Genre-Bending Direction – When directors mix and match genres

By Rahul Chettiyar | Published 15 May 2020 13:14 IST
Genre-Bending Direction – When directors mix and match genres

Every once in a while we come across a director that creates something totally unique. They do not desire to follow the regular norms of direction. Which is setting up a base mood and tone for the audience. So, they choose to mix and match genres to their will. This process of filmmaking is called genre-bending. Through this, some intend to introduce a completely new genre to the world while others just happen to do it unintentionally while telling their story. The most common form of genre-bending is plainly telling a linear story by mixing up two different genres into one. For instance, in dark or mystery animes, the writers or directors add a hint of comedy into the story. The comedic aspect loosens up the tension in the story. This acts as a stress release by freshening the mind of the audience, before stepping into the darker aspects of the story again. Sometimes these comedic elements act as an illusion to trick the audience into thinking that the story’s eventual ending would not be that serious or dark. This way, the directors induce a shock-factor from the audience. The other way of doing this is introducing more than two genres into the story while also leaving the interpretation of the story or idea up to the audience. Achieving this is extremely difficult. As a director, you do get an appreciation for the unique idea or the concept. However, the end product would not get accepted as a decent art piece and the director gets criticised for having their head in the clouds. However, there are some directors who have achieved this great feat in filmmaking by earning immense respect for their work without being labelled as just some washed-up creator with an inflated ego. Let us take a look at some of these genre-bending directors and how they used genre-bending to tell their stories and initiate a conversation from the audience.

Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder

Ever since the dawn of superhero movies, superheroes have gained popularity amongst the general folk. The very idea of seeing their favourite superhero take on their respective supervillains in a linear storyline was very much appealing to the public. Director Zack Snyder, however, took a different approach to superhero films with his Snyder-Verse. He revolutionized the DC Comics movies industry with a darker and gritty storyline, excellent cinematography and bending genre to his will in order to get his point across. Zack explored superheroes in a unique way by keeping it as realistic and relatable as possible. Zack’s genre-bending style was most apparent in his 2016 movie, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Despite the base plot being a battle between The World’s Finest, Zack wanted to convey a deeper message. To achieve this, he introduced additional genres into the existing superhero genre. Politics and mythology with hints of philosophy.

Zack introduced Superman into a modern-day political environment. This was done by asking the question, “Must there be a Superman?” and building up a controversial topic surrounding the situation. Whether Superman is a good guy or a bad guy, he is an alien at the end of the day. An alien who was adopted into planet Earth. He was a saviour who asked for nothing in return. Is it necessary to make an alien abide by the rules of humanity created by the government of the Earth? Should there be separate laws created around this figure to restrain his decision making and actions? Zack also brought up the idea of Superman turning heel by questioning his morality by constantly making him judge the human race for their actions and for speaking up against him. Batman, on the other hand, was introduced as a vigilante, who relies on ruthless methods to strike fear. Despite being a human first, Batman chooses to hurt his own people in a lethal manner to get his point across and pass his judgement. However, people still accepted his actions. This has an effect on Batman’s ego, as he starts thinking that he is above the law by assigning himself the roles of the judge, jury and executioner.

Batman v Superman
A still from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

In order to incorporate the idea of mythology, Zack introduced three significant characters. Superman the God, Batman the Human and Lex Luthor the Demon. Superman was presented as someone with a higher power who desires to be as human as possible. People worshipped him. He had created his own cult. There were scenes in the movie where people would bow down to him and stretch their arms just to touch and feel a Godly figure. This implication was further fabricated into the audience’s minds by the use of colours and lighting. In Superman’s case, blindingly bright white and a blue coloured tint. However, all Superman wanted was to do the right thing and feel that he belonged to the human race. Batman was presented as an exact opposite of Superman. A human who was blinded by his actions and consequences leading him onto believing that he was a God. Although people did look up to him, they knew that his methods were a bit too extreme. Zack also leaves a lot up to the audience’s interpretation. Most scenes involving Batman has a yellow tint to it. Our interpretation is that the colour yellow is supposed to signify the sun and that Batman was Icarus. The man who flew too close to the sun only to end up falling. This was further solidified in the scene where Batman and Superman stand face to face on the Batmobile with flames blazing with Superman saying, “Next time they shine your light in the sky, don’t go to it. The Bat is Dead.” Throughout the film, Batman chooses to establish his values and righteousness onto humanity. Lex Luthor acts as a man turned demon. Throughout the film, he tries to prove that Superman is a False God. Lex captures Superman’s mother to prove that God indeed does take sides by getting him to fight against a human, Batman. This also highlights the mischievous aspect of a demon, where they create havoc just to entertain themselves. Although the idea of introducing mythology into filmmaking is a bit offbeat, Zack Snyder manages to pull it off convincingly.

Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho

When it comes to genre-bending direction, Bong Joon-ho is in a class of his own. Most of his films start pretty normally before taking a turn for the worst. Usually, the way other films do this is by setting into the horrific parts slowly and methodically. Bong on the other hand just throws it onto the audience's face, inducing a shock factor. He is known for mixing and shifting genres in a way that affects the audience’s judgement and perception of his films. The most common traits of his films are the use of social themes, black comedy, slapstick humour and sudden tone shifts. He incorporates these traits into all of his films regardless of what the base idea is. Whether it is a murder mystery, a political statement or a thriller Bong Joon-ho manages to use his style of direction to differentiate himself from others and earn the title “A Genre of One”.

Bong introduces political and societal norms into his movies quite subtly. He does this through his genius-level intellect in story writing and cinematography. The usual theme that he follows is the class divide in society. He showcases the difference between the rich and poor in a symbolic manner despite the base genre or material being something else. This is most apparent in his Oscar-winning film Parasite and the 2016 thriller, Snowpiercer through cinematography and basic setting. Another subtle use of this symbolism was seen in his dark comedy film, Barking Dogs Never Bite, where it was said that only the rich could afford dogs, subtly in a random casual dialogue. Other than political and social norms, Bong also manages to spark a conversation amongst individuals on the idea of veganism. In his 2017 Action/Adventure film Okja, he kept switching between wholesome moments with the super pig and scenes involving cruelty towards animals. This was done to create a bias within the audience’s mind as to whether it is okay to kill a playful and loving animal, for the sole purpose of consumption. He also sparks the debate of huge companies selling meat from genetically modified animals for consumption by lying to their customers. The idea of genetic mutation or modification was also touched upon in The Host, where he tried to initiate fear with regards to dumping toxic chemicals into natural water bodies. The base genre of the above-mentioned movies is that it is a thriller, adventure or a dark comedy. However, Bong still manages to reflect his idea of the current political climate delicately while keeping the audience intrigued towards the primary plot.

A still from Okja

Bong uses black comedy as a medium to shift tones constantly. As mentioned earlier, doing this allows the director to loosen up the tension a little and then hit the audience harder with the following consequence. Other than using black comedy to achieve this, Bong also uses slapstick humour to initiate laughter. These include action sequences involving dropkicks in his murder mystery films Memories of Murder and Mother. And the scene in Parasite where one of the characters kicks down another character down the stairs. As an audience member, you let out a sudden outburst of laughter. But, 2 seconds later you regret it, seeing the consequence. The character who got kicked down hits their head hard onto a concrete wall and starts oozing out blood. This sort of tone shift makes the audience question their humanity. Was seeing someone getting injured funny? Does laughing at that particular scene make them a bad person? Using these techniques Bong Joon-ho manages to play with the audience’s minds and use them as a guinea pig to quench his thirst for filmmaking.

Hideo Kojima

Hideo Kojima

Soon after Hideo Kojima’s departure from KONAMI, he announced his own videogame company - Kojima Productions. Later on, he announced his first game as an independent creator to be published by Sony Interactive - Death Stranding. When the trailer came out, people were intrigued by the visuals. No one had any idea as to what the game was going to be about or what genre it belonged to. It looked like a mixture of a horror and action game. Long before the creation of Kojima Productions, Kojima was known for his Metal Gear games and the introduction of the stealth genre. This marked an important milestone in the videogame industry. Years later, in 2019, Hideo revealed that his plan with Death Stranding was to invent yet another new genre - Strand Games.

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding provided a completely new experience for gamers worldwide. The idea of introducing multi-player mechanics for fans of single-player games was a step away from the general norms of videogame creation. But, that was not enough for gamers. The gameplay element of Death Stranding was pretty dull and dragging, and it was criticized for it. However, the story elements received a lot of praise. As weird as it sounds, the cutscenes and some parts of the gameplay were the most entertaining aspects of the game. The base gameplay genre for Death stranding was tagged as a walking simulator or a Strand game. Kojima’s ideology with the game was to send out an underlying political message which was that there was a lot of disconnect amongst the human race. The player had to carry cargo from one destination to the other, thereby establishing a connection via strands, which eventually unfolds the story. Other than that, there were occasional boss fights which could be avoided as long as the player was careful with their movements. Avoiding these boss fights involved holding the breath and moving extremely cautiously so as to not alert the BTs. This initiates a feeling of horror and stealth to a certain level.

Death Stranding
A still from Death Stranding

As mentioned earlier, the story was the strongest point in the game. This is not surprising considering that Kojima understands filmmaking to an admirable extent. As he describes himself, “70 percent of my body is made of movies.” Kojima introduces the player into a post-apocalyptic world. This creates a feeling of loneliness and solitude, which is reflected on the player. This further forces the desperate player to connect and interact with people in the game. Despite the base story genre being science fiction, the game also introduces elements of horror and religion throughout. With respect to science fiction, it explores ideas of the big bang explosion, mass-extinction, time-travel and teleportation. With respect to horror, it induces creeping fear within the player by keeping the BTs invisible, with loud and visible footsteps trampling along on wet mud. Along with that, Clifford Unger’s undying skull soldiers also added to an element of fear within the game. Religion-wise the game explores the idea of the afterlife by constantly switching between the world of the living and the dead (in this case, The Beach). Using these genre-bending and creation techniques Hideo Kojima manages to tell a mind-bending tale while also opening up a pathway for a wide array of experimentation with respect to newer forms of gameplay.

Genre-bending is a delicate procedure. Lack of knowledge on the subject could lead to a film being a complete disaster with loose ends and a messy, out of structure storyline. This leads to misinterpretation and confusion amongst the audience. But, under someone with the right amount of experience, attention to detail and vision, genre-bending could do wonders for their storytelling and make their work stand out within the filmmaking industry.

Rahul Chettiyar
Rahul Chettiyar

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