Milly Shapiro in Hereditary (2018)

A Counter-Argument to the Idea That Horror Is Having an Off Year

For me, it's never been better.
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Horror movies are not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people don’t like the scares, the gore, how some titles are ragingly racist and sexist … it all comes down to personal preference.

Me? I love horror films. Some titles I can’t stomach—namely Saw films—but give me a few ghosts, a goblin or two, and a killer Final Girl, and I’m all in. The past couple of years have been amazing to be a horror fan; of my top five titles from 2017, three were horror flicks (Get Out, It Comes at Night, and IT).

This year has been just as good, with Hereditary, A Quiet Place, Halloween, and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. Imagine my surprise to see Vogue run an article saying that this year was a bad year for horror fans.

First off, I’m going to address my least favorite section of the article, which talks about Hill House:

Hill House is well over 10 hours of television and the pacing is agonizingly slow. Horror is about dark delight, yes—but it’s also about intensity, a quality in extremely short supply in Hill House. Here’s what you notice while waiting to see another ghost: the generic nowhere vibe of the locations, the strangely cheap gilt-glow lighting, the mediocre acting. I’ve enjoyed many a low-budget, badly acted horror film, but the good ones race along so quickly that you don’t care.”

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to aim at Hill House: that it has a LOST-esque ending built more on catharsis than answers, and whether or not it was a slap in the face to Jackson’s original work are two perfectly good critiques of the show that I’ve read.

But generic and lacking intensity? That I will dispute.

The show made an episode composed of about five long takes with minimal ghostly apparitions, one of the tensest hours of television I’ve ever seen. The very real trauma the characters have endured, as well as the slowly building tragedy of the flashbacks, keep the tension high. Say what you will about the ambitions falling short at the end, but tension it has in spades.

The author of the piece cites Halloween, Suspiria, and Hereditary as lacking the dark delight necessary for horror. Halloween‘s retro style is a reminder of why the first one worked so well, and the lack of heavy gore made it watchable. Suspiria, which I did not like, is horrifying as it indulges in the film’s darker urges; you don’t have to enjoy the film to recognize that it is an entry into the canon and has aspirations of being high horror art.

Hereditary was bone chilling, there is no other way to put it. It does not delight, but not all horror must engage in that to be horror.

A Quiet Place is written off as a “thriller.” I’m not going to argue about genre splicing, but it was a terrifying film. The gimmick it utilized worked to a chilling degree; there were stories about audience members who felt too afraid to chew popcorn lest the monsters onscreen hear them.

While The Nun is hardly genre prestige, it’s fun like most of the Blumhouse Conjuring offerings, with an excellent Final Girl performance by Tessa Farmiga. If the guy screaming in the row behind me was any indication, the scares landed.

One film unmentioned in the piece is The First Purge, which dances the thriller-horror border, but which I read as profoundly terrifying due to the heavy-handedness of its political subtext. The opening montage of an America divided, and a severely conservative political group seizing power with the NRA’s blessing, chilled me to my core, and some of the imagery scattered throughout the film, such as a horrifying moment in a baseball field, has lingered with me for months after the fact.

The article closes with this paragraph:

“This all the more disappointing because just living through 2018 has felt a bit like a horror film. The counterintuitive thing about scary movies is they can actually make us feel better, not worse, about the horrors in the real world. ‘We go to horror not to be terrified,’ the ace horror director Karyn Kusama (The InvitationXXtold me last year, ‘but to be terrified in a familiar form that allows us just a little bit of control over our experience.’ Control! Wouldn’t that be a nice feeling to have right now? The year isn’t over and maybe a good, cathartic scare is on its way. Otherwise, here’s to the golden age of horror returning in 2019.”

Yes, I would argue that this year is scarier than anything else, but the gamut that horror has run this year—from the #MeToo overtones of Halloween, the American nightmare of The First Purge, the bleakness of generational trauma in Hereditary, and the promise of hope in The Haunting of Hill House—shows that horror is still having a moment more than capable of providing that catharsis.

Box office receipts prove that audiences tend to be drawn to the scarier stuff, and critics are warming more and more to the potential of the genre. Perhaps this year is not your personal favorite for horror films, but to say that, en masse, it’s a bad year for the genre is a bit untrue.

Many of the horror films this year have been about regaining or losing control. Hereditary is a family off the rails, but Laurie Strode takes back what’s hers in Halloween. Suspiria is all about women in power. The First Purge is about regaining power against an oppressor. The Haunting of Hill House is literally about a family trying to regain control of their lives. We are getting more stories of loss, of agency, and reseizing control than ever.

Horror isn’t having a bad year. It’s just not a year filled with the author’s favorite films, and therein lies the difference.

(via Vogue; image: A24)

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Image of Kate Gardner
Kate Gardner
Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.