This month’s video was posted a little late, it marks the debut of our writer, Mary Beth McAndrews (@mbmcandrews), as part of our video team! Mary Beth is a cinema studies major with a focus on the horror genre, so her new video focusing on the themes of rebirth and transformation is a perfect encapsulation of her interests.
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The power of great genre films, to me, is that they are able to tackle larger abstractions and broad truths about humanity under layers of subtext, whilst still letting us go through an out of this world, moviegoing experience. When I think of the idea of the doppelganger, a traditional horror/sci-fi staple, the being that looks exactly like ourselves invading our own bubbles, I think of the stories that often seek to shed light on our own insecurities. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Possession, and more recently, Annihilation and Enemy, all films that use this specific symbol are based on a destructive, human feeling; a depressive itch you can’t scratch, the demon on your shoulder telling you that you’re not quite the person you project yourself to be. My relationship with social media in the last few months has made me realize that this imposter syndrome I feel is a mode of my own living, but when I’m aware of it, there lies an insidious feeling in my gut, and my sense of self melts away. All of these concepts were stirred up in my brain once again, but this time, instead of just the focus on the self, there’s a broader statement here about our society as a whole. This is America. This is Us.
Jordan Peele’s Us is the sophomore follow-up to his Academy-Award winning social horror thriller, Get Out, which took the film landscape by storm. While following up a film like Get Out is an immense amount of pressure, Peele handles it with so much grace. Here he is, channeling that history he made with his debut and recentering the energy into something entirely new. Just add in Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, and Elisabeth Moss, and you have a mid-level budget effort that feels so much like an event film of its own. While previously he worked with Blumhouse, which houses a specific model for their films, Peele now has his screenwriting Oscar, a production company of his own, Monkeypaw Productions, and an unhinged amount of ambition to craft yet another social horror film to instigate our worst nightmares and how they blend with our own reality.
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.
Grief, guilt, and mental illness are not unusual themes in horror film. We’ve seen them in The Babadook, The Witch, It Follows, the list goes on. But Ari Aster’s debut feature film, Hereditary, takes the struggles of grief to another horrifying level. What he creates is a tense, devastating, and at times difficult to watch, look at the trauma we suffer at the hands of our family and how that trauma lives on past death.
Hereditary opens on the grieving Graham family. Annie, played by the phenomenal Toni Collette, has lost her mother and is trying to work her way through this loss with support groups and working on her artistic miniatures. Meanwhile, her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy with their son, Peter (Alex Wolff), and young daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). But slowly everything begins to fall apart into a very dark place. Telling you any more about the plot would ruin the film and this is best viewed without any idea of what to expect.
Happy Women in Horror Month! As I’m sure many others would agree, the horror genre can often feel incredibly male-dominated. Violence against women within these films is usually prominent, and in a world obsessed with inflicting this same violence in reality, being able to reclaim such a powerful tool as the horror movie is a very great thing. Besides which, this is a genre which naturally links itself to feminist thought. Traditional aspects of horror such as vampire lore, the final girl, slasher film tropes and the revenge plot all revolve around feminist themes, and it is not surprising that much academic discussion in this area concerns gender. In any case, after watching as many female-directed examples as I can find, I’ve firmly decided that women make the best horror movies. Take a look at the nine films below, and I’m sure you’ll agree.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
Dark, stylish and atmospheric, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ is the Iranian vampire Western we never knew we needed. A sparse narrative cloaked in monochromatic tones illustrates themes of gendered violence, as the eponymous Girl hunts down villainous men. Vampire movies and feminist discourse have always gone hand in hand – the symbolic neck bite forming a transferal of agency – and Amirpour exploits this natural kinship whilst adding her own original mark to the genre. For ‘A Girl’ is a quiet, brooding movie, moving from character to character at a pace that some may find too sluggish. But this hesitance to over-embellish in a field that can so often be flamboyant is what gives the film its strength; the small moments form something so much greater, and it is the overall mood of the piece, rather than one scene or another, that marks it as a classic for feminist horror.