The trajectory of horror movies over the last few years has been less than inspiring. Coming out the other end of the era of torture porn driven by the Saw franchise, there was little in the way of intelligent, well composed filmmaking for the once proud genre. Between that and the found footage movement, we saw a whole generation of directors and writers that never were truly challenged. Instead, they spent years opting for jump scares and gratuitous violence in place of well-made movies that truly terrify audiences. Recently though, there’s been a movement back toward quality, and quite frankly it’s about time.
The trend began last year, with a deeply unsettling yet stellar movie out of Australia, The Babadook. In it, we see complex themes like grief, child-rearing, and depression all dealt with in a horror context, played to perfection by lead actress Essie Davis. But none of the scares produced were of the cheap variety. Nothing jumped out of a closet or ripped off limbs. Rather, all the terror of the film came in subtle, suggestive waves. The titular monster of the film appeared out of the corner of our characters’ eyes, hiding in the dark and scaring us with the mere mention of its name.
It didn’t take long before America caught on to the potential of a return to suggestive horror. It Follows is 2015’s early contender for best horror movie of the year, telling the story of a supernatural monster that picks its victims based on their sexual partners. The catch is that it quite literally follows around our main character in the background of the entire film, leaving viewers feeling uneasy and uncomfortable the whole time. Watching a truly terrifying movie is stressful enough as it is. When you have to be suspicious of every extra in the background, it’s that much more terrifying.
Alongside It Follows, 2015 saw the release of a more experimental format for horror, with Unfriended hitting theaters to largely positive reviews. Found footage movies have largely run their course in terms of their creative limits, and the creative minds behind Unfriended likely knew that. Rather than reinventing the wheel though, they turned the format on its head. The film takes place entirely on the desktop of our main character, as she and her friends are terrorized over video chat by an unknown killer. In all, it made for a cool spin on a tired filmmaking device, combining the teen slasher genre with found footage sensibilities.
Amidst these releases, there have been other duds that have hit theaters, and as such we’re not entirely out of the woods quite yet. There’s yet another Paranormal Activity sequel already in the works. The Conjuring, a general solid horror movie from 2013, has spawned a series of unnecessary sequels and spinoffs. Somehow, Human Centipede 3 was allowed into theaters. Buried in the rubble though, is a handful gems that are pushing the genre forward in a positive direction.
The more movies like It Follows and Unfriended get made, the more studios will see the potential for trying to actually toy around with intelligent and thought-out filmmaking. Hollywood will always chase the easy payday, but if enough quality offerings start flooding the market, the hope is that more will follow in their wake. It’s either that, or stomaching more unnecessary cash-grab sequels. When presented with that, the choice is clear: With the right push, horror could fly into a full-fledged renaissance.
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More from Entertainment Cheat Sheet:
- Why People Are Sick of Found Footage Horror Movies
- ‘The Babadook’ is One of the Scariest Movies You’ll See All Year
- 6 Gory Horror Films: Why They Did (Or Didn’t) Work