At the very end of Mimi Cave’s millennial cannibal rampage Fresh, Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs) attacks Ann (Charlotte Le Bon) with a shovel, ending Ann’s family business of kidnapping young women and selling their body parts to wealthy fetishists. “I asked you for help,” Mollie says to Ann as she swings the shovel and shrinks Ann’s face into something red and squishy, ”Bitches like you are the damn problem.”
I groaned. Not because of the blood – this was a horror movie and I’m a horror movie fan – but because of the tongue-in-cheek obviousness of the line. Yes, women complicit with bad men are partly the problem. But the line felt like political social media babble, not a hot pronouncement from someone fighting for their lives.
Fresh, with its bizarre dance breaks, genuinely chilling premise and fantastic lead by Sebastian Stan, is a well-executed and entertaining film. Still this moment reflected a trait present in many other contemporary horror films – a tendency not to let subtext go, well, caption, and instead spell out every key motivating idea and underscore its relation to the real world. This tendency has made some recent horror movies a little less fun and a lot less scary.
Mariama Diallos master is like Freshanother solid film let down by its own didactics. master, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video last month, is more atmospheric than gory and is about a gritty and gothic Yale-inspired university where two black women, a student and a professor (Zoe Renee and Regina Hall respectively), are married by a haunted by the spirit that lurks within its ivy-covered walls. It’s in the Jordan Peele-inspired series of works that use supernatural horrors to underscore the real horrors of racism, and so on candy man and lovecraft country, manages to both exaggerate and underestimate the nightmares of life under white supremacy. In one scene, a fellow white woman compliments Hall’s character on her recent promotion by saying, “Shall we call her Barack?” Another eye roll.
Then there’s the new Ti West film X, a homage to the golden horror age of the 70’s of porn. x
That’s not to say that horror movies shouldn’t contain commentary. In fact, the great thing about this genre is that it’s always been packed with social messages. In past decades this commentary has often been regressive, taking the form of virginal “last girls‘ and quickly sent black characters. In recent years, the boom in so-called “prestige horror” has waned with many of these more regressive tropes, giving the redheaded stepchild of film genres a new lease of life as more diverse creators take the lead behind the camera. The thematic content of the average horror film has gotten much richer – but film messages are still often delivered in a clunky style.
Upon its release in 2017, Peele’s Go out was rightly considered one of the best scary movies of all time, and the film (along with its Best Picture nomination) helped kickstart the prestige horror trend. However, the formula for some of the following ham-fisted horror movies can be traced back to at least 2014 the babadook, which tells the story of a widow struggling to raise her son and fight off the eponymous creepy creature, a mysterious entity from one of his children’s books. The Babadook found a second (and in my opinion far more fruitful) life as a digital gay icon, but in the film itself the monster is a brutal symbol of grief. At the end of the film, the widow locks the babadook in the basement, feeding it worms but keeping it largely under control. The film combined loudly telegraphed and not particularly profound social observations – grief is scary, it will never go away, it will eventually become manageable – with not particularly profound horror filmmaking. It’s a combination that has dominated over the years since.
Horror isn’t the only form of entertainment prone to didactics these days. In a recent interview Abbott Elementary School Creator Quinta Brunson noted that part of the hit series’ appeal lies in the fact that it doesn’t “sound like a Twitter timeline,” like her told that New York Times. “People were tired of seeing their Twitter come back to them through their viewing. A lot of shows started with it. But people still want stories.” The show, which is about an underfunded, mostly black elementary school, contains content that is inherently political. Through a character- and story-driven approach, the show artfully and respectfully illustrates these themes, yet without relying on overt writing.
What is open, however, is allegorical horror especially challenging because the essence of fear is the unknown. When movies speak absolutely everything, there is little room for doubt and fear. Paradoxically, these movies can make real-life horrors seem less scary than they actually are. Racism becomes a haunted house from which a hero can escape, violent misogyny is no match for a shovel. In real life, these sins are not so easily confronted or conquered.
Luckily, there are still plenty of newer scary movies that either refuse to be interpreted in an obvious way, or at least aren’t too clumsy about it. Julia Ducournaus titaniuma French body horror spellbinder about a psychopathic young serial killer who gets away by making it with motor vehicles is full of family themes but doesn’t put any obvious dialogue in its characters’ mouths to communicate them.
Then there’s one of my favorite films of the last decade, Ari Aster’s Hereditary, which is full of ideas about motherhood and mental illness. In a now famous monologue Toni Collette’‘s character confronts her son after a life-changing family tragedy. “All I do is worry and enslave you and defend you,” she roars, “and all I get back is that damn face on your face!” Her anger and sadness are almost incoherent— her character is a person speaking to another person, not the physical embodiment of a weighty subject addressed to an audience. It’s all scary as hell.
https://jezebel.com/listen-up-horror-movies-you-don-t-have-to-spell-every-1848756959 You don’t have to spell everything