Phobia Philms: ‘I Am Legend’

i_am_legend_teaserIn “Phobia Philms,” I plan on reviewing and recommending scary movies based on real phobias, of which there is no shortage of, specifically what makes them scary and how they represent our anxieties. 

Previous Film: Enemy

SPOILERS for I Am Legend, the movie. 

Monophobia – the fear of being alone

I Am Legend, is not a good movie, and one of the biggest reasons for that is due to how far it veers from the source material, the original last man on Earth tale written by Richard Matheson (and one of my favorites). It moves from the suburbs of Los Angeles with a mundane protagonist who had a mundane life prior to the apocalyptic event to a military scientists driving a sports car in the heart of New York City. It is classic blockbuster over-compensating. I have always wanted to write about it though because I think Will Smith, in key scenes, gives a really strong performance.

It should be said that Smith is not alone for a good portion of the movie. He is followed around by his dog, Sam, who he treats as if he is a real person. He talks to her, having full conversations, which we might all be guilty of doing at some point to a friendly dog, but Smith takes it one step further replying to lines of dialog that the dog never gives him. Smith performs this with a sense of irony, like an attempt to keep himself sane. I feel like that might be the worst part about being alone. How long could you go without hearing your own voice when you don’t have anyone to interact with? Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball, Will Smith talks to his dog. As an extension of this, Smith has placed a few mannequins around his neighborhood so that he can roleplay during the day (when the monsters are trapped in the shadows). It is a fine line between trying to keep your sanity and the wholesale loss of it.

This reaches an explosive climax when he sees one of the video store mannequins, affectionately named “Fred,” in a spot where he did not place him. Smith stops the car jarringly, looking into his dashboard, passed it really, with quivering lips and eyes welling up. For a second, he believes Fred is alive, and he finally has a companion. He then gets angry when he realizes that can’t be true and decides to start yelling at it. “If you’re alive Fred, you better tell me.” It is a little humorous, but Smith is completely unhinged at this moment. Lost, depressed, and angry that those other emotions are not finding any sort of closure.

Of course, Fred was not alive. The monsters used him as bait to trap Smith, but only succeeded in infecting Sam, taking away Smith’s last bastion of sanity. In a heartbreaking scene (that is kind of ruined by CGI), Sam turns ferocious while being hugged by Smith, and a weeping Smith is forced to turn his hug into a death grip snapping Sam’s neck. Smith, who is holding back tears in every powerful moment in this movie, talks to the attractive female mannequin he placed near the adult film section in the video store. His intention is to flirt an go back to pretending to be normal again. He immediately loses it though, begging the mannequin to talk, holding back tears. It totally slays me.

It is so depressing that this movie isn’t good. The empty New York is jarring and convincing, but then they fill it with these shitty CGI creatures that can’t figure out if they want to be zombies, vampires, or something else. I keep coming back to it every once in awhile though, not because I am a glutton for punishment, but because Will Smith’s performance is so mesmerizing. It tries so hard to be superficially frightening, it never sees the key to be genuinely frightening right in front of them. A character with a real arc and an actor that is producing empathy from the audience.

Having relationships is one of the many things that we take for granted. People are social creatures, and it is hard to go anywhere in the world without seeing or talking to another person. We directly affect each other’s lives every time we leave the house, and sometimes we probably wish we could go one day without it. But the world doesn’t go anywhere when we try to hide from it. It will always be there when you want to interact with it again. When the world hides from us, like it does to Smith, when it seems like you may never see another person again, you would go to great lengths just to hear someone else’s voice. Even beg an inanimate object. 

Next time: ScarJo enters the abyss