The Horrors of Family

Horror’s evocative ability to drag personal reactions from audiences makes it such a shapeshifting and endlessly compelling genre to discuss. Conversations over “scariest scenes” or “most frightening films” expose personality traits, tell of a viewer’s own experiences and check society’s temperature based on thematic repetitions. Phobias are not widely shared seat-to-seat, just as fears match intimate wiring. We fight the same fight every year as movies like It and Hereditary are labeled “not horror”, as if certain publications demand not to be associated with the genre. With all this said, I’m not here to scream “A QUIET PLACE IS HORROR!” until my lungs explode. Instead, Allow me to highlight how this year’s focus on family-driven horror has produced a painfully poignant subgenre tethered to current crises defining our news cycle.

Resonance first illuminated after A Quiet Place. A dystopian survival tale about parental duties, maturing children, literal sacrifice and fighting for the family you love. The inconceivable experience of watching your youngest kin be snatched away by some shrieking alien aggressor. The guilt-ridden aftermath of holding yourself responsible as a sibling. The existential dread of knowing you won’t always be around to protect those for whom you’d offer your heart on a platter. No, A Quiet Place isn’t indulgent jump-scare generics. It’s far meatier and denser with its distribution of horror.

Oh, and it’s also decidedly not alone.

Familial frighteners have claimed dominance over 2018. Clans pulled apart from the inside or standing together against outside threats. Hereditary gets another mention, but examples stack high. Satan’s Slaves for sure. Pyewacket, which beat Hereditary to market given wall-crawling terrors. Cargo, Martin Freeman’s “traverse across Australia before turning into a zombie” baby-saver. Still/Born, a riff off Mesopotamian demon Lamashtu (whose appearances, indeed, strike fear). The Strangers: Prey At Night. Marrowbone. Dead Shack. Halloween. Before I Wake. Ghost Stories. Mom And Dad. Wildling. Some dad-joke heavy, some claustrophobic, some bolstered by destructively heartfelt performances, others defined by knockout gore. Confining horror to haunted house formulas is first and foremost lazy, larger-picture ignorantly undervaluing genre advantages.

Halloween’s doesn’t derive horror from Michael Myers popping out of closets. What’s scarier is how no one listens to Laurie Strode and the willingness of Haddonfield to underestimate a monster while devaluing a victimized woman’s words. Before I Wake is a more whimsical horror take that produces its monster, the Canker Man, as a child’s snarling manifestation of loss. Cargo tunes into a father’s impending demise and the reality that he won’t be able to care for his infant daughter once zombified. Horror doesn’t need to fit snugly into a walled boxed with trap doors and giveaway walls where jumpy-jolts crouch out of sight. Horror filmmakers, maybe more than ever, have tapped cerebral and salaciously simmering storylines that manipulate genre storytelling through meticulously invasive means. Fewer expectancies, more artful ruination.

Still, without any doubt, horror.

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Why Keep Fighting This Fight

Maybe my aggravation is unjustified or proportionally lopsided. Perhaps I shouldn’t fall victim to outrage clickbait styles of today’s journalistic culture. For the original article author, who no doubt won’t read a single word of this piece or even if they did be swayed, consider this mission accomplished. As other social media users pointed out, being critical of such uninteresting and inattentive takes as “2018 horror is bad” coming from a fashion magazine could be considered doppelganger behavior. Someone believes their headline – “Horror 2018: Wasn’t This Supposed to be the Golden Age of Horror” – and that writer has a right to express themselves. If you’re reacting to a headline and immediately raging without digesting the content that follows, I agree. Read before you judge.

Afterward is when you can start pitching your editors in Caps Lock with messages like “DID YOU READ THIS?! PLZ LET ME ADDRESS.”

What bothers me is rhetoric along these lines surfaces every year. What bothers me is my Twitter feed is filled with passionate, knowledgeable, chest-beating horror journalists and enthusiasts who’d pen countless more alluring perspective pieces. What bothers me is that, yes, a fashion publication writing about horror can be easily shrugged off versus if a site like Dread Central – who’d never ‘effing do this because genre respect flows through every writer – posted the same content. But you know what? [The publication’s] traffic ranking will bring far more eyes than, say, this defense of 2018 horror I’m writing right now. Their reach is extensive, and their broad readership will ingest those same words knowing nothing else. Maybe some of you can shrug that off, and more power to you. I, unfortunately, cannot.

I’ve invested too much time banging horror’s always-under-attack drum to sit by as upturned noses impose willfully unmeritorious decrees. This year’s genre health requires no last rights be uttered, a faint pulse beeping in the background. Of the almost 100 new-release horror movies this critic has absorbed in 2018, I’d be happy to offer alternative recommendations. I know horror’s alive and well. Most of my friends, followers, and readership know the same. But everyone else? They deserve just as fair an analysis. If that means I get all ranty every now-and-again, so be it. “Bad” my dusty mummified ass.

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