One of my favourite surprises in Film and TV is when the producers successfully pull off a “genre shift”. So, for example, you might start watching what you think is a romantic comedy but somewhere during the narrative the genre of the film shifts to a shoot ’em up action adventure.
The best cinematic example of “genre shift” that I can think of is in a film called “The Descent”. It starts of as an edge of seat drama about a group of girls pot-holing in deep dark caves. We experience the claustrophobia and terror as they become trapped by a rock fall and then try to traverse a bottomless chasm. Then about 45 minutes in the genre shifts to blood soaked creature horror. The first time I watched “The Descent” this change took me completely by surprise.
Doctor Who Hide has such a genre shift. It begins in the 1970s in a spooky rain lashed house. Candles flicker, shadows deepen, and we catch glimpses of the white ghost of a screaming lady. The director uses all the tricks from horror movies such as The Haunting and Paranormal Activity. It is very well done and is genuinely scary and makes the hairs rise on the back of your neck.
It’s a small cast, with the ghost hunting characters of scientist Alex (Dougray Scott) and psychic Emma (Jessica Raine) having room and time to be fleshed out satisfying. They are so obviously in love but unable to declare their devotion. Enter ghost-busters The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and the creepiness becomes intense as they search the gloomy corridors for the troubled spirit.
The genre shift from horror back to traditional Doctor Who science fiction happens when we discover that the ghost is a lady time traveller called Hila trapped in a pocket universe and being stalked by a grotesque but unseen monster. The Doctor discovers this by taking Clara on a whistle-stop tour of the universe from its creation to its destruction (whilst seeing the “ghost” seemingly trapped in history). And this allows for some intense dialog between the Doctor and Clara which deepens the mystery of his new companion, the girl “twice killed”.
There are echoes of reality show “Most Haunted” in Hide, and plenty of references to classic Doctor Who to keep the fans happy. Who spotted the blue crystal from Metebelis Three? And just what did Emma mean in her warning to Clara not to trust the Doctor – because “there’s a sliver of ice in his heart”,
The last genre shift was back to love story as Alex and Emma finally admit their feelings for each other.
But was it necessary to add the last 2 minutes of the story where, having successfully rescued Hila from the monster in the pocket universe, realises that the monster itself is trying to get to the “love of its own life”, a similar monster hiding in the spooky house. Off the Doctor then goes to try to unite the grotesque lovers. I suppose it was meant to be touching humorous – I just found it weakened an otherwise flawless “movie of the week”.
Your turn: Do you agree with my review of Doctor Who Hide? Have you come across any other good movies or TV dramas that pull off an unexpected genre shift. Please share your thoughts. Leave a comment or a link.