Mining Movies for Adventure Inspiration
Like many of you, I take inspiration where I can get it, letting disparate ideas bounce off one another until they gel into some final form or fashion. You often get to find out about what has moved me to undertake various projects in prefatory information in my works, but I’m going to pop the hood, and reveal some of the latest things I’ve been exposed to, and we’ll see if any of it wends its way into my works (or already has done s0). As this is a new endeavor, it may be a bit choppy, but we’ll see what comes of it.
Today, we’re going to focus specifically on three horror movies I’ve seen in the last several days. While I may voice my opinions on the movie, this is not a review so much for entertainment value, as the adaptive or inspirational value said movies might have, and things I look for when watching.
Paranormal Activity 2
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the first movie quite a bit, and it provided an interesting angle from which to approach a one-off session or a con game.
Genre: Modern horror
Set Up: Couple has their first kid–a son–and weird events transpire. A prequel to the events of the second movie was an interesting surprise, as well as interweaving characters from the first story into this second story.
Nutshell Review: Solid follow-up, but shock value diminished as a result of “knowing what’s up” from the first movie. Interesting backstory of the sisters is revealed, resulting in an a-ha moment, but not completely revelatory.
The Takeaway: From a gamer’s perspective, the story lacks–as does the first–from being a reactive tale rather than proactive. The protagonists, if we dare call them that, are unwitting victims for the most part, so we have more of a Fall of the House of Usher vibe than anything else. Even in a story, this can fall flat if we’re not entertained in some way. In this duology, we are flies on the wall, and can experience the voyeuristic thrills and dangers vicariously, but don’t have an emotional investment in the characters.
Lessons to be Learned: The structure has power. It’s always interesting to have another angle on events. For example, if a GM ran a dungeon crawl where the heroes slaughtered some orcs it’d be interesting to see events leading up to the heroes’ attack from the perspective of other heroes or even the orcs. It’d neatly tie in and add some resonance. More apropos is the atmosphere however, and the gradual layering on of horrific elements until a final climactic end. If I wanted to run this as an adventure, some serious retooling would be necessary to allow the characters an opportunity to be proactive and have some slender chance of overcoming the evil onslaught. An interesting twist would be to frame out a story where the heroes, rather than striving to defeat the evil, are working to be the last man standing. I cannot think of a particular rules set to support this approach, but I envision each character, rather than working at cross-purposes, builds up a karmic pool enabling them to better endure each psychic bout of battles. The system needn’t be heedless complex, but has some potentialities.
This movie, while not the cream of the crop of all horror movies, was entertaining and structured more in a traditional style supporting direct conversion.
Genre: Modern horror
Set Up: A social worker has 38 cases when her boss gives her another case (number 39, if you’re counting) and she goes to investigate the home life and detects signs of abuse, rescues the kid, and learns the crazy parents weren’t so crazy after all.
Nutshell Review: The acting was not award worthy, but the characters were interesting, the scenes varied, we have a psychologist, we have multiple asylum visits, and we get some deliciously uncomfortable moments reminiscent of the Hellblazer comic book. I imagine whomever wrote this screenplay was familiar with the Vertigo comic line on some level. Good popcorn flick.
The Takeaway: We have an active protagonist whom we care about (a testimony to the writing and structure) and we get her connections to other folks in her life, so there is no vacuum. She takes chances and she acts much as a character would in an RPG. When she realizes weird stuff is going on, she takes matters into her own hands, and she emerges victorious, but a bit scarred.
Lessons to be Learned: I’m as surprised as you are when I write this would make an excellent adaptation to a Cthulhu adventure if one didn’t wish to preserve it as a more generic horror flick. The evil is attributed to demonic forces, but I think it’d have even more resonance if more Lovecraftian horror underscored everything. As far as characters go, in addition to our social worker, we have a hardened cop, an affable child psychologist, and a few other supporting characters who could be elevated to the status of PCs. A lot of investigation goes on in this story, and the way information is revealed is actually pretty slick. It’s not all huddled over microfiche machines as we see in so many movies these days. Check it out to see other ways to feed information to your gamers if nothing else.
Let Me In
This movie is an adaptation of the foreign flick, Let the Right One In, and I’m happy to report, as tentative as I was about seeing this adaptation, I think it remained true to the thematic qualities of the first movie, while making it more approachable to an American audience.
Genre: Modern horror
Set Up: A lonely, voyeuristic boy notes a new girl moves into his apartment complex. It’s set in the eighties and deftly lets you know its in the eighties throughout the show.
Nutshell Review: This movie was solid all around, but overall rather subdued and depressing, and punctuated with hard-edged atrocities and violence. This is a creeping horror. One which resonates in your soul as you think about the outcome.
The Takeaway: The boy gets wrapped up in the wiles of a vampire girl who is 12, but admits later on she “has been twelve for a long time”. We can either see in the most positive light as a blossoming love story of the opposite polarity of Twilight or, more likely, as the manipulations of an old entity looking for a new lackey. The boy is damaged goods and the girl manages to harden him and nurture him in just the right balance where, at the end of our tale, the gentle boy is not so gentle and we suspect is willing to kill for her, and certainly, die for her if needs be.
Lessons to be Learned: Making this an adventure of any sort is highly unlikely. Isolation is the theme resonating throughout. This does not mean there are not things to mine. If anything, this tale reminds us there are many approaches one can take to running a game. In this instance, there are tender moments and there are violent moments. The pacing is to be admired. The restraint shown the subject matter is illuminating. The screenplay is not squeamish and is not afraid to show shocking horror, nor evisceration, in fact, its presentation, nestled between scenes of odd comedy and fumbling social interactions, is all the more striking for it. See if you can nest scenes together in such a deceptively powerful fashion, and you’re well on your way to making a memorable adventure for your players.
Although watching movies is largely passive, flex your mental muscles the next time you sit down in front of the screen, and see what ideas you come away with.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!