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“The Final Trope” questions classic horror film cliches

Low lighting, blood stains and stereotypes ― oh my! As the spooky season comes to an end and Halloween candy on store shelves are replaced with holiday lights and stocking stuffers, horror still persists in The Hokin Project Gallery at the Columbia College Chicago, 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building.

Curated by senior cinema and television major Owen Rodriguez, “The Final Trope” exhibit, which will be featured until Dec. 10, explores the five cliche characters most commonly found in horror films ― the minority, the jock, the cheerleader, the scholar and the final girl, or the girl who makes it to the end of the movie.

“Originally it was a screenplay I was working on but I knew it was something much bigger than that,” Rodriguez said. “I took an exhibition management class, and I pitched it to my class and my instructor, Bob Blandford loved the idea and said, ‘We should turn this into an exhibit.'”

After developing his idea more, Rodriguez said he was certain he wanted to integrate film into a curatorial space.

Rodriguez, who said he identifies most with the minority characters, had a difficult time making a personal connection with horror films he grew up with. He said it wasn’t until he saw the movie “Get Out,” which focuses on race in America as a theme, that he was able to relate to a horror film. 

The interactive exhibit is comprised of five different rooms, each representing one of the cliche characters. In each of the rooms, a segment from a short film shot in the exhibition will play showing how each character dies.

Columbia College Chicago students and gallery patrons Isabella Eliopulos and Julia Harrold watch clips from a student horror film directed by Jeff Sweeney. (Photo by Julia Janiszewski).

“The basic plot is that in the mid 1980’s, a group of five teenagers at a summer camp go up and check into cabin 13, the haunted cabin,” Jeffrey Sweeney, director of the exhibit’s film and senior cinema and television major said.

Victoria Brazzale, assistant curator and 2018 business and entrepreneurship alumna, said with all the scares in the exhibit, the cultural message may be the most terrifying one.

“You learn, in its most basic sense, what society does and doesn’t value,” Brazzale said. “There is a reason the, often lone, minority character dies first. There is a reason that women are often graphically slaughtered on screen. I hope people are able to look at this uncomfortable truth and see past the smoke and mirror of blood and guts. The point of this exhibition is to make you take a hard look at the subtle messages sent to us through the media we consume.”

Although the exhibit’s purpose isn’t inherently to expose the tropes, Rodriguez hopes it brings awareness.

“I would like people to analyze movies a little bit more instead of taking it for face value,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not saying you should be critical and every movie has to have this big message, but it’s important to understand and realize you do have a responsibility as an artist.”

Although watching a film and attending a museum are traditionally conflicting ideas, the two ideas come together in “The Final Trope” to create a cohesive quality, project director and business and entrepreneurship graduate student Rana Liu said.

“In galleries you usually find items, you reach out to artists, you put them on the walls and it’s great,” Liu said. “The difference in this project is that there were two parts to it. The first part was making sure we had a film set that worked because we had the filming component. The second part was that we had to make sure the film set worked as an exhibit.”

Liu said she also believes the exhibit functions beyond entertainment purposes and can also be educational.

“We are looking at stereotypes in horror movies, making and seeing the cultural backgrounds and understanding why these stereotypes are in movies ― and why specifically in horror movies,” Liu said. “It’s because everything is amplified, you know you’re put in these extreme scenarios, that it’s easier to analyze cultural stereotypes through the tropes in these movies.”

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