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23 April 2020

FAMILIAL HORROR: 10 family-centric horror films to watch in isolation

For some, isolating with your family during a global pandemic might seem like a total nightmare. Forced to be with the same people, day in and day out, it can be difficult not to succumb to madness whilst you're all stuck together in the microcosm of terror that can be the familial home.

Fortunately, now, more than ever, is the perfect time to take advantage of the escapism of cinema and indulge in some film- either with or without your family.

With a focus on family-centric frights, these ten films can act as a welcome distraction from the terror of your own family life. Cults, possession, campy gore and the just plain weird are to be found amongst this selection, so shut yourself away and momentarily vanish from your own hellscape.

1. THE BROOD - dir. David Cronenberg 

Said to have fused concerns of the women's film with that of the body-horror film, The Brood was born from the aftermath of Cronenberg's own divorce. Stating that the film is his "own version of Kramer vs Kramer, but more realistic", he explores the dissolution of the family unit through the lens of psychological horror. It's a film that can be read in a multitude of ways; presenting the central mother figure as a villain producing evil spawn holds an air of misogyny (especially if Cronenberg is substituting Nola for his ex-wife). However, one can also read the film as exploring complex notions of the monstrous feminine, woman as abject, and motherhood, with the central figure's 'brood' acting as physical manifestations of taboo, repressed desires. When read alongside seminal gender theorist Barbara Creed's work on femininity, reproductive bodily functions and the archaic mother, The Brood makes for an interesting take on female-centric horror.

2. HEREDITARY - dir. Ari Aster

Ari Aster's feature film directorial debut sees a family haunted by a mysterious presence after the death of its matriarch. Aesthetically very different from his followup feature, Midsommar, Hereditary is drenched in cold, dark colour gradings, forcing its audience to mirror the slow decent into insanity of the characters as they constantly question who and what one can see in the low-lit corners of the room (or frame). It's a film rooted in family dynamics, trauma and grief and what begins as a drama  grappling with the consequences of a family tragedy, soon turns into a full-blown nightmare.

3. DON'T LOOK NOW - dir. Nicolas Roeg

Using grief as a drive for haunting uncanniness,  Roeg's Don't Look Now focusses on a married couple who must come to terms with the loss of their young daughter. Don’t Look Now plays heavily with aspects of time and reality to create a film that emphasises the fluidity in the state of current being, induced by the psychological power of grief. It's rife with Freudian properties of the uncanny double and the familiar made strange, and powerfully utilises visual symbols and the uncanny aesthetic.

4. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER - dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Loosely based on Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of the Sacred Deer sees Colin Firth play a cardiac arrest surgeon whose family begin to fall mysteriously ill after he befriends a teenager with connections to his past. Visually striking and continuously unsettling, the film's horror is seething and cold, opting for psychological terror rather than in-your-face gore. Barry Keoghan is the true standout of the film, his performance of the sociopathic Martin is truly chilling and proves that some of the best horror villains don't have to be overtly monstrous and abject, they can simply be an oddly charming and demure outcast in search of extreme revenge. 

5. FUNNY GAMES - dir. Michael Haneke

Despite Michael Haneke himself stating that this wasn't intended to be a horror film, rather a message about violence in the media, many do regard Funny Games as such. Haneke claims that the film is a reaction to a certain type of American cinema that manipulates the viewer so much to the point that they don't realise they're being manipulated, subsequently making them complicit in the vouyeristic violence displayed on screen. Funny Games sees two men senselessly hold a family hostage and sadistically torture them, all whilst repeatedly breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience, explicitly playing with the accusations of audience complicity.  

6. EYES WITHOUT A FACE - dir. Georges Franju

Eyes Without a Face sees a plastic surgeon determined to perform a face transplant on his disfigured daughter, after she is involved in a devastating car crash. Franju's film investigates body horror through the lens of real world aesthetic superficiality, resulting in a high class exploitation picture. It sees a rejection of the popular B-movie trop of the 'mad scientist', rather placing the central surgeon as a desperate father testing the limits of love for his daughter. 

7. SOCIETY - dir. Brian Yuzna

Gloriously camp in its extreme body horror, Society plays on ideas of capitalism and class rivalry. Beverly Hills teenager, Bill, is horrified to discover that his wealthy parents are part of a grisly cult for the social elite and that they have recently inducted his older sister. Fuelled by his pre-existing anxieties about not fitting in with his high-society family, Bill aims to uncover the truth about this upper-class organisation, with gruesome results. 


In The Texas Chainsaw Masacre, Hooper parodies the American family with a grim group of cannibalistic degenerates masquerading as the nuclear unit. This grimy, low-budget slasher is the quintessential road movie, exploring a number of themes such as transgression from the norms and values of a capitalist, American society and gender performativity. 

9. GET OUT - dir. Jordan Peele

When the New York Times asked what scared him the most, director Jordan Peele said 'human beings',  ending his statement by saying "society is the scariest monster". The horror genre has always been one of political and social awareness; it's used some of the biggest cultural events as a starting point for subject matter, allegorically representing history’s most tumultuous occurrences and society’s biggest anxieties. Get Out was one of the first major horror texts to emerge after Trump was elected US president in 2016, thematising the lie of a post-racial America that many thought Obama's era brought. Paving the way for modern social realist horror, Get Out expertly sheds light on the terror of ingrained, white liberal racism and the sinister undertones of what it means to ‘stay woke’ as a black person.

10. ERASERHEAD - dir. David Lynch

This 1977 experimental body horror film is Lynch at his most Lynchian, having been written, produced, directed, edited and scored by the surrealist director. Eraserhead is noted for its strong sexual themes and repetitive images of conception, seeing its central figure, Henry Spencer - a man who is at once fascinated yet repulsed by sex - left to care for his deformed child in an industrial wasteland. In his book The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, David J. Skal describes the film as "depict[ing] human reproduction as a desolate freak show, an occupation fit only for the damned".

Images courtesy of https://film-grab.com/

20 February 2020

WIHM – Transgressing Girlhood: Examining ‘Stoker’ Through the Framework of the Female Gothic

For #WomeninHorrorMonth, I wrote about the concept of the female gothic in Park Chan-wook's excellent film Stoker. I examine the film's depiction of female sexuality, violence and a particularly unnerving journey from girlhood to womanhood.

Read it here.

31 March 2018

Not another Teen movie: How does the new wave of ‘coming of age’ cinema signal a new direction for the genre?

The ‘teen film’ has significantly developed since its early days. The concept of the ‘teenager’ came into its own during the 1950s, and, with this, arrived a new wave of cinema that was made for and spoke to young adults. These kids, too young to be considered adults but too old to mingle with children, finally had their own social circle and Hollywood began to exploit this exclusive demographic. The Fifties saw films such as, The Wild One, and Rock Around the Clock, which explored rebellion and rock and roll, tokens of the subversive culture of the Teenager.

As decades passed, teen films began to seep into other genres, such as comedy and horror, giving us a revamped wave in the Eighties (which is often noted as the epitomical era of young adult movies). John Hughes delivered some of the greatest examples of teenage subversion thus far, becoming the auteur of teenage angst. He explored the difficult issues that teens faced in the decade, from societal pressures and individuality to sexual relations and the future – a far cry from the nominal rumblings of social resistance in the Fifties (but still very much conservative if one is to look back on them now).

The Nineties did not see much development in the teen film. The movies played on stereotypes and, apart from producing a few iconic comedic moments, made no contribution to the social impact of this sub-genre (which had every chance of having one through its targeted demographic). Yes, young people had films marketed directly at them but that was only because they were a lucrative audience — there was no room for identification, advice or comfort in the messages that these films put out, much less, any concern for the realistic teenage experience.

As the late Nineties moved into the 2000s, issues surrounding teenage mental health and sexuality were primarily reserved for the arthouse/indie film — think My Own Private Idaho or Bad Education. Mainstream teen-cinema was still focusing on heterosexual, white, neuro-typical characters; and spaces for mentally ill and queer POC were scarce on the big screen. Although there were characters like Damian from Mean Girls, these were caricatures and joke-machines if anything else. Young, queer kids did not have the onscreen representation they deserved, especially considering the teen movie had had over fifty years of development.

However, the 2000s. specifically, 2010 has seen a significant shift in subject matter. With the rise in popularity of Young Adult novel adaptations, the teen genre has seen more all-inclusive films than ever before. One catalyst for this was the work of author John Green, whose novels depicting hard-hitting topics such as, terminal illness; the journey from adolescence to adulthood and homosexuality have seen recent on-screen success. Books of a similar vein are rapidly being adapted for film. These novels, which have seen significant critical success and have found a solid place in the socio-cultural sphere of ‘the teen,’ are being made available to an even wider audience. The positive effect of this is evident in the recent release of Love, Simon –– an adaptation of the YA novel, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Unlike recent LGBTQ+ hit Call Me By Your NameLove, Simon bears no resemblance to the brooding and seductive queer romances found in art films. Refreshingly, this new adaptation is said to be utterly average, celebrating the normality of queer teens and depicting the adolescent experience as plainly as any heterosexual teen film would. As Out magazine puts it, “young LGBTQ people can see themselves in everyday life without feeling like a tokenized piece of comic relief.”

The impact that this film is having on young and old audiences alike is profound, with some saying — on Twitter — Love, Simon has helped them come out to friends and family and some wishing that they had had as positive a representation of queerness as this one when they were a teen. Keiynan Lonsdale, who stars in Love, Simon, has come out during the last few months and Nick Robinson, who plays Simon, has said that his brother was able to come out to him during filming. This sort of response proves just how important it is to have a non-sexualised LGBTQ+ film aimed at young people.

One of the most important features of the teen movie is representation. At an age where it may feel like the world is against you and that you don’t belong, cinema can offer a safe space for an individual to identify with characters that speak to their anxieties and insecurities. For too long, the genre has put the privileged, hetero-teen at the forefront, but it would appear that a cultural shift is starting to occur. If this new wave of teen cinema is one of all-inclusive, realistic representation then please, let it live on.

25 February 2018

Year of the woman: 5 female-led films to look out for in 2018

In 2017, Wonder Woman grossed $821 million and became the tenth highest grossing film of the year. Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast were the two most successful films of 2017, both making over $1 billion worldwide, and featured female protagonists. Girls Trip, a WOC-led film about four friends reconnecting, became the first comedy of 2017 to gross over $100 million. Raw and I Am Not a Witch showcased the undeniable talent of female filmmakers, especially in the horror genre, and gave us two of the most notably unique female-led films of the year. But the female-led reign of the box office is not over yet; 2018 is set for even more incredible films about women for audiences to look forward to. Here are a few of our top picks:

A Wrinkle in Time – dir. Ava DuVernay

A Wrinkle in Time is an upcoming science fantasy adventure film, based on a novel by Madeleine L’Engle. The story follows a young girl who must travel through space and time to rescue her scientist father whilst being guided by a trio of guardian angels named ‘Mrs. Whatsit’, ‘Mrs. Who’, and ‘Mrs. Which’. Boasting a stellar cast of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, this upcoming whimsical movie will provide a number of inspirational new heroes for young girls everywhere.

Ocean’s 8 – dir. Gary Ross

Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway — if the incredible cast doesn’t convince you to see this film then I don’t know what will. The female-led spin-off of the Ocean’s Eleven series sees the gang of ladies attempt to pull off the ultimate heist at New York’s star-studded Met Gala and steal a near priceless necklace. The film promises a whole host of celeb cameos, including the likes of the Kardashians and Anna Wintour. Much like WidowsOcean’s 8 is a step forward in genre films; women are getting to be part of the action, yielding weapons and harbouring slick criminal intuition, proving that they can be just as badass as George Clooney.

Widows – dir. Steve McQueen

An adaptation of a 2002 TV miniseries, Widows follows the lives of four widowed women who are left to deal with the debts left behind by their criminal husbands. The women must work together, using what little help their dead husbands left behind, to pull off their very own heist. With a screenplay written by Gillian Flynn (author of the best-selling Gone Girl) and a leading lady foursome of Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo, this is set to be an exhilarating crime thriller which might just be another critically acclaimed success for McQueen.

Crazy Rich Asians – dir. Jon M. Chu

Starring Constance Wu, this adaptation sees a young woman come to terms with the life of Asia’s rich and famous after finding out that her boyfriend’s family is one of the richest on the continent. The film includes an all-Asian cast and explores familial relationships, modern romance, socialite-life and tricky mothers in law. Crazy Rich Asians will be Constance Wu’s most acclaimed leading role so far, in the film world, and will hopefully make her a household name.

On the Basis of Sex – dir. Mimi Leder

This upcoming American biographical film will see Felicity Jones play Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg in 1993 and she became the second female justice to be confirmed to the Court, as well as being the first Jewish justice since the 1969 resignation of Justice Abe Fortas. The film will detail Ginsburg’s journey to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice; it shall explore the struggle for equal rights and the challenges of sexism she faced.