If you don’t like horror movies, your aversion can likely be traced to the abundance of jump-scares in the blockbuster films that you have seen. Although these tropes will probably never disappear from cinema, there is a bright-side. The genre of horror in film is getting farther away from this one dimensional effect of storytelling and closer to the multi-armed force of ideological liberation.
Horror movies have changed in recent years. You may have noticed that they seem quite normal at least in the first quarter or first half of the film. Excepting flicks like Hush — which only play with a fresh premise — those films which have risen to become more than a one time watch have altered the drive of telling a horror story. These movies have become more focused on the construction of mental fear than jumping into immediate action. Families, characters and settings take the brunt of the focus so that the ending climax could be more fulfilling. Directors like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster headline this group of innovative directors with feature films like Get Out and Hereditary, which have become both critically acclaimed and certified cult classics for years to come. But these accolades are simply the result of a fundamental change in the right direction.
These new horror movies are sailing in the direction of the thriller. Rather than being completely absorbed in the spectacle of whatever horrific creature or concept that has been cooked up, the swing of popular releases have shifted towards a concentrated analysis of the consequences of the evil shown.
Important advances in our understanding of society have been made through some of these films. The most notable of course being 2017s Get Out, which provided a complicated commentary on the invasiveness of a racially dominant consciousness. The movie popularized the term “the sunken place,” a fictional brainwashing technique that now stands easily on its own as a cultural reference point for the position of marginalized groups in society. It could be said that the film shocked its audience into the horror that POC experience every day.
Though on the outside we believe that we are always able to detect right from wrong, evil is often treated to be subjective within the scope of the film. Although Aster’s Midsommar is sometimes painfully derivative (see The Wicker Man) the journey exhibits thoughtfulness in its visual aspects. The cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, a constant collaborator with Ari Aster, virtually achieved the technicolor goal of the picture with Panavision DXL2s and polarizer filters to shape the colors across the length of the film. By switching from 35mm lens to 70mm, the audience was able to experience the transition from the closed and cold United States to the seeming psychological freedom and beautiful scale of the village in Sweden. Though softened yet gleaming colors act as sirens, the faces of the villagers still appear pallid through the brightness. You have to detect the sinister element in their faces.
[Horror] movies have become more focused on the construction of mental fear than jumping into immediate action.”
Innovative film techniques like these are what separate the new from the old. Like Alfred Hitchcock, a pioneer of the thriller genre of film, these new storytellers are finding new ways to enter the mind of the audience. While none of these aforementioned directors can reach the magnitude or promise of a career like Hitchcock’s– there is one who shows greater potential than any of the others. Robert Eggers has shown exorbitant technical capability in both The Witch and The Lighthouse, the latter being shot with vintage lenses and an infamously difficult production set. The narrow scope of the story proved to be impressive as well. In both of his films, Eggers found remarkable success in placing his audience within a world that appears to be remarkably authentic.
However, there is an issue that persists with many of these filmmakers. Like Opinion Editor Jack Portman emphasized in last week’s issue, the entertainment company A24 has monopolized movies that look “independent” from the larger industry. This is the largest problem facing this new direction of horror; that it can be provided from A24 only. As a consequence, the aesthetic of all these exciting films blend together in the mind of the audience and suddenly there are no more differences or original techniques. Movies like The Lighthouse and Hereditary become stylistically synonymous, though they could not be more different.
The solution lies in inspiring other filmmakers and companies to think differently than before. They must be experimental rather than pouring their budget into special effects and cheap visual payoffs. Horror movies should not be senseless but full of thought, because the scariest films are those that force you to think about them long after they’re over.