Category Archives: Horror Film Analysis

Horror films to the rescue: coping with a trump presidency

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Long ago, much longer than I shall admit to you now, I worked at a tiny, independent video rental shop in the college town of Olympia, Washington. One of my fellow movie geek co-workers had found a list of poorly-translated subtitles from Hong Kong movies, and taped it up by the registers. There was one line that stuck out to me; one line from the litany of grammar snafus that struck me as particularly poetic. That line is:

“How can you use my intestines as a gift?”

That line sums up the magic of this genre for me. Horror reflects our current anxieties and offers us a comforting catharsis. It pulls out our glistening guts and shows us how to read them like tea leaves. In fact, that particular Hong Kong subtitle is what I originally wanted to name this blog. However, I soon realized that Google search engines would end up sending me poor souls seeking solutions to various gastrointestinal maladies.

I’m an American so as you probably know, my country is a festering shit-show right now. Some days are terrifying; each humiliatingly stupid action made by our new administration expedites the normalization of things that were once dystopian fiction. Yet, on other days it feels exhilarating; like every stone is being upended to reveal all the disgusting maggots that ever hid in the wet muck below; sunshine exposing it and burning it all up. Always there is this confusing roller coaster of despair and optimism. At least there are horror films to help us through it. Because who has money or insurance for therapy now, anyway?

The following articles explore some of horror’s latest attempts to find meaning in the fears caused by our current societal climate. Oh, and one is just straight up about the actual climate. Happy gut-gazing.

6 New Cinematic Monsters That Will Emerge in 2017

“Looking back at 2016, a year of potent fears, our art responded with potent films. From the Nazi murderers in Green Room to the invasion thriller of 8 Cloverfield Lane, our films reflected a scarily accurate, if heightened, image of our reality. If Donald Trump’s campaign can find an overlap between their political “message” and the people who watch The Walking Dead, there has to be a truth to the pseudoscience of pop culture anthropology. In this noble pursuit, what monster will scare us the most in 2017?”

The Post-Donald Trump Horror Films Are Going to Be Epic

“As a Mexican filmmaker, Cuarón has made an undeniable political statement by painting illegal immigrants his heroes and white American southerners as the horrifying monster. It’s a shot across the bow of alt-right voters everywhere; it’s also bound to get more than a few of them into the seats.”

 

Karyn Kusama On Making Horror Films and Fighting Evil in the Age of Trump

 

“Horror, almost better than any of the other genres, pits the will to live against the will toward nihilism,” Kusama explained. “I just think that’s worth exploring. I don’t know what is more important, actually, to explore than that very dynamic.”

Jordan Peele explains why his horror movie about racism is what we need in the Trump era

“I’ll say this: The scariest monster in the world is human beings and what we are capable of, especially when we get together. I’m working on these premises about these different social demons. These innately human monsters that have been woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact. Each one of my movies is going to be about one of these different social demons. The first one being “Get Out,” is about race and neglect and marginalization.”

‘Inconvenient Truth’ Sequel Is a Horror Movie for Trump’s America

“One sequence about 40 minutes into the film is particularly alarming. It starts with Gore telling some followers that the fossil fuel industry has spent years trying to convince (and bribe) politicians into ignoring climate change. That’s not news, but the next two scenes are particularly painful now. First, Trump makes an appearance on Fox News, admonishing President Obama for focusing on global warming instead of defeating ISIS. Then, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman meets with Gore to discuss his investigation into Exxon-Mobil and its allegedly fraudulent representation of climate change science going back to the 1970s.”

The Monstrous Power Of Parenthood: Three horror films in the lens of childhood vulnerability

photograph by Nina Levy | http://ninalevy.net/home.html

 

Children arrive on this earth as tiny sponges–mewling and new–completely dependent upon the adults who care for them. Sometimes this works out just fine, but sometimes it does not. Unfortunately, it is during a child’s most formative and developmental years they are the most vulnerable. In their early childhood, the actions, words, and teachings of their caregivers might be confusing and painful, but they have no choice but to hide their pain and confusion, for it must be wrong. This is really the only defense mechanism they have: to turn that blame and shame inward, because they are completely powerless at that point to do anything else. It must be their fault, the adults must be right, because the alternative is utterly overwhelming. They begin to grow up, and absorb information about what is “normal” outside of their family, but this might only further alienate them, for their identity is intrinsically locked into that of their family and now they must hide it. By the time they realize that they have been doing something wrong in the eyes of the world outside their home, they might already feel as guilty as their parents. So they are faced with the choice to either accept that the people who they have trusted, loved, and emulated are monstrous deviants–and thus, they themselves are monstrous deviants–or cling tighter still to the idea that that their parents (and themselves)are persecuted heroes pitted against an ignorant and cruel world.

This is one of the many human conflicts that only the horror genre can adequately reach: childhood vulnerability against the monstrous power of their adult caregivers. We need the nightmarish imagery, the absurd misuse of parental tyranny, the blood and gore, the monsters made flesh, and even the cannibalism in these allegorical films in order to reach the depth of the emotional trauma and childhood bravery that so many children experience. I’m sorry, but no matter how much Meryl Streep you throw in, a human drama flick just can’t get there. Sometimes symbolism is the quickest way to truth.

There are so many horror films that examine the countless doomed facets of the child/parent relationship, but this three-part series, I will focus on just three. First up:

 

A heavy rain dumps upon a small town, where a thin and sickly woman with hand tremors leaves a general store and begins to cough up blood and flail about. She collapses into a flooding ditch and drowns. We are shown the objects that have spilled out of her shopping bag and wonder: what did she plan to do with all that twine?

This haunting film from director Jim Mickle is shot in a wash of gray and rust, and is a delicately different re-imagining of Mexican director Jorge Michael Grau’s 2010 film of the same name.

In perusing the interwebs for reviews and insights on this film, I found many comments drawing a parallel between this film and the horrors of fundamentalist religion. Sure, I see it. However, I found the secret, bizarre fundamentalist religion of the Parkers to also reveal a ripe commentary on the secret and bizarre dynamics of family.

Upon the death of their mother, the children in this family are in varying stages of this secret-home-life quandary. The oldest attempts to accept and adopt, the youngest is still blissfully unaware, and the one in the middle is overcome with the burgeoning awareness of exactly how wrong her family is. With one parent gone, the barrier between the outside and inside world is cracking. The father is strict and demands of his children full allegiance to his macabre doctrine, but like so many flawed and complex parents in real life, he is both terrible and wonderful. He loves them. He takes care of them. He believes he knows and does what is best for them.

–Spoilers! Spoilers!–

A very brief synopsis: 

  • Patriarch Frank grieves terribly for his wife, yet persists in dominating his three children with religious fervor and a devotion to maintaining a macabre family tradition: ritual sacrifice and cannibalism.
  • Her mother dead, the burden of  killing and prepping the main course for the family’s “Lamb’s Day” dinner passes to eldest daughter Iris, who bravely steps into the role of family matriarch, but her younger sister Rose, struggles between loyalty to her family and knowledge that her family is not only abnormal, but hurting people.
  • The two sisters struggle with their relationships to their family and the outside world. The father clings tighter to his bloody tradition while mentally unraveling. The outside world begins to invade and erode the family’s secret world.
  • Upon exposure and the looming threat of loss, the father decides to kill himself and his remaining family. The sisters kill him instead and leave town with their little brother.

Being forced to kill and prep the family’s meal using their mother’s handy-dandy cannibal cookbook forces the two sisters to come to terms with just what their family really is. While younger brother Rory seems totally ignorant of the family’s ritual of sacrifice as anything other than a holiday (I imagine most real-life parents watching call bullshit on that; he’s at least preschool-age), their mother’s death forces the girls to face who they really are and what their family history and mythology requires of them.

Further complicating matters is the torrential downpour causing flooding in and around the town, consequently eroding the ground and unearthing bits and pieces of the family’s secret. The town doctor and medical examiner, Doc Barrow, whose own young daughter has been missing for some years, uncovers evidence in a creek bed that makes him suspect what may have happened to her, and cross-cutting between the scenes of Lamb’s Day prep and the good doctor getting ever closer to learning the truth builds tension as the film progresses. Meanwhile, deputy Anders keeps poking around to see Iris and finds himself drawn into the doctor’s hunt for more evidence, and kind-hearted but nosy neighbor Marge can’t seem to stop snooping around at inopportune times. With the family’s long-held secret on the verge of undoing everything, Frank, who’s own mental condition isn’t on what you might call solid ground, starts to unravel even more.

I think that if you were to take out the cannibalism and instead insert a more common family secret (incest, mental illness, alcoholism), you might find the plot is not so different from the sort of events you’d read in a newspaper:

A family has a closely guarded secret of _______. One parent dies, leaving the rest of the family grieving and struggling even further with maintaining the illusion that _______ is okay. People in the community begin to see that the family is not okay, and either show concern or disgust. Authorities are notified, and begin to close in. With the threat of exposure and loss near, the parent decides to “protect” the family by killing everyone in it (including themselves).

But here is where the cannibalism allegory makes itself a vital component in the redemption of our heroes in this film. The children (the two sisters) do not allow this to happen. As the family sits around the dinner table, dangerously close to eating what they know is poisoned food meant to kill them (yes, the sisters know their father has poisoned the food and yet they almost remain compliant), the sisters kill their father instead. Then they eat him. Then they take their little brother and their mother’s cannibal cookbook and leave town.

Sound harsh? Maybe. But I found the symbolism emotional and compelling. They deny their father’s assumed authority and right to their existence. While he (and their mother) brought them into the world, their lives are their own. They take (in the manner that was taught to them) the sustenance their father has left to give, as well as the legacy of their family secret (the cookbook), and take ownership of their lives. Perhaps they will overcome that family legacy, or perhaps they will perpetuate it–probably a little of both–but it is now theirs.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series where I will look at that 1989 black comedy/horror suburban classic: “Parents” (yes, more cannibalism).

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