Bulletin of a Horror Movie Buff By Edoardo Mazzini
Right now, the Horror genre is traversing one of the most interesting, diverse, and productive spells of its history, and I, for one, am delighted about it. Since 2015 the genre has seen an unprecedented surge, gifting viewers with both blockbuster mainstream successes and independent gems. Horror films have performed unexpectedly well at the box office for years now, and are finally claiming the critics, audiences and even awards attention they have deserved for so long.
The past two years have been particularly interesting, as the productions, and the genre itself, had to grapple with the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. After a considerable slump in 2020, the genre managed to make treasure of the situation and since the start of 2021 has been enriched by a number of notable works, resuming its rise to the greatest highs of the medium.
As a Horror Film Club organizer and researcher, and a real movie buff, I would like to bring your attention, dear reader, to this year´s most notable works from the genre thus far, so that you may catch up and join in on the excitement for what the future holds for the genre.
Let us then start with the return of a classic franchise: Matt Bettinelli-Opin and Tyler Gillet brought back to life the long dormant, Wes Craven´s created “Scream” franchise with “Scream” (yes, they have the same exact title), which saw the return of a number of franchise veterans, the likes of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, accompanied by a fresh cast of young actors and actresses, from which Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera particularly excel. The film couldn´t manage to innovate Craven´s original formula, very much following the rigid structure of the previous four instalments, yet does an apt job at modernising the setting, which together with the consistently great performances of Campbell and Cox ends up providing solid entertainment for general audiences, and a few very appreciated treats for long-time fans of the franchise.
Another effort to bring a classic franchise out of retirement and gift it a contemporary setting is that of David Blue Garcia, director of the Netflix distributed “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. The film smartly avoids getting tied down with the messy split timeline of the franchise, being a direct sequel to the original. Sadly, however, that is pretty much the only smart move the film manages: its attempts at including modern themes, such as social media and the social justice movement, in the plot fall spectacularly flat because of its simplistic, broad approach to them, while long-time fans will feel aggrieved with the treatment of classic characters. Not only this, the films, much like most of the entries in the franchise, completely fails to grasp the brilliance of the original and turns the oppressive dread and sharp, darkly ironic social commentary in a dumbed down slasher with very few saving graces.
A film that does indeed understand the spirit of the original Toby Hooper masterpiece “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974), is Ti West´s “X”. Distributed by the at this point consistently great A24, and starring the excellent all female trio of Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega and Brittany Snow, the film provides a perfect balance of sharp tension, shocking gore and a really smart and well put together commentary on the perspective differences between generations and the effect of ageing on sexual tendencies and sexual desire. Specifically, Goth’s dual role performance is worth giving the film a shot alone, with the actress sincerely deserving of award recognition for her work on this picture. Smart, well shot, well scored, funny and yet truly tense, and with a 2022 prequel, “Pearl”, on the horizon, there is no reason to not jump on the bandwagon with this picture right now.
Remaining on the subject of the Slasher sub-genre, this year has also seen the long-awaited return of Giallo master Dario Argento, who made a return after 10 years of inactivity with “Dark Glasses”, starring his own daughter, Asia. Being a big Argento fan, and an Italian, I waited for this film with an equal mixture of excitement and terror: the Italian director is undoubtedly a legend of the genre, yet his output since after “The Stendhal Syndrome” (1996) has gone from bad to worse and I´m truly saddened to ascertain that this picture perfectly fits in the downward spiral. The film is extremely shallow to the point of predictability and boredom, the script and connected performances are way below sub-par and ultimately it greatly resembles a way worse copy of Argento´s very own “Animal Trilogy” from the early 70s, made 50 years later, which renders it sadly inexcusable.
Speaking of the return on the big screen of masters of the genre, the King family continues its prominence in 2022 with two very different releases, first of which is Keith Thomas´s “Firestarter”. Based on the 1980 Stephen King novel of the same title and drawing inspiration from Mark L. Lester´s “Firestarter” (1984), the film stars the young couple of Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon posing as parents of the debutant Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who pulls a very convincing performance for such a young actress. Sadly, the rest of the picture doesn´t match Armstrong´s performance, specifically in the screenwriting department, with the story focusing on the wrong parts of King´s novel and drawing some extremely questionable conclusion from its moral dilemmas.
The other work inspired by the work of the King family is Scott Derrickson´s “The Black Phone”, based on the homonymous short story by Joe Hill, Stephen King´s son. The supernatural thriller features two extremely impressive performance from young actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, and a tour de force showing by the excellent Ethan Hawke in the villainous role of The Grabber. While not necessarily mightily innovative or ground-breaking, the film perfectly encaptures the traditional King´s thematic juxtaposition of growing up stories and the dark difficulties of adulthood, providing plenty of nail-biting moments and managing to quickly form a bond between the audience and the young protagonists. A truly enjoyable picture which I allow myself to suggest also to those who normally are not drawn to the Horror genre.
Similarly driven by a standout performance by the movie´s antagonist is Mimi Cave´s directorial debut, “Fresh”, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and a truly impressive Sebastian Stan. The romantic comedy turned claustrophobic nightmare manages to entertain through and through, being equally funny, tense and gross-out for most of the runtime. The conclusion of the picture sadly leaves a lot to be desired, yet is not enough to derail what is a fresh, pun included, take on a sub-genre staple plot, making it a great choice to watch with friends to share the roller-coaster of emotions the movie provides.
A24’s contribution to the Horror releases this year did not stop at “X”. Their additional prominent release I wish to underline is Alex Garland´s “Men”. The film excels straight off the bat in two aspects: the cinematography is truly stunning, and the performances of Jessie Buckley, Paapa Essiedu, and especially Rory Kinnear are great, with Kinnear´s absolutely deserving some kind of award recognition. The film however brutally fails in its intention of discussing systemic, hereditary masculism in an effective way. Garland employs countless literary references, more-or-less obscure, together with normal storytelling tools, yet fails to effectively transmit a clear, effective message, ending up almost counteracting the theoretic argument he wants to make in a clumsy pursuit of artistic significance ahead of actual substance. Ultimately, despite successes in retaining tension and atmosphere, the movie falls a bit short on its conceptual premises.
Last, but most definitely not least is Jordan Peele´s “Nope”. The hilarious comedian turned sophisticated Horror director strikes again after the successes of “Get Out” and “Us” and does so with his most ambitious project to date. The film is a true summer blockbuster, colossal both in terms of plot and cinematography, yet it manages to maintain Peele´s characteristic sharp and relatable humour and down to earth dialogue writing, making it a delight to sit through. Peele must be however further complimented for his consistent ability in casting the perfect actors for his roles, in the case of this picture Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun and Brandon Perea, who all play their characters with the perfect mix of levity and intensity, putting the cherry on top of the cake for this project. Truly a must watch.
Ultimately, with great releases like “Nope, “X”, “The Black Phone” and “Fresh”, together with Horror adjacent great works, the likes of Guillermo del Toro´s “Nightmare Alley” and the truly fantastic Robert Eggers´ “The Northman”, 2022 so far has been another great year for the genre and for its fans, and with the upcoming releases of David Cronenberg´s “Crimes of the Future”, Olivia Wilde´s “Don´t Worry Darling”, Dan Trachtenberg´s “Prey”, David Gordon Green´s “Halloween Ends”, Ti West´s “Pearl” and Hanna Bergholm´s “Hatching” there really isn´t a better moment to join in on the hype and live first-hand the wonderful ongoing revolution of one of the most experimental, progressive and entertaining genres of cinema´s history. Worst case scenario, you will end up spending a bunch of time having fun with your friends, watching Horror movies, so what could go wrong?
If you are interested in joining the film club or for any further curiosities write to Eduardo at firstname.lastname@example.org