Nothing epitomized past feelings of horror films more than having a scene properly build up to a terrifying moment, only to get a cheap jump scare. However in the last decade I really warmed up to the genre. I always felt that horror was something that benefited being told through novels and videogames. As a kid I loved the Goosebumps series, silly as they were, for having these fun moments that surprisingly cut deeper into the psyche of children’s fears (Monster Blood being one of my faves for that reason). Resident Evil 4 is a great horror action game that equally balances out its creepy atmosphere with incredibly well paced sequences.
There are obviously more detailed and deeper horror novels, as well the videogame medium has the luxury to put the player in a personalized experience that one cannot get anywhere else. Horror films on the other hand have a trickier objective, which is to put a set of characters who you care about in a situation that they can possibly escape (or the illusion of escape whether it be from a physical or internal conflict).
Then again that’s how conflict works, right? Protagonist shows up and has to acquire a MacGuffin to defeat the villain. However there seems to be this cynicism that easily creeps up in the bad ones. Mostly the ones that feature teenagers as the heroes, and when I mean heroes — I mean huge assholes. This has always been a big trend with Hollywood films that I am sick of, even in better horror films it still bugs me that we have to create these incredibly unlikable characters only for them be morally decent in the end. Watching a film should always come with the suspension of disbelief, however even that has a limit. Characters should be relatable, not in terms of seeing yourself in their shoes, but in terms of faults.
Someone could lose a pair of keys, and it’s not at all a screenwriting problem unless it becomes one. Either making the character a complete idiot, forcing the plot to move forward, or some weird case of symbolism…maybe? There are always those problems that are there to illustrate flaws, but when clumsily done they just become a bad horror trope. And what better way to lazily do this then by making archetypal teenage characters as your protagonists. How about following a group of characters who belong in individual cliques yet they all secretly hate each other?
As of the last decade now we’ve seem somewhat of a decline in those films, and more of a rise in psychological horror. Films like ‘Get Out‘ and ‘The Witch‘ that take more of a risk in their own genres by having a mix of family and psychological drama. It also helps that performances in both of those movies serve toward the main theme and elevate it. It’s like removing limiters off a talented actor can make them…do a good job.
The Conjuring films take on more of the family drama than horror. Because of that sacrifice in genre to make the characters better, it makes the movies much better. It also proves that you don’t need a set of teenagers to tell a story about being succumbed to their own conflicts. If you have a solid atmosphere and the willingness to set up your characters to be likable or condensed with fascinating attributes, then that’s really all you need. It’s why some of the most interesting horror movies released recently have the most buzz going on.
So for the longest time I always saw horror as a lesser genre because I was imprinted with the idea that it was very limited. A genre filled with typical ‘slasher’ films or gratuitous ‘torture porn’ films (and to some others ‘found footage’ could also fit that threshold). This was my gaze of the genre during high school. Things are different now that I’m older, more attentive, and willing to try out new things. Although I do get enjoyment out of watching a really bad horror film, which you read more about my fascination with bad films here, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the horror genre can grow and mature.