In Defense of 2018’s Horror Offerings

Last week, Vogue posed the question, remember when horror was good? The question was followed with the blanket statement that 2017 was a far superior year for horror, due to It, Split, and lesser-known indie and foreign flicks such as Raw and It Comes at Night. The writer, Taylor Antrim, also labels Get Out a “masterpiece of social horror,” but then surmises that because Get Out didn’t win the Oscar that year (Jordan Peele did, however), that the air went out of the genre. If anything, I would argue that 2018 was another strong year for the genre, extending the new golden age.

First, Antrim admits that A Quiet Place, Hereditary, and Suspiria are good films, but the writer tries to remove the horror label from them and instead calls them thrillers. This is what some critics tried to do last year when Get Out earned Oscar nods. There were articles about “post-horror,” socially conscious films concerned with bigger ideas than guts and gore. The genre, they argued, couldn’t handle such serious themes! I guess they never watched any of Romero or Hitchcock’s horror films. It is beyond me how Antrim can see these new films as anything but horror. The first 15 minutes of A Quiet Place are some of the most nerve-jangling scenes I witnessed in cinema all year. The rest of the film features creatures terrorizing a family. Citing Hereditary, Antrim says that the genre could use a dose of humor and fun. On the one hand, I’ll admit that humor and dark delight do have a place in horror. Get Out is a good example, as well as classics like Re-Animator and Dawn of the Dead. Other genre staples, though, like The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead are pretty short on the jokes.  Would anyone question their importance to the genre because they lack punch lines?

Antrim saves most of the criticism for Halloween, this year’s highest-grossing horror film. The author’s main gripe is that the film simply wasn’t scary. I beg to differ. David Gordon Green’s film returns Michael Myers to a force of nature, and his kills are brutal without being gratuitous, unlike Rob Zombie’s two Halloween films. Perhaps more importantly, the reboot gives substance to the Final Girl, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), making her the hunter who wants to overcome her trauma. Even Antrim admits that the film is relevant in 2018 and the era of #MeToo.

Within the article, Antrim  says that Hereditary, A Quiet Place, Suspiria, and even the French film Revenge are good films, while trying to dislodge them from the horror label. All of these films belong to 2018, and all of these films fall within the horror genre. Vogue’s article is a continuation of the flurry of pieces last year that tried to discredit the genre. 2017 was indeed a great year for horror, but so was 2018. Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween raised a heck of a lot of money at the box office while being interesting films, short on jump scares. The year also produced a number of wonderful foreign and indie films, including Revenge, Terrified, The Witch in the Window, Ghost Stories, among others. As horror continues to do well at the box office and earn praise, it’s likely articles like Antrim’s will continue to be published. To that, I say, may the new golden age of horror extend well into 2019!



Review: Incident in a Ghostland (2018)

If you asked me to make a list of my favorite horror films of the 21st Century, I would certainly include Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) on that list, one of the most unrelenting and memorable films of the French Extremity wave that dominated the first decade of the 2000s. Needless to say, I was eager to see Laugier’s latest entry in the horror genre, this year’s Incident in a Ghostland. Like Martyrs, the film deals with trauma and toys with the conventions of the genre, specifically home invasion, but unlike Laugier’s previous film, Incident in a Ghostland’s major flaw is poor character development, especially regarding its villains.

Watch the trailer here:

The plot of Incident in Ghostland is basic. A mother, Pauline (Mylène Farmer), moves her daughters, Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson), into a deceased aunt’s house. Before they finish unpacking, the family is terrorized by the Candy Truck Woman (Kevin Power) and the “Fat Man” (Rob Archer). The villains are the most problematic part of the film. Their motivation is totally absent. The Candy Truck Woman, a trans character, is a shadowy figure who is presented as threatening, but it’s unclear what motivates this character to brutalize the family and dress the girls up like dolls for the ogre to fondle.  Personally, I have no issue with creating a trans character who is a slasher, as long as the motivation is clear. The Silence of the Lamb’s Buffalo Bill is a trans character, but there is a speech in the film and novel by Hannibal Lector that makes clear Buffalo Bill does not murder or kidnap based on that, but rather, has other motives. Buffalo Bill was also based on Ed Gein. Here, it is unclear if the Candy Truck woman is menacing because of sexuality/fear of “the other.” The character is given no backstory and is usually only on screen when committing violence.


Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson)

Despite the problematic character development of the villains, the film is not without its strengths. The aunt’s house, filled with wide-eyed, creepy dolls and dusty antiques, creates a moody atmosphere. This is a house that lives and breathes, that has laughing dolls with glowing eyes in its closets. Vera, an aspiring horror writer obsessed with Lovecraft, loves it, while Beth, forced to leave her school and boyfriend behind, scoffs at the cobwebbed rooms.  The themes explored and narrative choices are worth mentioning, too. Like Martyrs, the film addresses the effects of trauma and bends reality. Vera can’t cope with what happened to her family, and as a result, she creates a separate reality for herself, one in which she’s an adult and an accomplished horror writer. This alternate reality creates some interesting narrative choices that upend the conventions of the slasher and home invasion sub-genres. Vera and Beth are tough gals worth rooting for, and they fight and endure, despite the utter cruelty they suffer. In terms of the gore level, a staple of French Extremity films, Incident in Ghostland feels restrained at times compared to Martyrs or other staples of that period, but the film is not always the easiest to watch, especially when the young women are groped by the Fat Man.

Incident in a Ghostland had a lot of potential. It has memorable actresses and establishes the right tone, atmosphere, and tension. However, its under-cooked villains are a glaring flaw, difficult to ignore.



Revenge and the Power of the Gaze

I wrote an article on the French film Revenge and the gaze. It was posted over at Horror Homeroom. You can check it out here.

While difficult to watch, Revenge is one of my favorite horror films of the year thus far, especially for what it does with narrative and the gaze. If you do check out the film, prepare yourself mentally. It’s not an easy film to watch. I also encourage you to follow Horror Homeroom. They do a great job covering the horror genre with a critical eye.



Pyewacket and the Horror of Our Parents’ Imperfections

2018, like 2017, is shaping up to be a strong year for the horror film, especially with the upcoming release of A24 Studio’s Hereditary and the reboot of Halloween. Horror is poised to do well at the box office again this year, but some attention should be given to the independent films that have already been released this year, including Pyewacket, written and directed by Adam MacDonald and released by IFC Midnight.




The film stars Nicole Munoz as Leah, a rebellious teenager who listens to heavy metal and has a fascination with the occult. Leah may sound like a one-dimensional, cliche character, but she is not, mainly because of the story given to her. The central conflict revolves around Leah’s fragile relationship with her erratic mother, Mrs. Reyes, played by Laurie Holden (“The Walking Dead,” “The X-Files”). Holden’s performance is stellar. Her moods change from scene to scene and showcase Holden’s range as an actress. One minute, she is curled up on the bed, crying, and by the next scene, she is cooking pancakes for her daughter, trying to ease the tension with a smile. Mrs. Reyes is grief-stricken after losing her husband, and she wants to move away in order to move on, which puts her at odds with her daughter, who has found her place among fellow Goths at school.

Eventually, Leah dabbles with rituals and tries to summon a demon to punish her mother. In the hands of a less skilled director, this familiar plot line of a teenager in conflict with her mother would be yawnsome, but MacDonald makes it work. This is not a fast-paced film heavy on jump scares. Instead, it builds slowly and the viewer spends a lot of time getting to know Mrs. Reyes, Leah, and her friends, which makes the audience generally concerned for their well-being. The scares build slowly, from creaks in the house, to unnerving footsteps on the roof, to a rather memorable and startling conclusion.

More so, Pyewacket falls in line with recent horror movies that interrogate the imperfections of parents and also the lofty expectations placed on parents, especially mothers, to fulfill their role. The Babadook comes to mind. Mrs. Reyes, like the frazzled mother in The Babadook, Amelia (Essie Davis), tries to do her best but can only take on so much. The children in both films don’t make it easy on their mothers, either. Leah immediately protests the decision to move, discounting her mother’s grief.  However, Pyewacket is a little more direct in questioning the ways that we idolize parents, especially mothers, and whether or not that’s healthy.  In one of the early scenes, Leah’s friend Janice (Chloe Rose), asks, “Do you think our parents will always be our parents? We’re supposed to look up to them, but they’re just people. They fuck up. They make mistakes. Really, they’re just people.”

Mrs. Reyes is never depicted as the perfect mother. In fact, in one scene, she says to Leah, “Your friends are losers  just like you’re becoming,” before adding that it’s impossible for her to move on when she sees her husband every day in her daughter’s face. Her mood swings display the effects of her grief and her newfound role as a widowed and single mother.  It takes much longer in The Babadook for Amelia’s tension with her son to come to a head, though both mothers try to maintain their sanity, despite the demands of their children.

The fraught relationship between Leah and Mrs. Reyes and the strong performances by Holden and Munoz make Pyewacket one of this year’s most compelling horror films so far. The scares that ramp up by the film’s second half are an added bonus.

Pyewacket is currently available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, and other streaming services.


A Quiet Place: Masterfully Suspenseful Mainstream Horror



John Krasinski is not the first name that comes to mind in the horror genre. Yet, A Quiet Place, which he directed, is one of the most memorable mainstream horror films of the last few years. The film stars Krasinski as Lee and his real life wife, Emily Blunt, as Evelyn. Together, they exist in a post-apocalyptic world and try to protect their children from monsters that are blind but have a heightened sense of sound.

The film handles suspense masterfully, especially in the first 15 minutes, when the family hunts an abandoned store for medicine. Evelyn needs pills for her sick son, and she slowly has to turn the bottles on the shelf to read the labels. One little sound, and she knows her family will be meat for the monsters. After exiting the store, the family walks barefoot on trails of sand so their footsteps don’t echo and alert the monsters. You hope that all of them will make it home.

The rest of the film is relentless in its use of suspense, sound, and silence. Any wrong move, like the creak of a floorboard or a scream, will doom the family. The monsters, meanwhile, break the silence with their screeches and loud thumps when they invade the family’s home.

Like any good horror film, A Quiet Place serves as a metaphor for a larger issue: parenting and the dread that you can’t protect children from a world that can be unbearably cruel. At one point, Evelyn asks Lee, “Who are we if we can’t protect them?”. Blunt and Krasinski are stellar on screen together, especially in one of the early scenes where they share earbuds, cling to each other, and slow dance. You root for this family and want them to survive, but their pained facial expressions and the threat of a monster that is always lurking in the cornstalks surrounding their farmhouse make you wonder if they’ll last until morning.


Emily Blunt’s performance as Evelyn is fantastic. She has one of the most terrifying birthing scenes I’ve ever seen on screen. It is visceral and jarring. Her character gradually transitions to a mother who will do whatever needs to be done to protect her children. In a movie that relies so much on silence and has so little dialogue, Blunt pulls off much of her performance through body language and facial expressions.

Krasinski has a mainstream horror hit on his hands. He may be new to the genre, but he certainly understands that character development and suspense that doesn’t rely too heavily on gore are elements that make a good horror film. Blunt, meanwhile, is emotional and powerful. A Quiet Place is the best mainstream horror film of 2018 thus far.

Netflix’s Worthy Horror Flick The Ritual


A Netflix horror flick released this month is catching a lot of buzz. The Ritual, a story about four friends who get lost on a hike in Sweden, has been much-hyped on horror social media pages. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill. For the most part, the film primarily centers around the first half of the book, when the friends encounter something ancient and menacing in the woods, which, for the most part, is unseen to the viewer. In that regard, the film uses some of the same tricks that The Blair Witch Project used- don’t show the monster. Instead, just show their reactions to twigs snapping and other creepy sounds. For a majority of the film, the monster is described only through their dialogue and leaves a lot to the imagination, which works. This allows the viewer to question whether or not they’re actually seeing and hearing something, or, is there something deeper going on. Is the monster a form of madness or grief manifested over the loss of their friend? This question is especially relevant when it comes to the protagonist, Luke (Rafe Spall), who watched their friend get killed by junkies in a convenient store. The hike is in honor of his memory. When the monster terrorizes the friends, Luke often has flashbacks of that moment when his friend was murdered and he failed to act, thus the monster is frequently associated with Luke’s grief.

The first half of the movie is generally suspenseful and has strong character build-up. The long-shots of the mountains and the woods create an eerie, moody atmosphere and makes the viewer feel like the setting is going to engulf the characters. The second half shifts the narrative somewhat when Luke encounters some locals who worship the monster. This half is not as strong, but it does not pull down the entire film.

Overall, The Ritual is a strong entry into the horror genre at the beginning of 2018. It is atmospheric, well-shot, and generally knows how to exercise some restraint regarding he use of a monster as a threat.