Mummy Issues

The Mummy promo poster

This is a post-modern monster movie going back to its roots.

It is utter trash, but I loved it. I was very sceptical of this remake. But I was won over as soon as I saw the trailer. I love its look, its style and aesthetic.

It’s got a good pace and can be quite thrilling with a lot of shocks and pure, shameless Hammer-style horror. This is a post-modern monster movie going back to its roots.

Scroll down for a close reading.

It’s also funny, even for Cruise. He delivers some cutting one-liners as the hero Nick and the repartee with the (mortal) female lead – archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) – is a welcome comic distraction. It also proves that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously either. The filmmakers know what this is and they own it. I think that’s why it fell flat with most critics as they expected far too much from it. Take it for what it is: A fairly standard retelling of a classic monster movie. This is a film that knows its audience, but if only they’d give it a chance…

The sets are wonderfully intricate, reminiscent of classic horror movies, complemented by impressive special effects, particularly the gruesome scenes with hordes of undead and the possessed creepy-crawlies.

The mummy sarcophagus

Don’t expect camels and pyramids.

Nonetheless, it is a departure from the sand and swashbuckling Brendan Fraser franchise. But that was hinted from the offset as the first teasers put any doubts to rest with its very different aesthetic. There are no pyramids or camels, in fact, very little of the action even takes place in Egypt.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of respect for the original trilogy (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor). The image of the iconic sandstorm headed by Imhotep’s gaping maw is reused and transposed onto the streets of London. In fact, there is one subtler scene where Jenny is trying to escape and uses a large tome to knock out a guard. As she flees, the camera lingers just long enough for the eagle-eyed viewer to notice it was the Book of the Dead she wielded.

The mummy's gaping maw

Look familiar?

Set mostly in London, the city looks like something straight out of Penny Dreadful, with narrow cobbled streets veiled in fog, and infested with rats. All the classic horror cliches we secretly crave.

The film’s female incarnation of the mummy – the exotic beauty that is Princess Ahmanet – is thoroughly evil (see Unwrapped below), whereas at least Imhotep from the original trilogy did what he did for love.

Played by the enchanting Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: Secret Service), she is much more menacing than Imhotep. She gets into Nick’s mind, warping the narrative and at times making it more psychological-thriller than horror.

Russell Crowe gets to show off his full range as an actor playing the enigmatic Dr Jekyll who runs a secret society that hunts monsters, while trying to battle a monster of his own (Spoilers: It’s Mr Hyde).

His headquarters beneath the Natural History Museum are reminiscent of Hellboy/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, teasing the viewer with nuggets of what is to come, establishing solid foundations for the Dark Universe franchise. I cannot wait.

Turn ons

  • Princess Ahmanet. She’ll invade your nightmares and your fantasies.
  • Tom Cruise pretending he’s still got it.
  • The opulent Ancient Egypt scenes.

Turn offs

  • The opening scenes are somewhat confused with backstories that are poorly woven into the main narrative.
  • Cruise’s really irritating and unnecessary sidekick who becomes a ghost for some reason.
  • The complete lack of respect for our historic sites, national forests, or NHS property.

 


Unwrapped: A close reading of The Mummy

The Mummy is yet another horror based on male rape anxiety. There I said it. Substitute the dagger of Set for a strap-on and it will all make perfect sense. If you are unfamiliar with this theory, read the Alien study by David McIntee titled Beautiful Monsters (other theorists have made similar readings of Ridley Scott’s Alien universe).

Many of the horror classics that send shivers down the spine play on this inherent anxiety around sexual violence. And rightly so, it is horrific and scary. But in this case, it is essentially role reversal, dethroning the man and plunging him headfirst into some of the terrible realities that face women across the world every day – for the most part, perpetrated by men. For both sexes, this is an intrinsically uncomfortable thing to have to confront. Yet this was a film made by men, for men (cis-heterosexual that is).

The princess summoning sand

Hollywood could think of nothing scarier than an independent woman.

The villain: A sexually dominant princess, intent on plunging her overtly phallic dagger into her destined victim – in this case our all-American hero Tom Cruise.

The Egyptian temptress mounts her chosen one and physically drains the life from men she kisses, then resurrects them as her slaves. She relies as much on her guile and seduction as she does her supernatural powers. The only woman she kills, she drowns, leaving the body intact and unspoiled – a mark of mutual respect perhaps?

Our villainess is finally put back in her place by Cruise after he forces a kiss upon her (i.e. sexually dominates her).

Hollywood could think of nothing scarier to the male hegemonic order than an independent woman. Especially a Middle-Eastern woman, and one empowered by her faith rather than oppressed by it.

In fact, the choice of Set (over the more familiar Anubis) as the god of the dead is an interesting one. In Egyptian mythology, Set features in one of the more bizarre origin stories, where he attempts to humiliate his nephew Horus by penetrating him.

As for Princess Ahmanet, she kills her father and infant brother in the pursuit of power, rejecting her role as the doting daughter and her duty to motherhood.

The only thing that can subdue her is mercury, a toxic liquid metal with the power to fight evil spirits, with a viscous and semen-like quality to it – administered of course by an all-male, all-powerful secret society.

Her role as the sexually dominant female and the threat that poses to the male order is an image that resonates throughout ancient mythology, including the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew myth of Adam’s first wife, Lilith, who refused to submit to him. Modern day critics relate this to suppressed desire and use it to demonstrate the fragility of masculinity. This particular brand of monster movie is its contemporary incarnation. It is a primal fear that, despite how far we’ve come as a society, still cuts the viewer all too close to the bone.

 

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