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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | December 12, 2019

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The Imagined 80's of Modern Indie Film

The Imagined 80’s of Modern Indie Film

| On 27, Aug 2015

“They don’t engage in the empty nostalgia of simply referencing classic films, hoping to somehow co-opt the aura of cool. What they share, along with awesome synth soundtracks, is an aesthetic philosophy”

Pulsing synths, neon lighting and dark suburban streets all conjure up warm feelings of nostalgia in a generation of cinema-goers. The American 80’s of films like The Terminator, Escape From New York and The Lost Boys was a curious time when seemingly un-parented teenagers were constantly stumbling upon mysteries/invasions/murderers and blood had the fluro glow of tomato sauce. And now that the nerdy kids who collected all the Halloween beta tapes have reached directorial age, we seem to be returning to those neon soaked suburbs.

Last year’s It Follows was ostensibly set in the present day, judging by the fact that the characters have mobile phones. But the way the camera glides wide-angled through the streets of Detroit, following teenagers on bikes while a John Carpenter indebted soundtrack pounds in the background, the film seems decidedly set in that imagined 80’s. One of the other great horror films of the last few years was 2009’s The House of the Devil, which was actually set in the 80’s and revelled as much in its love of high-wasted jeans as it did in the voyeuristic camera angles of classic suspense.

80s HOUSE

Likewise, 2015’s The Guest (which coincidentally shares It Follow’s lead actor Maika Monroe) echoes the unstoppable rhythm of The Terminator, allowing a sense of cool dread to settle in before exploding in moments of shocking suburban violence. It then allows the violence to drift to the self-aware excess of Robocop, ratcheting up the action to the point of ridiculous fun without ever losing its sense of stakes.

What makes these films amazing is partially what they don’t do. They don’t engage in the empty nostalgia of simply referencing classic films, hoping to somehow co-opt the aura of cool. What they share, along with awesome synth soundtracks, is an aesthetic philosophy. They are confident that style and substance are not in competition, that it’s OK to use slow motion for the simple reason that it looks great. They don’t feel the need to apologise for the fact that they are genre films nor for the fact that they often have lofty artistic goals.

80s It Follows

Perhaps the film to most aggressively channel this retro aesthetic to a greater purpose in recent years was Drive. It was so open about its skillful reappropriations that its logline and name were near identical to its progenitor, the minimalist getaway driver film The Driver (which technically was released in the late 70’s, but along with Walter Hill’s followup The Warriors, helped set the template for 80’s genre cinema). The now iconic elevator scene is the perfect example of how pure aesthetic style can become substance. It’s a beautiful microcosm for the film as a whole; an idealistic romance doomed by horrifying violence.

80s Drive

The most obvious 80’s touchstone of these recent films, the synth heavy score, might be indicative of what these films get right. They are inherently artificial and assured, with an almost alienating precision. But with their propulsive electronic beats and repetitive melodies, the best ones have a way of worming their way into your subconscious, as anyone who’s caught themselves humming “A Real Hero” from Drive can attest.

The recent slew of 80’s inspired indie films are slick, genre-driven and unapologetically showy. But in reveling in stylish excess, the great ones have a way of getting at something human.

Image Credits: House of the Devil,  It Follows and Icon Movies (Drive).

Feature Image: The Guest