This is not a genre, but it is an apt descriptor for films that have a concept based on paranormal phenomena or events. According to Wikipedia, the term “paranormal” is used to describe “phenomena described in popular culture, folklore and other non-scientific bodies of knowledge, whose existence within these contexts is described to lie beyond normal experience or scientific explanation.” Examples of such phenomena include “ghosts, extraterrestrial life, unidentified flying objects, psychic abilities or extrasensory perception and cryptids.”
The movies themselves come from several different genres. Horror (think “Paranormal Activity” and its sequels) and science fiction films (think “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“) are probably overrepresented in the group. Some are films that claim to be “based on a true story.” Others are overtly documentary in style.
Two Very Different Paranormal Films
ENTER THE VOID (2009)
I don’t remember how I came to add this film to my Netflix watchlist, but it likely came from a reference to the film in a blog or podcast that I follow. Written and directed by Gaspar Noé, it stars Nathaniel Brown as Oscar, an American living in Tokyo who finds himself dealing psychedelic drugs after becoming a junkie himself.
His friend Alex (Cyril Roy) warns him about the dangers of this path. As Oscar is preoccupied with memories a traumatic car crash that killed his parents and orphaned him and his sister when they were children, Alex recommends that he study the Tibetan Book of the Dead to learn about the Tibetan Buddhist view of afterlife and thus have a better perspective on his life experience. Oscar makes enough money to bring his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) from the U.S. to live with him, but she ends up becoming a dancer in a topless night club, Sex Money Power, where she becomes involved with the owner.
When Oscar’s friend Victor (Olly Alexander) betrays him to the police in a bar known as the Void, Oscar’s reaction leads to his death by police-involved shooting. In an experience similar to Alex’s description of the Tibetan Book of the Dead’s teachings, his disembodied mind/spirit embarks on a journey through Tokyo, during which he reviews the events of his life, then sees the aftermath of his actions and learns whether or reincarnation is a reality.
Beginning with its “crazy” psychedelic opening credits, this film is edgy on just about all fronts, but it is always appropriate to the subject at hand. Although Tokyo by itself is surreal enough for many Westerners, the footage after Oscar’s death is much more so, drawing on experimental cinema and the experiences found in drug trips. Transitions between scenes in this portion of the film are made via psychedelic imagery based on lights and colors. Some of the events that the disembodied Oscar witnesses are quite graphic, including repeated depictions of a horrific car accident, a post-abortion scene that focuses on the aborted fetus and another scene that depicts vaginal intercourse from the point-of-view of the cervix. Thus, there are some possible triggers that some viewers might want to avoid. All of these scenes are artfully done and are integral to the story and themes of the film.
“Enter the Void” did well on the festival circuit. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes (2009) and won at the Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival (2009) and at the Neuchâtel International Fantasy Film Festival (2010).
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
Fellow movie blogger Jonny Numb (who blogs at NUMBVIEWS and is also the co-host (with Billy Crash) of the excellent horror podcast The Last Knock) recommended that I check out this film after reading my review of
“The Scribbler” “Predestination.” “Beyond the Black Rainbow” was the debut feature film of Panos Kosmatos, a Vancouver-based writer-director and the son of director George P. Cosmatos. It tells the story of Elena (Eva Bourne), a young woman with psychic powers who has been imprisoned since birth in the Arboria Institute, an elite, futuristic-appearing, residential psychological treatment facility founded by Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands). Her therapist, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), appears to be obsessed with her. She is not able to escape due to pyramid-shaped machine that neutralizes her psi abilities. She does not know her history or that of Arboria and Nyle, who have much darker and grandiose intentions than merely providing alternative psychological therapies. As a result of Arboria’s life work, neither Elena nor Nyle are what they seem to be — and neither is the Arboria Institute — as Elena finds out when her opportunity to escape arrives.
While full of plot holes that leave it prone to dropping in plot devices and sci-fi and horror tropes, then explaining them later (or not), this film is clever and visually appealing. Moreover, it contains one of the better evil duos I have watched recently, namely Arboria and Nyle. Nyle’s transformation in the third act is quite impressive. There are also a couple of creatures (one of which is called a Sentionaut) that are fairly cool. I can’t tell you about the other one — it would be a spoiler. Finally, the film’s ending is a bit disappointing after the buildup to the its climax, but it does introduce some humor in the form of a Mexican DJ and a couple of metalhead stoners who have the misfortune to cross paths with Elena and Nyle.
For More Paranormal Films
Check out the following lists:
- Best Horror Movies, Supernatural & Paranormal by sarahnabokov on IMDb
- Dread Central’s Top 9 Films Based on Supernatural True Events
- List of All Supernatural Movies on Ranker