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James Wan

Posted on July 2, 2017

Don’t Hang Up

Dawn

2016                R         UK                Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot                83 mins.

It says much about Don’t Hang Up that I’m irresistibly drawn to say of it: “It’s Saw meets Unfriended—with a bit of The Strangers thrown in.” What this says about Don’t Hang Up is that it consistently echoes other horror films. Some critics will no doubt say that this makes the film derivative, formulaic. Don’t Hang Up is actually better than that, and the way in which it evokes other films is actually a plus for me. It’s hard (some would say impossible) to create something absolutely new: everything builds on what’s gone before. Don’t Hang Up is creative—original—in the way that creativity and originality most often exist in the world: it puts things that have come before together in some new ways. And that makes it a film worth watching in my book.

The film begins with a group of high school boys making prank calls, which they stream online for the thrill of getting thousands of views. The film’s opening montage cleverly shows how the exuberance and excitement of the prankers is predicated on the suffering of their victims, to which they give not one iota of consideration. Here’s where Unfriended (Levan Gabriadze, 2014) comes in, which is similarly about what happens when teenagers put a video depicting someone else’s misery online. The opening scenarios of both films dramatize the callousness of young people, or the callousness produced by lives lived in large part in the abstracted world of social media . . .or both.

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Posted on February 22, 2017

Is Insidious Really about Race?

Dawn

The horror film is notoriously white, which is why I’m writing this in great anticipation of the release on Friday February 24 of Jordan Peele’s Get Out–a serious horror film that directly confronts racial difference and division. Peele has said that the idea for his film initially came to him during the 2008 Democratic primary and that, over the years, he became more and more convinced that “especially after Obama’s election . . . the U.S. was ‘living in this postracial lie.’” Peele’s target in Get Out, he says, is “the liberal elite,” who tend to believe they are above—past—racism.[i]

The release of Peele’s film, which takes aim at the idea that we are “postracial,” joins the recent publication of Michael Tesler’s book, Post-Racial or Most-Racial?, about the increasing racialization of the US during the course of Barack Obama’s presidency. Tesler points out that before Obama’s election in 2008, “race-based and race-evoking issues” were “largely receding from the national political scene.” Obama’s two terms as president, however, have ushered in what Tesler calls “a ‘most-racial’ political era” in which Americans are more divided “over a whole host of political positions than they had been in modern times.”[ii]

If America has become still more profoundly divided by race over the course of the last nine years, it’s worth asking, where is the evidence of that divide in the horror film, a genre that has long been (rightly) declared to be adept at representing the social and cultural conflicts of its historical moment?

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