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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.