Here it is, the season we all hate to love and love to hate, the Awards Season! Predictions, staying up to watch awards, fighting our favourites until the Oscars when our exhaustion reaches its peak and we all go “I never want to live through another season again!” until the festivals hit and Here We Go Again! Critics circles already started naming their winners but the fun officially starts tonight with Golden Globes. Here at Much Ado we love our predictions so please enjoy reading the winners our hearts desire, and those we think will snatch the award!
2018 was a year of amazing horror films. While a certain Vogue article may disagree, 2018 was a year for pushing boundaries in the genre and creating complex female characters who weren’t just vehicles for over-the-top sex scenes. It was a year where “woman” no longer meant singular sex object, with films like Revenge, What Keeps You Alive, and Cam. It was a year of experimentation, as seen in Mandy and Possum, which create unique, and psychedelic, visual experiences. While the past five years have been full of this kind of boundary-pushing, from The VVItch to Get Out, 2018 continued to showcase the diverse voices in the horror community and demonstrate how the face of horror is changing.
While this piece will primarily highlight the positives of horror in 2018, this was not a year without its failures. The Nun, Truth or Dare, Winchester and more made up this year’s big blockbuster releases, and all were met with a resounding shrug; these movies made to draw the big crowds to the box office instead kept the horny teens away. The two horror films that drew crowds this year were A Quiet Place and Hereditary, two films that strayed away from the typical horror narrative and created unique stories that perhaps wouldn’t always make their way into the mainstream. Despite the bigger name flops, indie horror filmmakers really showed up to create pieces of horrifying media that resonated both throughout the horror community, and in some cases larger audiences.
Rape-revenge films are commonly exploitative, over-the-top, and torturous to their female characters. Think of films such as I Spit on Your Grave or Ms. 45. But, director Coralie Fargaet wanted to change this with Revenge, a film in the vein of the French New Extremity that uses rape as more than a plot device or site of spectacle.
Horror scores are lauded for their creation of atmosphere and dread, from John Carpenter’s electronic music in Halloween to the iconic fear created through two notes by John Williams in Jaws. However, music is not the only sonic way to build horror; sound design is everything in cultivating a terrifying film. An early example is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which didn’t even have score. Its soundscape was almost entirely digitally-manufactured bird sounds that create its persistent feeling of unnaturalness and unease. Then there are the multitudes of monster sounds created throughout horror history that may haunt you in your dreams, from the rawr of Jurassic Park’s T. rex to the vampire screeches in 30 Days of Night. Not to mention the screams, stabbings, creaking floorboards, whispers, and more that are utilized throughout the genre to build suspense and make your hair stand up. In horror, sound design, sound effects, and score all work together to create a soundscape of dread.
A recent example, and I believe a rather important one, of the power of sound is Ari Aster’s 2018 film, Hereditary. Its use of sound effects and a haunting, droning score by Colin Stetson, paired with camerawork that prioritizes auditory experience rather than a visual one, contributes to the film’s unbelievable tension and dread. While much of the film’s praise is given to its amazing performances, its use of sound truly makes it one of the year’s most terrifying films.
First and foremost, there is the tongue clicking that permeates the film, a sounds that been ruined for anyone who has seen Hereditary. Even the film’s trailer alluded to the power of just one little cluck of the tongue. The tongue clicking is that of Charlie Graham, who does it as some kind of tic. She clicks her tongue as she draws, makes strange toys, whenever, wherever; it is how her family can identify her without even seeing her. Despite it seeming to be an innocuous click, every time she does it, it feels like a jump scare; these clicks shatter the silence like a hammer to glass and put you on edge just in the film’s beginning. So when Charlie dies, it seems that these moments of uneasiness will be over. Not so fast.
Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s was a male-dominated space, with men like Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Renoir, and countless others receiving credit for their illustrious place in film history. But, one person that film history largely forgets is Dorothy Arzner, who has the largest oeuvre of any woman filmmaker. She was the only female director working during this time and the only female filmmaker whose work moved from the silent era into sound, showing her strength in filmmaking as well as her creativity. But it isn’t just her technical prowess that deserves praise; it is also her desire to portray nuanced and complicated women, rather than the stereotypical women-as-objects seen in that era of cinema. Her films explore women, how they’re represented in classic Hollywood narratives, and how supportive friendships between women flourish, which can be seen in Dance, Girl, Dance. She made films about women for women, and addressed the many facets of being a woman, from societal standing to romantic relationships to what it means to work. Arzner was also a lesbian filmmaker, which can be seen in her critiques of heteronormative relationships and their consequences, particularly in her 1933 film, Christopher Strong.
Despite a prolific career, Arzner is not commonly mentioned with this era of Hollywood cinema and she is rarely studied. I was lucky enough to be introduced to her work by a TA in grad school, who told me only one book has been written on Arzner and how difficult is to find many of her films — only a few of them are available to stream or even purchase. I believe Arzner deserves a larger place in the canon, and more recognition for the types of films she was creating, particularly with her focus on catering to a female spectator. The films I detail below are some of her more easily found work and exemplify Arzner’s key themes around social class, work, friendship, and critiques of heteronormativity.
It seems somewhat serendipitous that my final horror film recommendation for the month is Kuroneko, the most recent film I viewed on FilmStruck. Because of that streaming service, I was able to watch perhaps one of the most beautiful horror movies ever made and be seduced by its ghostly visuals. It is also a fascinating take on the rape-revenge film, a genre that seems to exclusively be grounded in Western cinema.
Kuroneko, or Black Cat, is about grief, suffering, revenge, and love. The film takes place is war-torn feudal Japan where young men are sent off to battle and rogue samurai roam the land. Two women, a mother and her daughter-in-law, are raped and murdered by said rogue samurai. However, a black cat appears, and brings them back to life as vengeful spirits who vow to drink the blood of every samurai in existence. This gets a bit complicated, however, when their son and husband, Gintoki, becomes a samurai. Continue reading “Halloween Horrors: Get Seduced by the Ghostly Eroticism of ‘Kuroneko’”
The slasher film is a quintessential subgenre for horror, giving the world figures like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger: all male figures chasing women with knives. But for this week’s horror recommendation, I’m bringing you a slasher of the likes you’ve never seen. Alexandre Aja’s High Tension takes the slasher film and turns it on his head. It is essential viewing for fans of the genre and of the portrayal of gender in horror film.
High Tension follows student Marie (Cecile de France) and her friend, Alex (Maïwenn) as they travel to Alex’s family home in the French countryside. It is a secluded place, quiet and surrounded by corn, perfect for studying, Alex says. However, there isn’t much studying when a deranged killer arrives at the home, killing Alex’s family and kidnapping her, leaving Marie behind. What ensues is Marie’s quest to save her friend from the psychopath and prove how much she cares for her. Continue reading “Halloween Horrors: A Gory Reimagining of the Slasher Film in ‘High Tension’”
Coming-of-age stories are no stranger to the horror genre. The emotional turmoil, bodily transformations, and anxieties that come with teenage years are ripe for the horror picking, from Ginger Snaps to Raw. Sometimes, you think you’ve seen all the different variations of these stories. Then you see something new and exciting, something that blows your mind using a strange little puppet monster. My next recommendation for this month of horror is The Nightmare, or Der Nachtmahr.
The 2015 German film follows party girl Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) as she navigates a life of house music, drugs, boys, and anxiety. As the bass pumps ever louder and the lights never stop flashing, Tina loses herself in the music, a momentary reprieve from the pressures of being 17. However, she can’t escape for too long, because her fears take a physical form: a little gremlin creature with which she is mentally linked.