As Sharp Objects approaches its final episode, the tension, anxiety, and apprehension is becoming unbearable in a wonderfully captivating way. In episode six, “Cherry”, we learn that underneath the shiny and luscious outside of Wind Gap is a deep, dark pit. This episode confronts the shiny facade of Wind Gap’s domestic life and the angst that lies just beneath the surface.
Episode six opens on three different groups waking up: Camille and Richard, Alan, and Chief Vickery. The two in particular that are in such stark contrast to one another are Alan and Chief Vickery. Alan wakes up on a pullout couch, where Adora has sequestered him. He starts his day alone, glimpsing a pile of vintage porn on the table. Alan is a symbol for hidden household dysfunction; while his wife and home appear perfect, he is pushed to another floor, to a bed that isn’t truly his. Then there is Vickery, who’s waking up sequence is almost exactly the same as in episode four. He has a set routine and a wife that cares for him. His unchanging routine is a breath of stability in a time of utter chaos. It’s a small sequence of events, but it speaks volumes about what happens behind closed doors despite the shiny airs put on to impress others.
“Shit, still in Wind Gap,” Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) mutters as he wakes up in his sweltering hotel room. Yes, Willis, we are still in Wind Gap and we’re now halfway through Sharp Objects. The fourth episode in the series is a kick to the face, addressing sexual assault, sexual tension, and the festering pain of the Preaker-Crellin family.
Adora is still whimpering about her hand, which she cut while trimming her roses. The small flesh wound is now being used as an excuse to have her husband, Alan, cut her breakfast and to cancel her social engagements. This means Camille must go meet Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins) and friends alone. The older women are just as gossip-focused as the rest of the town; No one is safe from their sharp tongues.
Horror films are poignant, cultural commentaries, reflecting our fears back at us. Yes, you may want to sit back, turn on a scary movie, turn off your brain, and just watch giant mutated animals fight each other, but you can’t ignore what they’re saying about their cultural contexts. Take Ishirō Honda’s 1954 classic, Godzilla. At face value, it is a silly movie about a giant lizard stomping on Tokyo while crowds point and scream, “Gojira!” However, it’s more than just an old monster movie — it is a cutting reaction to the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a condemnation of nuclear power. Godzilla is literally awoken by underwater hydrogen bomb testing. But even more, Godzilla’s destruction is reminiscent of these bombings. As he crushes buildings and demolishes cities with his nuclear breath, images of devastated cities are conjured up. Characters in the 1954 film even reference the bombings when discussing their fears of the giant lizard. While these films are weird and wacky, they also serve as a reminder of the atrocities Japan has suffered at the hands of Western society.
The puppetry is ridiculous and writing can be laughable, but there’s no doubting Godzilla’s influence on the monster movie genre. These five films are the best Godzilla movies Criterion has to offer, from their message to outright monster-fighting hilarity.
As episode one ended with Natalie Keene’s death, episode two begins with her funeral. Here, Camille must finally show her face to the whole town in quite a public way, all while trying to report this story. We begin to see Camille battling memories and anxieties, not just associated with her mother, but with returning home to a town full of secrets and whispers. Episode two explores the toxicity and gossip of Wind Gap, the anxieties that arise when coming home and the destructive ways we cope with those anxieties.
As Camille sits at the funeral, Jackie mutters a stream of gossip right into Camille’s ear, pointing out who is who in the family, remarking about Natalie’s brother crying too much, and more. Not even funerals are sacred in this town — in fact, this just throws more fuel on the gossip fire. The gossip only continues at the funeral reception in the Keene home. The whispers are amplified when Camille arrives, making you painfully aware that people are talking about her. It echoes the experience of returning home so well: you enter a crowded house, pretend to smile, but have a heightened sense of awareness as people stare too long or whisper behind their glasses. How does Camille cope? The drink, of course.
Shambling zombies, covered in blood and gore, hungering for human flesh, approaching a small group of hopeless survivors – we’ve seen it in The Walking Dead, iZombie, World War Z, Resident Evil and countless other pieces of horror media. The zombie has become an inescapable cultural figure that’s found, not just on TV or movies, but on shirts, hats, board games, phone cases, and more. But we wouldn’t have this cultural zeitgeist without George A. Romero’s 1968 horror classic, Night of the Living Dead. With almost no budget, Romero defined the horror genre and broke through societal taboos around race, class, and nihilism. Romero rejected conventional horror tropes and created something that reflected a nation in shambles during the Vietnam War, as well as the corrosive effects of capitalism on society as a whole.
The film’s protagonist, Ben (Duane Jones), is a Black man. While Ben’s race is never explicitly addressed in the film, it is hard to ignore as the rest of the cast is white. Unlike the other white characters, Ben has the most control of the situation, immediately taking the role of the group’s leader. When he arrives at the farmhouse, he begins to board up the windows and doors by tearing apart the stereotypical home of the 1960s family. He pulls apart tables, chairs, and parts of the kitchen to keep the undead out of the home; to protect those in the house he must literally tear it apart.
Having siblings is difficult, to say the least. You love each other, but that doesn’t come without conflict. A lot of it. They steal your clothes, rat you out to your parents, break your stuff, and blame you for their problems. What could make that worse? The trauma of living in and escaping a UFO death cult. This is the scenario brothers Justin and Aaron find themselves in Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s newest film, The Endless.
A decade after their escape, the brothers are living together in the real world. But it isn’t easy. They are barely scraping by at their cleaning jobs and previously being part of a UFO death cult isn’t helping them in the dating department. In separate interviews with who is assumedly a social worker, both brothers reveal their issues with the other. To Aaron, played by co-director Aaron Moorhead, his older brother is too bossy and demanding. To Justin, played by co-director Justin Benson, it is exhausting to keep taking care of his baby brother. To add to this stress, a mysterious videotape arrives on their doorstep, which sends them back to the cult’s settlement, Camp Arcadia. This sets off a life-altering chain of events where they come to learn that the cult may have been right all along. Saying any more would spoil the film’s bizarre and delightful twists.
Horror is gay. It’s a genre about, among other things, destroying societal conceptions of heteronormativity and domesticity. Gay horror fans like myself see ourselves in these narratives about monstrosity and “otherness” and take hold of them, making them our own. In his book, Queer Horror Film and Television: Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins, Darren Elliott-Smith says, “…the study of monstrous homosexuality in the horror film has also revealed the celebratory pleasures offered to queer, gay and lesbian viewers’ oppositional identification with the very same monsters that threaten the norm.” Our identities threaten heteronormativity and we cheer on those monsters that do the same. Horror is not only about queerness, but is shaped by queerness, with LGBTQ+ directors, like Clive Barker and Don Manici, creating horror classics such as Hellraiser and Child’s Play, respectively.
While gay horror directors and fanatics have helped shape horror film, their work is eclipsed by toxic tropes created to “other” LGBTQ+ characters and make them into villains. Horror ultimately reflects societal fears and for much of recent history, society has been afraid of gayness and the threat it poses heteronormative conceptions of family and relationships. While our current cultural context is evolving into a slightly more accepting one, this genre has perpetuated toxic tropes, two of which that I’ll discuss here, that depict LGBTQ+ characters as deviant, horrific monsters.