Is Spencer the Ultimate Horror Movie?


In Cinderella, a flutter of warblers coo and bustle around our titular heroine. She rubs shoulders with mice and woodland creatures, which doesn’t seem to sound any alarm bells for sanity. It is soft! It’s imaginary, invented, sprinkled with pixie dust.

Alas, it turns out that a polite conversation with rodents and warm-blooded feathered vertebrates is less charming to real-world royals over Christmas, when the paparazzi swarmed like vultures just outside. outside Queen Sandringham’s estate and that our princess is locked away not only in the castle. , but in the prison of his own mind.

It is Spencer, director Pablo Larraín’s new take on Princess Diana, with Kristen Stewart. Larraín presents it as a fable, and it delivers, avoiding the joyful animated permutations of the genre and the singing voices in favor of the tropes of the Gothic novel. In this tale, our princess has no friends other than a few privileged staff and a pheasant or two. She does not dream of a prince to save her, but rather has visions of an executed queen, who has made a habit of haunting her bedroom. Birds in Spencer do not hum; the first one seen in the film’s opening scene is dead – roadkill.

Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in Spencer.

Courtesy neon

Thus begins a prolonged waking nightmare in which Diana is trapped, watched, scrutinized and stared at. And while the fictionalized depictions of her (see: The crown) tend to dramatize the most tragic elements of his life, here the effect is different – crossed with unease and a few moments of real horror. Palace employees sew the curtains for her, lest she undress in front of the windows. Diana tears her skin with a pair of wire cutters and explores the weird, boarded up house she grew up in after dark. She puts her paw on his neck during a scary dinner, as if she were suffocating. In a Freudian twist, she tears off the pearl necklace Prince Charles gave her and her mistress Camilla Parker Bowles, lets the gumball-sized marbles drop into her soup and puts them in her mouth, crunchy strong while his aperitif flows to him. chin. His beloved dresser is sent back into exile in London; every time she turns around the corner, one of the queen’s majors seems to come out of nowhere and watch her. Her guardians think she’s insane, an accusation made in every pop culture portrayal we’ve had of her over the past few decades.

Most contest the request, stressing its innocence. Spencer reverses the trend; her version of Diana sees ghosts, throws herself down the stairs, barricades herself in bathrooms, becomes obsessed with a scarecrow, and begins dressing her in her own clothes. Spencer‘s Diana asks: who wouldn’t go a little crazy under these circumstances?

For women, it’s horror at the root, says Jim Hansen, associate professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and author of the forthcoming book The impossible demand of Hitchcock cinema. “There are a lot of horror stories about paranoid men,” Hansen says. “But the kind of thing that’s almost exclusive to the female protagonist is the ‘losing your mind’ narrative. Confined women are one of the greatest conventions of these works; women feel trapped inside. He lists the stories that exemplified the form—Jane Eyre, with his madwoman in the attic, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Yellow wallpaper, in which a husband locks his wife in an upstairs bedroom while she suffers from postpartum depression. “In each of these stories,” Hansen adds, “it’s the structural boundaries of the world that drive women crazy. As Larrain said recently CGV, “Some things that are an illusion – extensions of memory or mental distress – can be considered psychological terror. And I’m not saying it isn’t.

The new cinema Spencer You could say he watches the life of Princess Diana (played by Kristen Stewart) with horror film sensibility.


Diana was not a disadvantaged prisoner; people’s desperation for a photo of her led to her death. But few women were ever going to encounter more bizarre structural limitations than she.

“She was a normal human being”, Spencer writer Steven Knight tells me – conscious aerial quotes around “normal,” as she too was titled and born into tremendous wealth. “But she was a normal human being placed in an all-time insane situation. In the movie, I wrote this line about the fact that there is no future and there is no past; time does not exist in this house. Knight finds her in a temporal prison. She would like to grow, move forward, evolve, but she is forced to live in an environment where all the clocks are stopped.

Yes Spencer– with its claustrophobic camera angles and howling violins – hits viewers like a horror flick, so Knight is happy to have at least communicated one of his deepest beliefs: all those bedtime stories we’ve been on. high, with queens and kings and magic spells? “These are horror stories too.”

Charles and Diana unhappy
The tumultuous relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana helps fuel psychological terror at work in new film Spencer.

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Knight is interested in their dark bellies; what happens after their heroines get their wish. “Here is a princess trapped in a castle,” he said. “There is no doubt that at some point when she made her decision to get involved in this, she wanted to be a princess and she wanted to be in the castle.” Then she’s stuck. What makes her situation even more excruciating is that Diana is so aware of her position. At one point in the disastrous 72 hours in which Spencer unfolds, it compares to a pinned specimen; the insect under the microscope.

The film works with the metaphor. Its cinematographer Claire Mathon writes in an email that she has used a short-throw moving camera in several scenes, trapping Stewart under her lens and at the same time getting closer to her point of view. In other scenes, Mathon used his cameras to accentuate the scale. “It was about accentuating the perspectives and volumes, working on the expressive or even expressionist side of the decor and using a lot of colors,” writes Mathon. “Slow, gradual movements emphasize the tension and almost make the interiors appear to be watching her, sometimes even moving closer to her.”

Diana’s husband and in-laws beg her to step aside in the service of her duties, but she cannot. She doesn’t see herself as an icon or a figurehead and she doesn’t want to be a bug. She wants to be a real person, not a queen to her sons, but their mom; not a husband, but a wife. Hansen, who has written on Gothic, sees his struggle in part as some kind of gender issue. “What’s interesting when we draw this whole arc [of the Gothic] in literature and film, it’s how much women have to accept just to be part of their society, ”he says. Knight agrees: “There is no doubt – of course – that none of this would have happened if she hadn’t been a woman.

“He was a normal human being, but he was a normal human being placed in an insane situation.”

Carmen Maria Machado, columnist of wild women, whose award-winning short story His body and other parts consists of eight deep and dark quasi-fables – it should come as no surprise that someone has finally decided to tell Diana’s tale in the Brothers Grimm’s register. Machado remembers Diana’s death. “I was 11 and I was so fascinated because she was one of the first famous people to die that I knew something about,” she says. She lost interest in adulthood until the podcast You are wrong revisited the Diana saga in a multi-part series. “I was like, ‘Who cares about that rich white woman? But I listened and loved and bonded with it. The idea of ​​this woman who by all accounts was charming, had a sense of humor, and was lively and interesting, but who was also caught up in this relentless parade of horror madness? She felt for Diana. There is something about her that still seems unexplored. She hopes Spencer will find it. “I think there is something about a certain dramatization that creates a trap door to the truth that pure non-fiction cannot allow. The gender element in particular can express something essential about a character.

Spencer does not touch on Diana’s death in Paris nor even foreshadows it much. Instead, it goes against tradition in the third act and gives Diana her escape. Her audience knows her freedom won’t last, but it’s nice to watch her savor it: life after the Gothic novel, deep breaths outside the palace walls.

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