Directed by Craig Anderson, Red Christmas premiered in Australia in the summer of 2016 and became widely available in the US (on DVD and streaming) in October 2017. When I say that Red Christmas is disturbing—even unpleasant—I’m in no way saying you shouldn’t watch this film; indeed, it seems poised to become a holiday classic. It’s disturbing and unpleasant in the way horror films should be, and it joins a pantheon of similarly disturbing holiday films, not least Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (Charles E. Sellier, Jr., 1984). To the extent that horror films make manifest what we repress and deny, the holidays (which demand extra helpings of repression and denial if mass mayhem is to be avoided) are undeniably ripe for the most disturbing of horror films. Enter, Red Christmas.
There is a special challenge in generating a successful sequel. You have to delicately balance the desires and demands of your fans, while also giving them something new. In season two of Stranger Things, The Duffer brothers deliver a beautiful follow-up that is, arguably, even better than the first season. As any tantalizing finale should, the first season of Stranger Things left us with a myriad of lingering questions. “Is the gate to the Upside Down still open?” “What happened to Eleven?” “Where are the kids numbered 1-10?” “Oh God, is Will vomiting inter-dimensional slugs into his sink?” “Will Dustin’s teeth finally come in?” Blissfully, these questions are all answered by the end of the first episode of season two; there aren’t many resolutions we must await. We begin almost a year after Will’s rescue from the Upside Down, and Eleven’s apparent disappearance into it. Back in Right-Side Up Hawkins, things are relatively quiet. Naturally, our characters are still dealing with some fallout from season one. Will is plagued by periodic “episodes” that seem to transport him, psychically, to the Upside Down. Every night for about 350 days, Mike tries to contact Eleven via his walkie-talkie. Hopper is visited by a reporter investigating the conspiracy surrounding the disappearance of Barb Holland, before he’s called about an attack on local crops that make pumpkins look suspiciously like hatched xenomorph-eggs.
Critics are in the process of hammering Dean Devlin’s cli-fi action / horror film Geostorm (2017)—and one of the most damning charges has been how stupid it is. “The stupidest film I have ever seen,” claimed Mark Kermode, tweeting “I have seen Geostorm. My brain is now cowering in a dark corner of my head and refusing to speak to me.”
I did not, for the most part, experience Geostorm as stupid. As a long-time fan of disaster movies, part of me actually enjoyed it. More than that, though, I was disturbed by the relentlessly dangerous message of Geostorm—and I say that recognizing that director Dean Devlin had nothing but good intentions. In an interview, Devlin describes talking with his young daughter about climate change, trying to answer her anxious question: “Why aren’t we doing anything about it?” He goes on to say that Geostorm emerged from that conversation: it’s a “cautionary tale—a fable. What could happen if we wait to deal with this.”
With Happy Death Day, Jason Blum and Blumhouse Productions continue their string of innovative and high-quality horror films (The Purge, The Gift, Split, The Visit, Unfriended, Get Out). Directed by Christopher B. Landon and written by Scott Lobdell Jr., Happy Death Day is, of course, not completely original (what is?). Its premise echoes the 2017 teen drama, Before I Fall (Ry Russo-Young), which is based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Lauren Oliver. And it is deeply and self-consciously indebted to the brilliant Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993). That said, though, while Happy Death Day isn’t groundbreaking, it is a fresh approach to the slasher film. Its success is due not least to the fabulous performances of its two leads—Jessica Rothe who plays Tree and Israel Broussard as Carter. The supporting cast is also great, including Rachel Matthews as uber-bitch sorority queen, Danielle.
The film follows college student Tree after she wakes up on her birthday in a relative stranger’s (Carter’s) dorm room after a night of hard drinking. She cavalierly goes through her post-debauch day, revealing how fundamentally unpleasant she is to everyone around her. On her way to a party that night, she’s murdered by a masked figure—only to wake up in Carter’s room on her birthday again. The day keeps repeating and, as you might imagine, Tree experiences a variety of shocked and panicked emotions before she starts trying to take control of her experience, figure out what’s going on, and stop the cycle.
Get Out’s Jordan Peele and Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum are not alone in arguing that politics are crucial to the horror film.[i] Spanish director Yayo Herrero’s film Maus had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 22, 2017, and it is a deep dive into the politics of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992 to 1995), its lingering aftermath, and the current tensions in Europe surrounding immigration and terrorism. Both in his introduction to Maus at Fantastic Fest, and in the Q&A afterwards, Herrero insisted that politics are crucial to horror, that horror is good because of its politics. He also made the point that what is important about Maus is not any particular message, which he resisted stating directly, but the debate that it will stir up. And, indeed it will stir up debate.