Warning: Spoilers. Trigger Warning: Discussions of sexual assualt and rape. People regularly ask me why I can watch horror movies and still sleep like a baby at night. The reason is that I don’t find classic horror movie tropes as being scary. Evil clowns from outer space, serial killers who don’t die at the end – it’s all perceived as very fake. But what I have come to realise, through watching movies such as I Spit On Your Grave and The Hills Have Eyes, the real horror comes in a real form. It is predatory; it is pure violence and malice; it is depiction of rape, violent and hidden motives, and sexual assault.
It is the patriarchal bullshit that turns into stalkers and preditators. This is what is truly terrifying to me – a Caucasian woman in a western nation – because this is terrifyingly true, and can become ultimately very real.
In Jordan Peele’s fantastic reboot of The Twilight Zone, season two, episode nine’s ‘Try, Try Again’ brought the patriarchal predator into the light. Starring the ‘nice-guy’ Topher Grace as Marc, and Kylie Bunbury as Claudia, the two have what seems to be a chance meeting at an art exhibition. Giving off the vibes of a Prince Charming, who not only saves her from being hit by an oncoming truck, but also pays her entrance fee and seems to share all of the same interests, Marc seems too good to be true.
And he is.
Cue the classic sci fi story that Marc is actually stuck in a time loop. He has no reasoning as to why he is in a time loop, he just knows that he has lived the same day for years. Usually, in hero based time loop stories, the looper is always there for a reason and that reason is usually always to help them evolve into a better person. But this is where The Twilight Zone takes the classic time loop story and gives it a twist. Because of this time loop, Marc has lived through several versions of the museum date with Claudia and as such knows every intimate detail about her and her life. Mistaking the reason for his time loop as love for Claudia, he reveals to her his desire to be loved in return beyond the day.
In a movie fantasy, this would be considered very romantic. Hollywood has convinced us, through Groundhog Dog, through About Time, through even Happy Death Day, that if the time looper tells the romantic interest then sparks will fly, time loops will stop, and a romance sparks like a lightning strike. To be honest, there are so many tried and tested movies with this storyline that it comes to be expected. Like in the same way that the patriarchy think that if they say the right thing, do the right thing, and are a ‘nice guy’ than they will get the girl.
And when they don’t, that’s when the masks are dropped and the patriarchal predator gets its heckles up.
“I’m a nice guy and I demand you take my penis!” cries Jerry in the season two episode eight episode of Rick and Morty. This gif has become standard for explaining the friendzone to guys who don’t understand why they are in friendzone. They think if they are nice then they deserve whatever they want, wherein fact that they are not considered a romantic interest for many other reasons (including, ‘am I attracted to you?’ ‘Do we have the same interests?’ ‘Do we have the same goals in life?’ etc. It’s not just that you’re a ‘nice guy’ – there needs to be other reasons for wanting to date you other than you being nice).
Marc is no different. He thinks because he once manipulated Claudia into telling him she loves him that he deserves it constantly – ignoring the fact that HE IS IN A TIME LOOP. He remembers her, but she doesn’t remember him. EVERY DAY. He refuses to accept that she doesn’t remember professing her love for him, that he knows everything about her but she hasn’t had the chance to get to know him yet, even if to him he has. As Marc professes his undying love for Claudia, she tries to explain to him that by ‘practising’ each moment on her to get the right response is manipulative and downright creepy. Marc refuses to understand that him time with her in the time loop is the equivalent of watching her, peeping through her windows, and stalking her without her knowledge. Sure he might get to know her routine, her little quirks, but he doesn’t know her fully because she doesn’t know him.
As Marc comes to realise that today’s date needs to be chalked up to a ‘failure’ day and that he can simply reset the timeline and do it all over again, this is where things start getting even darker. He is made it very clear that he can do anything he wants because he has already done everything he wants. He taunts Claudia, saying she isn’t real, and that he can do anything to her and there is nothing she can do about it. She will forget all about it and he will use all of his same manipulative techniques on her again to get the outcome he wants.
This is when the threat level gets higher, and the real horror sinks in. Marc has simply gone completely mad from having been living the same day for years (and yeah, you would be too!) and is on a high and mighty “I’m a nice guy so I demand you take my penis” train. His threat level escalates as it becomes very clear what his intentions are for Claudia – he will have his way with her and then reset the whole thing and do it again.
And it is this – this thinking that Marc deserves Claudia; this intent to take what he wants from her because he already had it on another day; this idealisation that there are no repercussions for him – this is what is highlighted as true horror. And it is. Any woman in the world who has ever worried about walking down a dark alleyway, puts their keys between their fingers to fend off attackers, and covered their drinks constantly live in fear of this. We are told to, expected to, because even the ‘nice guy’ can use their gender against us.
This has been the feature for the recent thriller movie Promising Young Woman, in which Carey Mulligan seeks to call out the self-proclaimed ‘nice guys’ for still being the predators that the male gender has been come to known for. It’s not surprising that this type of patriarchal behaviour has brought out new feminist thriller and horror movies in recent years – it’s a reminder that the narrative needs to change.
The Twilight Zone’s ‘Try, Try Again’ is a brilliant discussion on this. Well-acted, explained, and still a classic Twilight Zone twist, ‘Try, Try Again’ is what true horrors are actually made of.