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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | June 17, 2019

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Horror in today's cinema

Horror in today’s cinema

| On 29, Jun 2016

In the days of films like The Exorcist (1973) and Poltergeist (1982), the horror genre had a respectable reputation. Helmed by talented screenwriters and directors, the films weren’t just there for a cheap thrill, and were easily capable of matching the quality of other critically acclaimed movies. Today, it seems, quality has been traded in for reboots and repetition.

It should be stated that horror is currently thriving in the independent sector. Movies such as The Babadook and The Witch are examples of excellent filmmaking as well as truly disturbing, and scary members of their genre. However when it comes to blockbusters, horror seems to fall short in today’s cinema. Iconic characters like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers have each been butchered onscreen in reboots that fail to capture what originally made them such chilling presences, and their respective films manage to miss every perfectly sculpted scare that their predecessor’s hit.

It’s an odd progression for the genre, when you consider that we have access to far more realistic effects than we did when iconic horrors were dominating the industry. Surely the ability to make visuals that much more real would bring out the artistic best in creators. So why, when it comes to blockbusters, does horror just not hit it’s mark? One overused technique to blame would be jump scares.

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To be frank, jump scares are not scary. Too often, horror forgoes the task of creating something truly chilling and fear inducing, and instead favours a simple jump scare that will get a few screams from the audience. There’s no sense of dread, and should you remove the loud sound design, there’s nothing left to emit any reaction from the audience. That is not horror; the audience is not being scared, they’re simply being yelled at.

Another fault might actually be that, in a world where the internet gives us access to vivid, disturbing imagery at the click of a button, people just can’t be taken by surprise anymore; everyone has ‘seen it all before’. The audience today has become desensitised, with real-life horror stories playing out on the news every night; and with so much access, it’s just not that easy to produce a reaction anymore.

The gaming industry is arguably where horror is able to thrive the most in entertainment today, with multiple role-play horror games receiving critical acclaim in recent years. Understandably, the next step for the genre had to be something more real – something that requires attention and enraptures an audience member so that they are a part of the story. Being a member of the story instead of simply and onlooker creates a whole new experience and opportunity for creators to imbed fear into their audience, and it’s no wonder horror games have seen such success.

But for the film industry, what are directors supposed to do to stay on their game?

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For wildly popular director James Wan, he has found that horror in simplicity is the answer. Making his first impression on the genre with cult horror franchise Saw, Wan is also behind Insidious and The Conjuring, which have been hits both commercially and critically and followed by equally successful sequels. Playing in the shadows and the silences, Wan’s refined filmmaking techniques have allowed him to craft horror that sticks with the audience. His ability to create memorable and relatable characters also plays a large part in what makes his work so impressionable. While his peers fail to place focus on narrative and characterisation, selling out in favour of jump-scares and gore and creating replaceable characters that, in essence, purely exist for their eventual death, Wan’s characters function to serve a cause, making the audience care about the endings they receive.

Unfortunately, for fans of the genre, Wan has now taken on the directing role for Warner Bros.’ Aquaman, meaning he’s likely to be missing from the horror scene while he commits to the demands of a large franchise film. The future state of larger horror films is uncertain as a result, as Wan’s departure means the loss of one of the few true talents that larger studios are willing to invest in when concerning horror.

With independent horror flooded with great talent, it goes without saying that, if major studios decided to back them, we could easily see horror return to the status it once held during the time of 1973’s The Exorcist. Should smaller directors behind independent hits like The Babadook and It Follows receive the trust of larger studios, they’d have the freedom to further explore their craft and go places that lower-level production simply can’t support. Unfortunately, larger studios are less willing to take chances, and favour proven brands such as Paranormal Activity instead.

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For now, Wan’s The Conjuring 2 is in cinemas, reminding us of what can be done when great talent meets a respectable budget, and proving that the horror genre is not out of opportunity or ideas – it’s just lacking in faith.

Image Credit: Shock Till You Drop, The Babadook Website, The Conjuring 2 Website