Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?– The Exorcist, 1973
Something somewhere during the past few decades completely changed the way horror films affect the American audience. Some of the horror directors that changed the game and made the viewers very uncomfortable are Corin Hardy (The Nun, 2018), James Wan, Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key, 2018); John R. Leonetti (Wish Upon, 2017), David Robert Mitchell (It Follows, 2014); Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us from Evil, 2014), Diederik van Rooijen (The Possession of Hannah Grace (Cadaver), 2018); David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, 2016), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook, 2014); Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, 2016, a film that asks us to empathize fully with the invaders by making them the protagonists, while still enabling them to be flawed characters and is a more open social commentary about the way US capitalism has dehumanized us, even the non-Americans.
These are among the few directors (I’m sure I’m forgetting a few) who took the standard tropes of its genre and capsized them in order to get at some unexpected and timely truths about American society, perhaps even inadvertently played on the new fear of the American people. The fear of an invasion (possession), elucidating the concerns that lie below the surface of our collective cultural models.
Then there’s the breed of old-school horror film directors that transcend the horror of a generic possession film and the standard tropes of the same. Robbert Eggers‘ The Witch, 2015 (paranoia bred out of religious furor) & The Lighthouse, 2019, Lukas Feigelfeld‘s Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse, 2018, Ant Timpson‘s Come to Daddy, 2020 and Leigh Whannel‘s (in a change of pace and doctrine) The Invisible Man, 2020 are films that scare in a completely different way – except maybe The Invisible Man (but then we can expect only so much from Whannel and the evolutionary variance of creed), but then the filmmakers are merely offering a glimpse into cultural anxieties brewing away for ages inside the audiences (and also changing the anxieties, which were boiling all along, of getting scared witless).
This cultural shift toward the cultivation of extremist right-wing beliefs was immediately evident in the harvest of horror and suspense films released in recent times. One of the most powerful films by Na Hong-jin, The Wailing, 2016 (곡성), deals explicitly with xenophobia and the fears born out of an inability to communicate across cultural and language divides, with the film excruciatingly examining the demonic possession.
It is perhaps for this reason that the second most common horror trend is also one of the genre’s most honest metaphors: home invasion. Secuestrados (Kidnapped), 2010 by Miguel Ángel Vivas and Pascal Laugier‘s Ghostland (Incident in a Ghost Land), 2018 and sidestepping the prerequisites, for narrative fluidity and the treacherous invading corruption of foreign influences, by way of colonization. All I’m trying to say is that the audiences seem to scare easy these days since the horror of the real world is far more close to home/psyche and even more petrifying and shocking, ironically with the super-power going for the jugular wherever an opportunity (excuse) comes up or is forced to appear out of thin air at the Pentagon after it has invaded and destroyed and towns are made into war-zones, with snipers ready to put one in the neck if a lady in a veil as much as moves with a kid (unintentionally) into a red zone (American Sniper, 2014). Some embraced the metaphor’s xenophobic biases while others rebuffed them, but permeating beneath it all was a deep-rooted fear about the state of America today.
Now we have racist extremism, gun rights, religious jingoism (The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019), ideological survivalist (The Hunt, 2020), and nationalism within movies mirroring cultural fears. Americans fear invasion, and not just by another country but by one of their own. However, in the genre’s modern manifestation, the rules of home invasion horror were pretty much written in stone by Michael Haneke’s subversive, amoral Funny Games in 1997, where the autere uses detached violence and deliberate cinematic manipulation to connect his story to the modern decay of society, complete to the repeated breaking of the fourth wall. Therefore, when reality seemed to fracture ideological echo chambers, it resulted in a larger culture divide. Subconsciously and also by design, the horror in the horror film determines how films aim to elicit the audiences’ nightmares, fears, aversions, and terror of the unknown, but now we have an idea of the unknown. Don’t we, now?
What is so scary about the new film by the director who, at the time really scared us witless (“Hello Amanda. I want to play a game.” C’mon, accept it Saw, 2004 fucked with us pretty bad back in the day) with his debut feature? Well, to begin with, the cold-blooded sound engineering and the chilling score by Joseph Bishara, a recurring collaborator of director James Wan, tear a scar of land smashing into the lore that is the possession of the possessed. Then there’s the nun, borrowed from Japan and never returned, the teeth of an eleven-year-old, furniture straight from the sets of The Exorcist, 1973, no scares when the whole shit house is supposed to blow the fuck up, a camera on the staircase that leads to the ground floor, Enfield and Amityville both in the same movie, familiar yet a superior ghost story, the slow and steady dread creeping up on the viewers, Tim Burton by the sheer amount of fun James Wan is having, and highly unsettling are among the film’s even more fright-night flourishes. The critics are calling James Wan, The Master of Horror, who has a solid grip on the tricks of the trade and has made an accomplished film, even if in a familiar cinematic environment. Well, enough of that, one time watch of Hagazussa or the otherworldly and inverted and the intense and constricting, the gothic art-thriller, The Lighthouse and we will see who is the Master of Horror.
This time Ed and Lorraine Warren pay a delayed visit to the infamous Hodgsons‘ house in a magnificently crafted and incredibly haunted 1977. Budget Sally Field (Frances O’Connor as Peggy Hodgson) is a single mother with a tendency to whine. She has four children and one of them (a solid-ass performance by Madison Wolfe as Janet Hodgson) is possessed as shit. Written by seven people and directed by James Wan, The Conjuring 2 steers clear of genre cliches, even kicking its predecessor in the nuts by playing a few jolly good Brit jokes alongside moments of sudden terror that make you laugh at yourself and replacing them with more recent indie schemings where they tell you to go fuck off in a polite way. Like how the eleven-year-old calls her mum a cow or something rather than the vicious “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell” from Friedkin’s nightmare.
Also called The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case , The film is a massive success with the English narrow grandeur as its backdrop and the fact that the screenplay is quite satisfying with the knowledge of everyone in the picture not doubting the subject, The Conjuring 2 is the second-highest-grossing horror film overall of all time, behind only 1973’s The Exorcist ($441.3 million). It is a film that deserves the applause or soiled underwear, whichever you prefer. After watching this you will not give a shit. Vera Farmiga used to be hot once (Up in the air, 2009?) but now she is scared of the Crooked Man, which is the only weak bit of the otherwise truly frightening film.
Father Damien Karras: “If you’re the Devil, why not make the straps disappear?”
Demon: “That’s much too vulgar a display of power, Karras”.
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