1. an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.
“The children screamed in horror”
Last year I rediscovered my love of the horror genre, and a number of my selections were older horror classics that despite their creative prowess for their time, in 2015, lacked visual scares. This year, my focus was selecting modern horror films of the last five years that explored various unique settings or film making techniques. As always, not all of the movies I selected were winners, but a number of them were adequate additions that left their unique mark on the horror genre.
As always, Enjoy.
The Witch (2016) ★★ Directed by Robbert Eggers
Every year there’s a horror film that receives praise for breaking new ground within the genre, due to it’s story or the techniques in which a filmmaker utilizes to bring their vision to life. The Witch was that film this year, and while it makes for a good folk tale, I had trouble finding the brilliance in this poorly paced and lacking any real scares horror movie.
Set in 1630, a puritan family who have recently left their plantation, after religious differences between themselves and the church, have settled within the New England wilderness. One day, under the watch of his sister , Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), her new born brother is kidnapped. Tensions begin to rise within the family as to whom is responsible for the boys disappearance, as the encroaching winter and a poor harvest not making things any less stressful.
Considering the film is only an hour and thirty-eight minutes it spends a lot of time attempting to build suspense, but ultimately feels like one extended session of Sunday school. Religion being a main theme of the movie, as it’s the justification for the families leaving the plantation and explains how the family view men and women’s roles within society. While the film may be a thoughtful exploration of the religious beliefs of the puritans, and how those who strayed from their teachings were demonized, I found the long religious lectures and discussions to interferer with the pacing of the film. I’m not adverse to the idea of a film discussing religion, but the heavy handedness of how the film has these discussions left me put off.
It also doesn’t help that The Witch isn’t very scary. It spends a great deal of time building suspense , but that suspense never has a scary payoff. Creepy, sure. But never scary. The atmosphere of the unexplored New England wilderness is a mysterious and unsettling ….setting, but the events unfolding in that setting never really make for genuine scares. I think The Witch would have been a perfect 45 minute short, as the lengthy moments of building suspense would have had a better pay off if the movie could have cut to the final act of the film.
Silent House (2012) ★★ Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Of all the sub-genres of horror, home invasion is at the top of the list of terrifying concepts. The fact that a majority of home invasion films are devoid of any supernatural events or invincible monsters cause viewers to develop a paranoid sense of unease as “this can happen to me!” Silent House capitalizes on this inherent sense of unease and paranoia by employing camera techniques that amplify the sense of dread of the protagonist and viewers.
A young women Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is helping her father and uncle clean up their old family home in hopes of selling it. Though soon after arriving Sarah hears strange footsteps in the supposedly vacant second floor of the house and her father goes to investigate, only to go missing moments later. Now Sarah finds herself trapped in the house, and must find a way out while dodging a mysterious intruder.
I really can’t praise Silent House enough for its technical achievements, such as shooting the film in 12 minute single shot takes, that creates the illusion of putting the audience in her shoes, making Silent House a strangely personal film.The use of camera focusing also adds a sense of claustrophobia, as Sarah is always in center focus, while the edges of the screen are unfocused.Elizabeth Olsen also does a tremendous job of channeling the viewers terror and unease, as she speaks mostly with her body language and emotions.
Unfortunately, Silent House’s plot devolves into an exploitive and messy conclusion, which left me annoyed that this otherwise superb technical achievement in horror was wasted on what, after rate half way mark, quickly reveals to be a subpar horror film.
The Purge: Election Year (2016) ★★ 1/2 Directed by James DeMonaco
While it could be argued that The Purge franchise has evolved into more of action sci-fi genre, at its core it’s horror foundation is still firmly intact. The concept of one day a year where all crime , including murder, is legal and American’s can fulfill their repressed violent urges. As its title implies, The Purge: Election Year, focuses more on the politics revolving around the annual purge, and how it impacts soceity. Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), wants to expose the fact that fanatical NFFA party uses the purge to eliminate minority and less fortunate members of society in an attempt to maintain the illusion that The Purge is both economically and socially beneficial. The protagonist from the previous film, The Purge: Anarchy, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) serves as the senators chief security officer, entrusted in protecting her on purge night. But the NFAA has other plans, enacting an amendment to The purge rules stating that political figures are no longer off limits, in an attempt to eliminate the senator.
The Purge: Election year is pretty heavy handed in its modern day political and social commentary – for instances the entire NFAA organization is run by white upper class evangelicals who utilize white supremacist hit squads to eliminate the anti- Purge resistance which consists of solely African American and other minority groups.
With each Purge film, directorJames DeMonaco builds upon the world with small , seemingly minute details. Such as the concept of tourist murderers, people who travel from overseas to America to participate in The Purge, And it’s these details that make The Purge movies appealing to me, as the world of The Purge is interesting, even if the events unfolding in any given installment in the franchise don’t seem fully formed.
The being said, I think The Purge: Election Year is the best of The Purge Trilogy, so far, in that it continues to investigate the world of the Purge, and there are some interesting political and social parallels to consider, even if the exploration of these parallels is less than subtle.
Not a terrible start to the first full week of Shocktober 2016. For the most part, high concept films that spark an interesting conversation about the current state of modern horror, in terms of a directors vision for a story or the techniques they use.
Next weeks film discussions will include Hush (2015), We are Still Here (2015), and The Conjuring 2 (2016).