Horror has obviously always been political. Something about the genre makes this inherent, maybe because you can’t deal with fear and society without necessarily addressing some type of deeply-rooted issue. This being said, I don’t think it’s particularly controversial for me to say that, for a time at least (and maybe even still to a certain degree), horror—at least in the US, where this blog is being written—somehow became notably de-politicized. While this was especially true of the ‘torture porn’ frenzy brought by the Saw and Hostel movies in the early-to-mid 2000s, I think the 80’s is a very important time in this process, specifically if we look at the slasher flick. Maybe more than any other sub-genre, it was in the slasher that the white and suburban became something to protect. I say this change was due to the rise of Reaganism, but that’s a discussion that’s longer than I intend these blog posts to be. Suffice it to say, as American socioeconomics swung to the right with the coming of Neoliberalism, we shouldn’t be surprised that this swing was reflected in a mainstream cultural shift towards the reactionary, one that was completely turned on its head with the premiere of the first Scream film.
Even throughout the sequels, one of the most disturbing and fantastic aspects of these movies is that the killer is not some dream demon from another dimension, or a machete-wielding zombie who simply can’t die. In the Scream films, we see that the threat to suburban paradise is not some Other, some thing from out there—a notion that in and of itself carries all types of racist/sexist/homophobic undertones. A single shot from the fifth-and-newest installment of the franchise captures what separates these movies from other slashers: the killer raising his blood-spattered knife high overhead, with an American flag just out of shot, before bringing his blade down over and over on an already-dead sheriff. Amidst the incompetence of the police, the certainty that the killer is just another nobody from a small California town and the constant meditation each film has on concepts of the ‘bourgeois family’ structure, what these films ultimately provide is a glimpse into a failing system, one where all we can do is ban together with our community to defend ourselves and each other.
Where the fourth sequel left a lot to be desired in terms of the suspense and overall quality of the film, Scream 5 feels like a true, genuine homage to the original suspense-heavy meta-slasher-whodunnits, made by two filmmakers who actually care about what they produce. It’s a slasher, so I’m not saying you can expect to find it on my Top 10 of the year; the dialogue can be…slashery, and so can some of the acting, but it is a fun ride, and as I just mentioned there’s some interesting stuff going on in terms of how the film approaches things like family and the suburbs. I’ve always been a fan of the meta-commentaries these films provide on horror as a whole, and found the one carried throughout this film to be really interesting in how it positions the fictional Stab movies (meant to be a stand-in for the Scream franchise) as ‘schlocky slashers,’ versus the ‘elevated horror’ of the Babadook and all the work Jordan Peele has released. The film itself literally asks a fascinating question: amidst an era where films like the VVitch and Midsommar are all the craze, where do films like Scream fit in? Is there space for them on today’s film shelf? Personally, while I do think ‘elevated horror’ (whatever that means) is important, I also think there is something to be said about the using existing genre norms against the genre itself. It's important to build something new, but we can't do this without simultaneously reflecting on the old. This is especially true today, as more and more people start to organize and defend their communities against the horrors of the American system, learning the histories that have led us to this present moment.
I’ve never been big on star ratings, I don’t think they can ever accurately capture everything a film has to offer, so all I can say is if you like horror, if you like Scream, watch this!
Stream of the week:
Set to debut at Cannes in 2020, but pulled along with the festival as a whole due to the COVID outbreak, Pat Dortch’s LIMBO is one of the best things you’ll see this week, should you choose to watch it. In terms of cinematography, Nick Cooke did a fantastic job, giving each scene a painterly quality that almost reminded me of La Notte or The Last Black Man in San Francisco in terms of how you can hit pause at any moment and the frame would look like a painting. If the guarantee that, at the very least, this film will be beautiful to look at doesn’t convince you, I can also promise it delivers on all other levels as well. Be it the friendship between Omar, a Syrian refugee, and Farhad, an Afghan refugee, or the frequent calls Omar makes to his parents as they try to decide whether or not they should return to their homeland amid financial troubles, this film provides a beautiful exploration of connection, friendship, family, and is a brutal look into the lives of immigrants in Scotland. Easily my stream of the week, watch it on HBOMax since it was cheated out of the theater treatment. A big thank you to Martín Espada for the recommendation! If you have a film you want to see featured, be sure to follow me on all socials @Mikeafff where I’ll post blog updates, voting polls and more!