2017 Canada Tim J. Brown 82 min.
Given the rush of high-profile horror releases in March, 2017 (Get Out, XX, The Belko Experiment, Raw, The Girl with All the Gifts, The Devil’s Candy), you may be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Canadian director Tim J. Brown’s indie film, Devil in the Dark. I hope this review helps spread the word about a genuinely scary, well-crafted, superbly-acted, and provocative indie horror film. It’s on VOD, so you can rent it now (and you should!).
You wouldn’t think plants would be the stuff of horror. Or, maybe you would. After all, vegetation constitutes over ninety-nine percent of the earth’s biomass—that is, ninety-nine percent of what’s alive on the planet. Earth is indeed “an ecosystem inarguably dominated by plants.”[i] We are surrounded by vegetation; when humans falter, vegetation surges in to take our place—creeping over our buildings, pushing up through our roads, taking what we were forced to abandon.
In 1996, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen wrote a wonderful essay called “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),”[ii] and, emulating its structure, I’ve written my own piece offering six theses that suggest why plants—defined broadly as vegetation, flowers, bushes, trees—have figured as monstrous within horror fiction and film.** I’ve sketched them out below, along with some plant horror fiction and film you can’t miss.
The vampire tradition in fiction and film has served as a vehicle to explore various anxieties of western culture during the last century. Few texts, however, have explored the possibilities of representing a child as the night-dwelling and blood-sucking terror that so effectively haunts audiences. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (2008) fills that gap, portraying the villainous vampire not as a charismatic adult male with colonizing intentions, but instead as a quiet, twelve-year-old girl whose protection of a bullied young boy leads to their friendship. While the children in the film may appear weak and insecure, their horrific brutality towards adults proves that the young vampire is anything but innocent. Let the Right One In contributes to the vampire cultural mythology, specifically, by showing childhood monstrosity to be a result of a failed family structure.
While Let the Right One In borrows from the vampire tradition, it contributes to vampire culture by using the child vampire to suggest adult anxieties about the violent potential of children. The young vampire Eli (Lina Leandersson) serves as a “repository of adult fears about children, who are like us yet in crucial ways so different, who are both vulnerable and demanding, and in touch with the id in ways that that can elicit great anxiety…”[i] As seen in Let the Right One In, the neglect of children demonstrates the failed family structure that allows the violent impulses of Eli and Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) to surface.[ii] The adults in Eli and Oskar’s life fail to serve as a moral and ideological force capable of suppressing the violent tendencies that adults fear. Let the Right One In shows that, without these governing forces, “the power of children to inspire…terror…because of their vulnerability and uncontrollability has moved to the cultural front.”[iii] Eli’s relationship with Håkan (Per Ragnar), as well as Oskar’s distance from his parents, demonstrate how the absence of adults allows the child monster to surface.
One of the most annoying aspects of slasher films (at least, in my opinion) is how characters consistently make really bad decisions when running from the killer. Of course, Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) satirized and made fun of the well-known / well-loved clichés of the horror genre, and specifically the formula of basically most slasher films. Yet, what if you were able to interact with a slasher narrative, to the point where you get to decide to run or hide, rather than watching a “meta” deconstruction of the genre via the Scream franchise?
This is where PS4 game Until Dawn comes in. Described as an “interactive survival horror adventure video game,” Until Dawn was developed by Supermassive Games for PS4 and released in August 2015.1 On the developer’s website, the game is described as follows:
When eight friends are trapped on a remote mountain retreat and things quickly turn sinister, they start to suspect they aren’t alone. Gripped by fear and with tensions in the group running high, you’ll be forced to make snap decisions that could mean life, or death, for everyone involved. Every choice you make in your terrifying search for answers – even the seemingly trivial ones – will carve out your own unique story.2
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS
I never intended to write about Get Out, Jordan Peele’s whip smart takedown of institutional racism packaged up in one of the best horror films of recent memory. While empathy building in horror isn’t all that new, Get Out approaches its subject matter in such a wildly innovative way that I initially left the theatre thinking that this is what audiences must have felt like after seeing Hitchcock’s Psycho for the first time. For someone who sees as many horror films as I do, the feeling was special and I just wanted to savor it instead of immediately dissecting the film. But then I started reading articles about how some viewers found the film anti-white and the absurdity of it all inspired me to write about experiencing the film through the lens of white privilege. Because if you don’t appreciate the way that privilege plays into how you view this film, you’re missing the entire point.
For those unfamiliar (and seriously you need to head to a movie theatre immediately), Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), an interracial couple, convene to Rose’s parents house for a weekend. What follows is one of the most innovative forays into horror committed to film. There is a distinct narrative break in the way that Get Out tackles its social commentary than in the way horror has traditionally handled such explorations. Most films tend to either code its social commentary within horror tropes (Night of the Living Dead, American Psycho), an anthology format (Tales from the Hood) or to play uncomfortable moments for comedy (Tucker & Dale vs. Evil). Get Out falls back on none of those devices and instead, presents its satire aggressively and unapologetically. And the approach works. Instead of making the audience comfortable by putting a bit of distance between the commentary and them, the film doubles down and forces the audience to consider our own behavior and assumptions contribute to institutional racism. Read more