions when young, she is woozy (notice the bell)

nun 0 1then, very oddly, as if the sound has taken the red light from the chapel and fed it into the ambience of the air to turn it into a physical force that presses on the right side of her face, to distort her face, she feels the dream impinge upon her

nun 95I sensed, uncannily, that almost, for a moment, the pressure of the vision pressed in on her so intently it distorted her face so that I did not recognize her and though she had turned into someone else, but, then, the vision is, she can hear through all the interfering bell ringing to focus on and find the one that Burke is under, and save him.

nun 96then we have the whole sequence of taking him up out of the grave, she saving his life

nun 97then, for me, another conflicting moment, because something that the demon did to hurt her ended up helping her find him and undo what the same demon had done to hurt him, and not it turns out that the demon did something bad to him, but it helped him find books, it is as if the demon is so conflicted or incompetent that he manages to undo everything he has done in the next haunting much like Penelope undoing the tapestry every night, it is strange, and kind of depletes the agency and energy of the movie, as you really do have to wonder how in control of the demon game this demon is.

nun 98At last, then, we are ushered into the heart of the story, which is, the discovery of what is behind that door we saw in the prologue, but that for another report. As is, it means that this movie has a very long introductory passage, as if to emphasize the intercessional nature of this outing, a horror movie about believing in the world one is inducted into; and, yet, somehow, in that process often working to deplete the power of the demon it means to give power to in the whole proceedings. The length of these sequences suggests to me a rationalizing tendency in the writing which felt it somehow needed to explain more than was necessary why the franchise was retrenching all the way back to 1952 to explain why the demon that haunts Lorraine was a nun, and who that nun was, for that, it needed to take its time setting things up (since I also found a highly intercessional leaning in Neo Rauch’s latest show in Hong Kong, with a long introductory, initiatory sequence, this might be, in fact, part of the nature of the times, a needing for works of art and movies to wriggle to find their bearing before getting down to business too). Indeed, it is the uncertainty in managing the demon and its power in this one which significantly distinguishes it from Hereditary (2018), where things were much more forcefully directed. In the follow-up to this I will examine the too pat treatment of the movie in the final solution, laid out, described, then found, too quickly, and too concisively, to make the finale grand.



The Nun (2018) and a prolonged induction into a haunting, part 1.

Rev., Apr 4, 2019.

This is Part 1 of a 2 part treatment of the opening sequence of The Nun (2018).

In the opening segments of The Nun (2018), Fr. Burke is called in to the Vatican to get an assignment to travel to Romania to figure out what has happened in the suicide of a nun in the convent of St. Carta there. Though they treat the scene very low key, with Burke acknowledging that any communication from the Vatican is not telling the full story, there is a sign of where things are headed in the shot. In the background is a famous painting by Caravaggio (zero chance that it was in the Vatican in 1952), the Miracle of the House of Loreto

nun 1it is famous, stylistically, for being so realistic, real peasants, a visionary Mary and child as if stepping out into real space

nun 2

But to me it is more important for closing the gap entirely between cult and art, that is, in it Caravaggio casts us back into cult space because it was as a painting meant for the shrine of the House of Loreto, which was a miracle site in Italy whereby the house in which Mary grew up was transporting by air to Italy, where it now resides. This was hardcore

nun 3

Today it remains a holy site, the site of a miracle. This places the cult site in prototype space, before art (the wiki page for the caravaggio treats it entirely as a work of art, but, in fact, on commission, he in fact enters into cult world).

nun 4

the house itself has been surrounded by a kind of ceremonial catafalque, an artificial reiteration typical of cult sites, but the house itself is real enough.

nun 5

The whole thing is covered here

what the picture in the shot signals then is that we are leaving the world of secular modern mediation of these issues, to return, by a kind of cinematic pilgrimage, to a world of where miracles still happen. It is a common place for an Exorcist-style movie, but this one dives right in with no hesitation, unlike so many of those movies. He is then assigned to hire Sr. Irene to come along with him, she is not sure why, though it becomes apparent later, as as a child she had visions, and these visions, the intuition of the magic church is, might help them solve the mystery at the convent, which is likely supernatural not emotional.

But, now, they have to travel into Romania, if not Transylvania. Right away, when they wake up Frenchie, we also get a hint that in addition to being a land of magic, it is also a world where dreams count.

nun 6note that he has an icon exactly in the spot on the wall over his bed where he might look if startled awake by a nightmare. That is, it is placed as a sort of protective amulet against nightmares as part of a visual regime by which religious imagery manages the terrors of the night (the reasoning might be that if in the back of your mind you know that you are being watched over by a holy image then maybe inside your head the nightmare that is generated will be less severe, knowing that it is only casting you back up into the immediately protective arms of a saint’s blessing).

nun 7The movie takes us through the entire arrival, every step of the way. That is, it spends a lot of time on the intercessional process of the movie, to initiate us into the climate and the mood and the world. Of course, in these movies, we always arrive at the point where the animal will go no further, that is, it senses that nature is corrupted beyond that by some evil of human making, so it will not venture there. This is the geographical equivalent of animal dislike of unnatural beasts like werewolves and vampires. Then, to mark this point in the movie Sr. Irene comes up again a strange crossroads cross, in which Jesus is hollowed out inside the cross. It is interesting that it rises in view in the lattice shot formation, signifying an overriding motif in the movie, which it is.

nun 8but this scares her, she obviously does not like it. In this shot, it frames her, its negative space haunts her, announces that she is passing through, and if so passing through to a place where Jesus is not so powerful.

nun 9it sets itself up against us too, we have to go through it too

nun 10several times in recent years I have had occasion to look at some modern church art, particularly by the “geometry of fear” artists of Britain in the 1950s, here is a Graham Sutherland crucifix

nun 11By the influence of modernism, some went very abstract, indeed, it was almost as if in the context of modern thought, NOT being abstract was a problem, the more abstract the better.

nun 12

But it held pretty steady, no matter how modern the church got, if the crucifix still featured a positive space form of Jesus coming off the cross, then it was all right. In the very context of this simple plus-minus charge use of abstracter forms, then, a negation to negative space would not be good, and might be looked upon by some Catholics as a desecration of the meaning of the thing.

nun 13

But some artists went there. The closest to the above in the negative space use is Germain Richier’s crucifix up in the Alps, where the Christ figure seems to sink into the cross itself

nun 14

And Norma Redpath, an Australian artist of the same generation, also went toward the negative space, though stopping short

nun 15

Even, now, as I write, it seems there is a new wave of iconoclasm in France against catholic churches, and this has even featured a desecration in the material area in terms of negation as near the Spanish border there was a church with a cross made of excrement, therefore its material negating it, that was made.

nun 16For all of this, the movie having moved us from secular modern space into church space, by way of the POV of Sr. Irene, this negation of Christ was obviously quite ill-foreboding to her, it just seemed like an inversion of the positive energy it should have. She would also likely see this negation as a depletion of its power, meaning that it was made and could only be made by someone who has lost his or her faith, and is struggling against a darker power that is, currently, winning (if it has scratched one’s faith in Christ all the back to a negation).

nun 17then, as they pass on through the woods, we learn the flip side of the problem. Already in the woods, hung from the very trees, are simple apotropaic crosses, almost in the role of gylloi before the town gates, to ward of any evil that lurks in the woods. In movies, though, these echo on the “witchy shit” from The Blair Witch Project of twenty years ago, and tells her that there is a sense of evil of the place, if it needs so many impromptu, primitively fashioned, prototype space crosses to ward off the evil.

nun 18then, as they continue, and they continue for some time–it really is surprising how much time the movie spends on their journey in, their anti-pilgrimage–we have a sequence not unlike the screenwipe sequence with the mirrors in the mirror room in introducing the relationship between Suzie and Blanc in Suspiria (2018) but we get a series of close-ups in which we see them pass through a gauntlet of crosses.

nun 19As she passes in the cross is her backbone, it all but penetrates her

nun 20she is all but blanked out by one, as if the space is making a sign of the cross over her

nun 21then they come to a border, it seems like at some point in the past, perhaps accumulatively, over many years, by piecemeal additions made by peasants, a ring of crosses has formed around the convent and abbey. I have seen the same effect in a Spanish movie whose title at present escapes me. What it means depends on how you view it, or which way you are coming. As a general trope, it conforms to trope that is usually apotropaic rooms like the one in The Exorcist, or In The Mouth of Madness. Frenchie says, to paraphrase, if you see it as being put there by the sisters, then it is a field of apotropaic power, a apotropylonic array, meant to keep evil out, to keep the sacred ground sacred. But if the crosses were put up not by the abbey but as impromptu works of folk art by the people around there then they serve a sealing or binding apotropaic purpose and thus are mainesthai-apotropaic compound devices to ward off evil but particularly bind the evil thought to reside there, some demon, by this gesture in wood to be bound and, as Frenchie said, kept in. I tend to agree with him. And this would also propose a logic for the negative space Jesus as Jesus demon fighter.

nun 22I think the movie tells us what it thinks by placing a classic crow there, harbinger of evil, that there is trouble, and it is here as part of a flock there with more natural purpose, to eat of the hanged nun

nun 23I have argued that one of the first things you see entering into the lightest stage of the entoptic level of light dream, the Village of dreams, is the Hanged woman.

nun 24this means that as you lay down to sleep, then nod off, a blue dot might linger in the eye, to then translate over into a visual image as you drift off to sleep, and it is the feet of a hanged woman that signifies that. And here it is, precisely. This means to me, looking back, that the crosses are in fact in the Luor, my name for the unspecified space between, and the fact that they go both ways, that Frenchie read them both ways, that means that too, it is important coding being delivered.

nun 25But then this is a second hand seeing of her, not the first one, Frenchie took her down and put her into the icehouse. As if casting off riches in a special effects universe so profuse with effects, the simple ice house is almost on the scale of dracula’s castle, 70 years ago. Then, even more surprising, and I can only think this pops up in the unconscious of the writers trying to underscore the transitional nature of the space being passed through, the Luor, but the body has by its gas excess in decomposition popped up, a trick that goes way back to the House of Wax (1953), “she’s a jumper”, and this too signals either way to read her.

nun 26then too, as I ascribed it, the Hanged Woman existed, agentically, to point the way, she is an intercessional construct, at the gate of the Land of Nod, a dream guide, and though I found that the map of the place to be gone through is on the bottom of her foot, and a tattoo, here it is a key she holds that is important, so she again attests to her intercessional purpose, she has, seated thus, encountered thus, agency.

nun 27the key in its form also has negative space or outlined crosses, and to me this signified that we have entered into a highly overdetermined atmosphere where apotropaic imagery has entirely saturated the dangerous air, so that even the keys have taken on the form. This is, in my thinking, derived from Belting, ultimately derived by the saturated nature of, specifically, Byzantine Greek forms of Christian symbolism, much more of which, much more forcefully, were marshalled for the fight against evil. This tells us, in addition to the fact that somewhere in this movie there is going to be a space to unlock, that we, in the movie, have entered into a highly symbolic world, most of symbolism intensified into many levels of involution in order to cover every base and stratagem and keep evil out.

nun 28Then, they bury her, and, in the process, cinematically, both Sr Irene and Fr Burke are blocked out by a tombstone and this means that they have basically taken on the task of the suicide to find out and undo the evil magic by which she died.

nun 29when we swing round we come to another detail, the ringing bell. I forget if one rings here. But, this is introduced as a fun detail, for what purpose is unclear, but, again, I see it symbolically. One, in several movies of late I have been alerted to the ringing bell as the sign of the presence of spiritual evil, not unlike the trope of the bounced in ball. This is apparent in Angelica (2017), where it is used as a ghost finding device. But also in the Spanish movie, Anabel (2015), with Ana de Armas, where it is more cryptically used, but, I think, each time signals an escalation of the trouble in terms of the invasion of a demon.

nun 30But then it also serves here a two-way function, just like the popped up now buried body, which Frenchie for a minute thought might not be dead. They explain it as going back to the plague, but, in fact, it was a nineteenth century thing, sometimes whether or not someone was dead was a problem, catatonia, for example, could not be detected as distinguished from death. Thus Poe wrote Premature Burial about the fear of being buried alive, and for that there was, in history, a device developed whereby the tomb was set up with a bell that the corpse could ring if at some point it discovers it is still alive. Here, it rings both ways, and, surprisingly, it will be instrumentalized in a rather important way in the proceedings.

nun 31finally, with the abbey, we enter into the complex behind the village of dreams, this is the edge of the Glass onion phase of dreaming, the zone of symbols, and the first symbol delivered to us here is Uroburos, which somehow, because of its snakelike manner, evokes evil.

nun 32then, again, back-and-forthing, when they come round to the other side of the ex cathedra, this ancient throne, they find the faceless abbess, who is as it were crowned by the uruburos which speaks perhaps to her corrupted nature, it is a spooky who-knows-which-way meeting

nun 33then she tells them they cant do anything tonight, they are about to close up for the day, they have to go to the convent and start tomorrow. That too is odd, it echoed to me on the Wizard of Oz’s reception of Dorothy et al, come back tomorrow. But, in terms of symbols, that is, the crosses, the hanged woman, the body of the hanged woman discovered, the gravestone bells, the uruburos, then the abbess, and not what she tells them, for a good portion of their arrival they have been shuttling through the turnstiles of several turnstile symbols and it may indeed be that the Village of dreams is entirely signified by both-way symbols, in this case spilling over from the in-between zone. Moviewise, all of this is intended to slowly indoctrinate us into the dream zone of the movie.

nun 34as they walk back then, they also close off this section of the movie, by seeing a headless Jesus, which, carrying over from the negative space is less ambiguous, something negative happened here to reduce Jesus to this, still on his cross, in this unused chapel.

nun 35Though I enjoy all this, and appreciate any effort by the movie to induct me into the haunted space of it,  it is also true that in review I complained that, not unlike TV movies, this movie is somewhat overdetermined in its use of crosses, that is, that the use of the cross might have served smartly to signify a zone of Eastern Christian rite where there is much evil and much apotropaia is needed against it, but it is also true that in its production this came off as relying too heavily on this device, making it eventually jejune and depleted in its use. Then, even odder, having situated the three travelers in the space, having had them cross over, one, Frenchie, will go back home, two, Sr Irene and Fr Burke will stay. And it is odd that to actually indoctrinate them, the first night, they have to all undergo a haunting, a genuine haunting. Frenchie, on the way out, is first. He is passing back through the field of crosses, only for them at this point to answer his question, they definitely are in the business of keeping the evil in, for he sees a nun running in the woods.

nun 36this causes him to follow her, she is dragging a noose, so she is haunted

nun 37Then, finally, he catches up, she hangs herself, so, here again, ANOTHER Hanged Woman, the second actual one, the third cinematic revisiting of her, this is a lot of Hanged Woman symbolism in the early going.

nun 38This to me evidences some directorial concern about setting the stage, getting us into it. But, then, there is a twist, this is a Hanged Woman, but we see it from above, looking down on him. The camera pulls back up from her, leaving him below, to express, I suppose, his shock, he falls in a splat

nun 39then the camera keeps pulling up as in a reverse whoosh, casting him into nightmare splat

nun 40we get all the way up to the noose itself

nun 41then the hanged woman cuts herself down, so this must be a demon

nun 42for it to fall on him, then for it to be the demon, to attack him.

nun 44what this all is is a parody, in a generic sense, of the whoosh nightmare dream formation which if it is cast in full in the full structure of the movie is the central event of the movie, but here it is as if transferred into a detail or incident in adjunct space and in a miniature encapsulation rendered as a nightmare in a haunting, but just for that, within its little moment. This is a dysfunction of the horror mis en scene, which should be, to be the best, global in the nature, structurally, whereby a sequence that ought to be global and is structured according to the model of the global structure, a lattice image, a pull back to haunt, then a whoosh, then a splat, then an attack to splat the splat, is somehow by directorial exploitation of the knowledge of that spun off into a micro-form reiteration of it, in a process I will call encapsulation (though it sounds a lot like the turned-around-microscope miniaturizing effect of the eldritch formation, and also accords with models of a reflective nexus formation involving miniaturization). But in this context this is one pop-up scare exploiting the whole structure of the movie to overpack it, as it were, with a gratuitous scare, for no serious purpose. It worries me. To have another Hanged woman scaring is also a very quick, all but echolated return to the scare, not at all a careful structural strigulus of the scare.

nun 45but then this return of his through the in-between, coming out now, not coming in, encountering then the evil that he thought the crosses kept in, unmistakably by its first haunting him wins him over to belief, he is inducted into the movie space where he believes in this haunted realm for sure. He solves that problem for himself, and us

nun 46still, after it is gone, and he gets up, I think the movie does regroup around him as a splatted man, in the global structure of the movie, and with a lot of close-up shots of the cross, as if to convince us now, AGAIN, that we are in a nightmare world, it runs through the crosses

nun 47More

nun 48and more

nun 49but then he sees the figure standing as if presiding over its field of armed crosses, evil-shooting crosses

nun 50He leaves by taking up one for it to be his personal imprint self version of an apotropaic form mimicking and covering his whole body (we later seeing sitting with his cross at a local pub).

nun 52but I felt the scene was somewhat confused as he again personalizes it, so it is his talisman after surviving the haunting, to keep its evil off him after that, he is a believer, but he pulls that cross up from a retiring sequence of close-ups of crosses of another purpose, AGAIN, that made me think the director had spun them out of a more globally-structural rendering of where those crosses might be, and for me they felt like they might be all set on the “roof” as it were of REM deep dream space, that is, the space of splat, even though for his departure, he could care less, he just wants to get away.

nun 53I think, in fact, that a miniature adjunct version of a central structural dream principle does not intensify but in fact depletes by particularization the agency of the original structure. Then the fact that he somehow decides to take a cross even after having experienced all this, this way, also confuses the issue, so also, in my view, depletes the agency again. What this means is that the encapsulation of a mis en scene trope in adjunct exploitation, and then just an unresolved wrenching free of it, both reduce the agency from full intensity to something much more depleted and uncertain, and, certainly, less scary. I ask, why would the movie choose to scare Frenchie first (though, series-wide, as we find out at the end, there is a reason, it does not translate in this scene)? It is odd, but, then, maybe it felt it had to convince him first, to convince any of us. My general argument is that the movie felt it needed the involved travelling-in sequence to emphasize the nature of the cult space being entered, but, then, in the process, however, I think there were stumbles. In any case, Frenchie retreats, for now, ending, as it were, the introductory part of the movie. It has been a long induction, I think to solidify the fact in the viewers’ minds that this is not a mere Exorcist-style movie but a genuine remove to a remote place back in time where old rites and older magic persist. Rare in recent American movies, then, but requiring that a long induction.

In Part 2 I explore how the visitors, Fr Burke and St. Irene, are brought into the haunting.

Daniel van Heil (1604-1664) and parsing apotropaia in Dutch painting (with mention of Le Fanu’s story, Schalcken the Painter).

Rev., Oct 29, 2018.

Rather amazingly, and unaware of it, for a number of years I rationalized the onset of Halloween, and its observance over the course of a month, by setting an obligation to conduct thirteen days of Halloween, consisting of the thirteen gates of the spirit and material worlds that had to approach, then overlap, for Halloween to serve as a bridge to the other side. And this now seems to be entirely parallel to the thirteen layers of apotropaic art that your average ancient Greek family needed to feel safe, this from Faraone  (Talismans and Trojan Horses (1992)), each number being a form of apotropaic statuary set up between the town gate and the sanctum sanctorum of the house

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so, this parallel is amazing. But, then, I also now see–and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Schalcken the Painter, I think, inspired me in this–that even in materialist times painters often take up slipstream zones between this or that layer of apotropaia to paint things either close in to the self, as if to serve as part of a protective blanket, or as farther off, and then if they want to undermine the confidence of the apotropaic nature of the nature of the space they insert a haunting device by way of, I think, counterculture. And this is how I saw the dead man in Schalcken the Painter: by close observance of custom, a horror was let in, then, it turns out, in the daughter’s life, she had to live in horror, with a body of death that lied in on her in a fourposter bed in a chapel behind the altar in a church in Rotterdam.

I had the same sense of an uncanny chill reading Garcia (Homeric durability (2013)) on the Illiad where though Achilles tried to mutiliate Hector’s body the gods would not let him, Aphrodite salved the corpse with ambrosia, Apollo covered it from the passage of day and night by a black cloud, and then the body was also protected from maggots by Zeus, and so each night after a day spent dragging it all over camp, this body incorrupt lay in Achilles tent, spooking him out, until he gave up his stubbornness–another close lying in of a horror, infiltrating, as it were, normal apotropaic relations.

Also from Garcia, I find out that Tartarus is specifically a part of hell reserved for those gods or demigods Zeus hurled from on high, and this emphasis on hurling is so like the spiral whoosh featured in dreams, that it does seem as if a dream theory is proposed to make sense of how the Greeks believed in or visualized the divine.  Accordingly it was thought to take ten days for a god hurled down to fall from Olympus to earth, and then another ten days to fall from earth to Tartarus. Then, even odder, the fall is made sure to be steady and certain by Aite, for example, as Hera once had her suspended from Olympus in punishment, she had two large anvils made by Hephaestus no doubt attached to her, for her to fall good and straight. This too sound like a lattice dream formation. So, there is an implication of a dream formation twice.

But then, even more interesting, it could be that a person who owns a house cultivates in art the same thirteen layers of apotropaia. Therefore, I argue that dutch painter Daniel van Heil’s strange Fall of Troy paintings, which he painted repeatedly, in profusion, as they refer to the Spanish Fury or not, might be placed close in by one’s cozy place, but as a haunting presence, to give one an uncanny chill. It seems that Van Heil painted the whole spectrum of apotropaia. There are straight up pictures of Spanish atrocity, then there are mixed pictures where both contemporary times and ancient Troy merge; then there are biblical versions, but then there are straight up total Troy scenes, but all of it on fire. Finally, there are pictures of Aeneas rescuing others out of the fire. Why this splicing of the idea into five different emphases? Again, I think the answer is the same as with the Caruso Cave votives, and answered as well by a Stimmung analysis of the various bodies of work De Chirico painted, it depends on how much one can take in a day, so there is a varying, a turning up and turning down of intensity and immediacy, to meet the particular needs of the current moment’s mood and state of mind. So now I have to go through all the Van Heils, his art folded in close to the confines of material Dutch culture, just as the art critic in Le Fanu’s Schalken the Painter places him in, but find the haunted painting.

The thesis would then be, if the space of safety of a Dutch house is parsed out in a manner somewhat similar to that in a town in ancient Greece, either through modelling by the influence of the classics, or just by being human beings with the same bodies and fears that the Greeks had, there would be thirteen layers of protection required to make a man in his house feel safe. And what I see is that perhaps four or five of those layers could be occupied by paintings, of this sort. I have seen this in the use of art in horror movies, too.

For instance, it is common to have paintings by the doorway of the house, I have noted a few in Criminally Insane (1973), for example

aaag 2I have written about these in The Last Victim (1973), and also in  She Demon (1958), a “traffic of the world” painting, it is placed near the door, it is of a vehicular nature, to alert the mind, both coming and going, you are headed out, or coming in from the world, you will have rituals going out, and rituals coming in, and art can help. So, in terms of Van Heil’s work, I would say that this would be the place for the straight on cities burning scenes, reminding the resident that the world outside is a dangerous place. This is, just inside the door, an apothyriac painting

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Then, coming in, it also reminds those arriving that the resident is aware of the troubles of the world, and might well have a defensive attitude toward them. This is what happens, for example, when Rosemary Woodhouse comes through the closet to come first upon the picture of the burning church in the Castavettes’ apartment in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). In fact, the picture is buried at the back of the apartment, but, in her sequence, by her coming through a closet where, previous tenant security indicated, they encroached, it announces entry into their realm.

aaag 5Then, further in, there are the pictures that might be in the outer hallway leading into the main salon, by the side of the door. These I have also discussed, usually they are of  ruins, of a depleted sort, and spell out that there is disputation and upset, in this transition (good examples of this in The Devil Rides Out). In this case, this might well be where a nice Van Heil burning Troy or other city in a general, an all but biblical sense might go over well, a conversation piece that speaks to the transition to the inner sanctum sanctorum. This, I will place as parallel to the point of the Hecatean painting in a Greek house, always placed in a hall, but leading in, so this is where his Troys are

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And again

aaag 8And again

aaag 9That these might also serve as transitional pieces to ward off outer hallway business is perhaps indicated by the fact that right at the juncture is the equivalent of an alexikakis, or ward of evil in its general sense, work of art, and these I propose are slipped into the inner hallways, in the form of the odd uniqueness of each Trojan Horse (but also speaking to the vulnerability of the house, and that fact that home invasion by even nice people is always possible) so this one

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And this one

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And this one, he might have looked at these coming down in the morning, going up at night, stay vigilant, they say

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That leaves the private place, the turf of the man of the house, he might have talismanic art here, art that is special to him, for special reasons, and, in an odd way, I picture this space as including one-off or hapax legomenon (once spoken) paintings that seem to have no relation to anything else but their relation to him and his private association with it, and I have in fact run across these and now and then come across them as special one-off objects, I believe that van Heil did a few of these to fill this niche. In Van Heil, it might be that this level of painting, right by the private chair, is the haunted thing that reminds, it is possible that pictures of Aeneas rescuing people from Troy go here, maybe to memento mori of persons who have passed (this one though by Kerstaein Kunick)

under troy kerstiaen-de-keuninck-aeneas-and-his-family-fleeing-the-burning-city-of-troy

or another, this a Van Heil

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Or another Van Heil, the little family drama being the haunting detail

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But a better example might come from Gottfried van Schalcken, or, at least, the fictional one. In Le Fanu’s story, Schalken the Painter, one such unique painting is mentioned. But then also as all but votive devotional picture or really worry picture in which in private moments in his cups or whatever a man might brood upon history and the past and his role in it and if there is danger coming and what he has to look out for and this is, as I see it, a haunting, a crack in the apotropaic defences, not unlike the appearance of Death in the story, seen through the candles, in an excellent BBC version in the 70s

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here is the shot, a peering through

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Or the presence of the gorgon in The Gorgon (1966), seeing through the pillars (this is not quite the shot)

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Or the presence of Hephaestus, as seen through the pillars in a votive described by Platt and quoted in my piece on Lin May Sayeed

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Tucked in, as it were, into his private cabinet of curiosity, of private meditational or apotropaic objects, which circle him round, tucked into that close space might well be a Van Heil that focuses more directly and queerly, if you will, on Aeneas as an emblem of regret in the art, and it may be that Van Heil did so many of these and in such variety because they did, in fact, serve as a kind of indirect, masculine  memento mori, but to deal not with thoughts of death, but thoughts of political errors, or misguided cultural or personal decisions which one, perhaps by having given too much to another, or been taken by another, has to deal with.

The best example I know of at the moment, to describe the nature of such a picture, is the description of a particular painting by Schalcken, described by Le Fanu in Schalcken the Painter. The narrator talks about the art.

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The text is “I have myself seen this curious little painting…like other paintings by Schaclken it seems to draw on elements of a peculiarly personal nature and yet with no  apparent foundation of what we know of the life of the painter. In all the paintings I‘ve seen, I’ve remarked a strange distance in the relationship of the human figures therein, contacts made by only the expected conventions and courtesies of polite society, or by commercial transaction, sensuality without warmth, without passion, trappings that are ornate and lovely and yet set in a darkness that the flattering lamplight or candle flame never seems capable of penetrating.” That the narrator’s general comment on the art, but then he gets specific

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He suggests a strange relation between art and life in his work, closer, haunted, sick. He says,  “the artist Pygmalion, when he saw that the women around him seemed to be made of stone, carved like flint, determined he would fashion for himself a statue lovelier than any woman born, he stood at the altar at the feast of Venus praying, I ask for, her didn’t dare to say the ivory maiden, but one like the ivory maiden and when he returned he went straight to the statue, she seemed warm, the ivory had lost its hardness as he touched her breast.” But all this to distinguish the painting which is the subject of the story, introduced at the beginning, “To my mind, there are some paintings which impress one with a conviction that they represent not merely the imagined,” though in a story, this is a real van Schalcken

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”you see a chamber in what might be some antique religious building, the foreground occupied by a female figure in a white robe, in her hand a candle by which alone her figure and face are illuminated, and her features wear such an arch smile, as well becomes a pretty woman when she is engaged in some charming trickery of her own device, in the background….”

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”the figure of a man, in an attitude of alarm, his hand placed on the hilt of his sword which he is in the act of drawing”

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”the rest, total shadow except that the dim light seems to define in the darkness some form.” And then he goes on to tell the story of what that form is.

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what is it, this form?

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from Schalcken himself he learned the terrible story behind the picture, that it is distinctly different,  ontologically, “You will observe from the first the distinction between this painting, typical of the later work of Schalcken and the cool balanced style of Flemish art.” Anyways, in the story, we find out what it is, Douw’s daughter, whom Schalcken loved, is sold off to the highest bidder in the marriage market, but then she disappears and that is because she was sold off by her father to be the wife of death. And Schalken, who loved her, was too poor to do anything about it. So, when Schalken goes, later in life, to a church up in Rotterdam, he sees her. There we find out what the form is, death rises up in the bed, horrifyingly so

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and she strips and this is quite the carelessly lusty strip for a proper Dutch girl of 1700

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to flamboyantly fuck him, she is the form, her body engaged in necrophiliac sex, with death, her on top, she is the emblem of lost love

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her form, en flagrante

aaag 30and the form in the picture, same thing

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This, then, is a talismanic, secret picture, in the deepest part of the house, a one-off, with no relation to other art, a prototypical painting, from a pre-art zone, backbuilt from art and its conventions, to a state before it, documenting a personal nightmare. This type of thing is rare, but, I think, suggested as well by some of Van Heil’s works, either his strange focus on the Trojan horse, or his fixation with Aeneas, and it might be a thing of Dutch painting. This painting, which I cannot identify, but certainly is in the style of van Schalcken, looks to me to be one of these one-off paintings, it is so uniquely strange in its construction and execution, the unreality of its architecture, the crepuscular not-thereness, things under the bed, a private talismanic painting, again, Aeneas rescuing Anchises (his father)

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Then, back in the private room, around it perhaps, to lead others off the scent, related to it is the harrowing of hell pictures, an intenser version, for when a later gate closes in, as to the above, when the bridge forms, and if the ghost of the living does want to cross over to the realm of the dead, then the picture humors. These feature either Aeneas in hell with the Sybil (not sure if this is Van Heil)

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or Orpheus in hell, calming things down, all deep kunstkammer art, with perhaps a herm-etic purpose, but also to hide the talismanic painting in plain sight

under Orpheus_Sings_for_Pluto_and_ProserpinaIn any case, van Heil strikes me as a painter who served his market and the personal needs of his clients as members of the middle class who required some objects to help them, in the manner of memento mori, cope with life; but, then, in that, it is possible he also executed some very private commissions; and for that he is, I think, an agentic painter. But, then, he is also what I call a haunted painter, because, just as in Schalken the Painter, it does seem possible that amidst all his variations on Troy Burning there is likely to be one picture that hides a story, and is intensely personal, and therefore pre-art, and, for that, by definition, haunted.