I’ve actually read this story before, and I really like it. On the surface, it’s more eerie than scary, until you peal back the layers a bit. It tricks you into a false sense of comfort because at first the townspeople are so casual. You think it’s just a normal benign story because they act like it’s just another day, like they’re going to any other town hall meeting. Then, they all come together and commit this act of great evil, even the children, with unflinching devotion. You really can’t even picture that being the ending when you first start into it.
Shirley Jackson does a great job of slowly building that tension without giving away too much. It’s a lot like a rollercoaster. Everyone is laughing and joking as they’re sitting down, then they gradually become more nervous as the inevitable drop approaches. The jokes stop, the silence builds, you start to reconsider getting on in the first place, but it’s too late to get off now…
Where this story gets really scary for me is when I think of parallels between this and real life. You can see examples of people today having that unflinching devotion to insane ideas, and even people willing to kill for them. The fact that people can be so utterly manipulated into thinking they’re doing good work by murdering someone is terrifying.
It really makes me appreciate how far science and culture have evolved to push things like this out onto the fringe, instead of this stuff still being a part of our everyday lives. Think of the Salem With trials, as few as 300 years ago we were doing things very similar to this. We can be horrifying in our own ignorance.
The Grim Reaper
The thing I liked most about this story is that you couldn’t really be sure it was an evil force until the very end. I thought it was going to tie back into the Aunt being the killer, and was pleasantly surprised it didn’t. Using today’s horror formula it probably would have. I wish there would have been a little more backstory into the picture though, some reason why it was cursed or evil. But it did make me ask the questions of whether or not her Nephew would have come to kill her had she not purchased it, which is very interesting.
I liked the way they made the Aunt a mystery writer, because it threw me off. It made me think the whole painting story was her invention, and she was using it to get back at her husband. I should’ve known when she called the shat man a boy scout though, that he would end up being the killer. That was a great bit of foreshadowing, making fun of him for being too straight edged. We all know people don’t work like that, everyone has quirks. That was a very strong hint that there was more to him.
I also liked how she likened the situation to her books, and mockingly talked about her nephew saying “you’ve got to believe me.” He kind of unknowingly gave her the opportunity to catch him by saying that. She knew he was full of it, she just didn’t expound on it enough to catch him.
This would be a good story to build into a movie. I would add in some backstory about the Aunt having strange tendencies, carrying out odd rituals and things. Then I would have linked that to her somehow attaching her soul to the picture, so she could always be a part of the house she helped create. Her ghost would have come back as the murderer through the power of the painting to get her revenge.
I would have had the girl try to destroy the picture by burning the house down, and in the rubble, the only thing left standing would the pristine picture. My version would end with the picture being sold to someone else so that the cycle could continue. Also, as I mentioned before, more background into the history of the picture (maybe the artist sold his soul to be able to paint his masterwork, maybe he seduces people into feeding the picture their souls because he feels foolish that he did).