Horror is one of the most underappreciated genres in film. Up until the 1960s, it was difficult to find a horror film that didn’t fall under the ‘B-Movies’ category, as it was a long time before anyone took them seriously.
That prejudice remains today. Although this was a major trend in recent years, many find it difficult to see past its sensationalism for violence and the grotesque. Yet it is capable of making you think; what are you really afraid of?
The Horror genre is in the middle, or at least on the verge of peaking in quality and popularity.
And I’m conflicted.
I am loving the subversion the genre is facing; moving away from the sensationalised terror and looking inwardly for their ‘monsters’. However, horror has a unique quality in that it thrives when we are in times of crisis.
Which shouldn’t be all that surprising. When the world is already frightened of something very real, why would you look elsewhere for ‘monster’ inspiration? A possible Third World War isn’t the only thing looming over the genre. It’s everything. The rise in awareness of mental health, sexual health, global politics, and the increasing visibility of war situations, thanks to social media.
The horror is right there at the touch of a button and we can expose ourselves as little or as much as we want. I’m suddenly reminded of a scene in Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine, where he notes the difference in the media channels and attitude between Canada and the United States towards gun violence. The US has constant reports of murders and accidental shootings, while Canada reports new speed bumps. It’s a moment where he realises that the citizens of Canada aren’t frightened because they aren’t conditioned to be.
So this isn’t a new observation. Although social media wonderfully allows us access to other parts of the world, we get the good and bad. At current, people can’t help but focus on the bad, allowing fear to manifest and create further divisions between cultures on a mass scale.
Silver lining? At least it inspires and produces some incredible films.
It’s something in between being consistently told the horrors of the world and ignoring them completely. Indie horrors have been creating ‘monsters’ and situations that are relatable, and are conditioning us to consider our actions when we are fearful.
We’ve all done it: shouted at the screen, telling the characters who can’t hear us to not go upstairs or to never split up, because we know that’s how you die. But there’s also behavioural cues. When they being to become distrustful, paranoid and begin take their fear out on others, putting themselves ahead of everyone else; that’s when their hope for survival diminishes completely.
And we know this. So why haven’t we applied it in our everyday lives?
With the tagline ‘Fear turns men into monsters’, this message couldn’t ring more strongly than in Trey Edward Schults’ It Comes at Night.
The film follows two families that seek refuge together in the woods, as a highly infectious illness has taken over the outside world. However, their cohabitation can only last so long before paranoia and self-preservation creep in and take over. Joel Edgerton is easily the standout performance as the patriarchal figure. He completely dominates the screen and carries the conflicting energy that defines the film. The overall performance has some little remnants of Jack Torrance; a welcome nod to the slow-burners that preceded it.
As is becoming the trend within the genre, it’s not what you expect. When the trailer dropped there was a tonne of hype around it possibly becoming the most terrifying output this year. But it is slow-moving, painfully tense and excruciatingly imaginable.
When we go to see a horror, we expect thrills. We expect excitement. We expect to be afraid to the point that we will we have to watch through our fingers. It’s a love/hate relationship that’s exhilarating.
For some, if a horror doesn’t hit those notes, they may leave the theatre feeling disappointed. But for me, it just gets more horrifying as the days go on. And I cannot stop thinking about the ending.
So what defines a horror?
Is it the former? Where you’re invested for 90 minutes as characters are picked off periodically, and then forget about it because it’s a situation you don’t have to worry about?
Or is it the latter? Where it doesn’t necessarily give you the thrill you were seeking but cannot help associate it to the world that surrounds you?
Both work. But really, which do you think is more effective?
It Comes at Night is in cinemas now.
Recommended viewing: The Babadook, Under the Shadow, It Follows, Let the Right One In, Get Out, Raw, Pan’s Labyrinth