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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #12!

The twelfth edition of the new and revived Scannain podcast discusses the week that has been in Irish and international film.

This week, I’m joining Jason Coyle, Ronan Doyle and Emma Fagan to discuss everything from zero-budget Irish indie The New Music to the internal logic of It Follows. As usual, we discuss what we’ve watched over the past week or so, jump into the top ten, and talk about the new releases landing in Irish cinemas.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below. You can access the New Music GoFundMe here.

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The Meta Movie Monster Milieu: The Postmodern Horror Film…

Horror films have historically performed very well.

They never really get the same attention or focus as more prestigious genres like drama or even comedy or action, but they tend to chug away reliably in the background. Since the explosion of blockbuster filmmaking during the seventies, horror has always had several innate advantages over other genres. Horror films are cheaper to produce than star-studded dramas, period pieces, or epic spectacle, meaning that they have to earn less money to be profitable. Horror films are also largely seen as disposable and fun films, so there is always a market for these films and they tend to be insulated from bad reviews.

Indeed, there has been a miniature horror revolution over the past few years, itself building on the low-budget found footage revolution of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Very few people seem to talk about it, but director James Wan seems to have built what is Hollywood’s second successful shared universe with the nexus connecting films like The Conjuring and The Conjuring II to movies like Annabelle and The Nun. Indeed, the success of these films has even led to a sort of weird hybrid of revived seventies horror stylings with blockbuster narrative sensibilities.

However, there has also been a quieter revolution in horror storytelling, with several low-budget and independent horror films gaining critical and cultural traction. Films like The Babadook were greeted with enthusiasm. Get Out become one of a handful of low budget horror films to secure a Best Picture nomination. Films like Hereditary emerge from the festival circuit with considerable buzz. Horror movies have always been pointed towards and engaged with contemporary politics, often in a manner more visceral than the prestige dramas around them. However, it seems that is finally being acknowledged.

With all of this happening within the genre, there has been something else bubbling through contemporary horror cinema. Films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place represent a fascinating shift within the genre towards more self-aware storytelling. There is a decidedly meta quality to horror films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place. As with horror films like The Babadook and Get Out, these are films that hinge on the audience’s understanding of the mechanics and structure of horror films, weaponising the viewer’s expectations.

However, these films are markedly different from companion horrors like The Babadook and Get Out, films that use the language of horror to construct broader allegories. Instead, films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place are horror films that often seem to be explicitly about the experience of watching horror films.

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It Follows the Rules – Horror Movies and “the Rules”

As with all cinema, horror movies tend to reflect the era in which they were created.

There are any number of obvious examples. The b-movie horrors of the fifties fixated on atomic horrors as an expression of anxiety of the development of the nuclear bomb and fears about science gone mad. The haunted house became a fixture of horror in the seventies owing to economic uncertainty, while the zombie became a reflection of unchecked mindless consumerism. The late eighties gave way to body horror as the AIDS virus became an international crisis. In the nineties, knowing irony seemed to take over.

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Even in the first couple of years of the twenty-first century, the genre came to be dominated by supernatural monsters and found footage. Found footage offered a more grounded and realistic depiction of terror, reflecting the footage of real-life horrors captured on camcorders and mobile telephones for broadcast on the evening news. This dependence on found footage seemed to represent a logical extension of the ironic postmodernism of the nineties, a fear that the real world and the world of the horror were overlapping.

Indeed, it is quite easy to draw parallels between the War on Terror and the horror movies of the early twenty-first century. The found footage style recalls the images of 9/11 captured by citizen journalists and imprinted upon the public consciousness. The emphasis on torture in franchises like Saw and Hostel reflects contemporary political debates about how best to face the future. The renewed emphasis on foreign countries as inherently hostile in horrors like Hostel, The Ruins and Touristas.

Still waters...

Recent horror movies have seen a bit of a shift away from those kinds of themes and stories, although there are still traces to be found; The Shallows is very much an “American tourist in hostile territory” film while The Girl With All the Gifts looks to be a clever twist on the zombie genre that is still going strong following a millennial resurgence. Still, recent years have seen modern horror become increasingly nostalgic and old-fashioned, a trend best demonstrated by the horrors produced by James Wan like The Conjuring.

However, there is something else interesting happening in the background. Perhaps an extension of the same postmodern irony thread threaded through late nineties films like Scream and then evolving into the blurred fiction of found footage, modern horror films seem increasingly fixated on the idea of the “rules.” more and more, it seems like horror films insist upon their monsters conforming to an internal logic that the protagonists and audience can deduce (and exploit) through observation and experimentation.

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Note: This post includes spoilers for It Follows and Lights Out. If you haven’t seen them yet, consider yourself warned.

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