Ethan Hawke and Mason Thames in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.Fred Norris / Universal Pictures

It was a good year to be scared of fools.

While the rest of Hollywood has spent the past 10 months anxiously worrying about the states of many things that truly concern: the blockbuster, the mid-budget adult drama, the kids’ film, the big-screen comedy, the whole business of film production and distribution, really – the horror industry is down there in a creepy corner, minding its own business. A business that is booming.

The biggest box office success stories this year – the kind of surprises that shake the foundations of the collective wisdom of the film industry – belong almost exclusively to horror films. The black phone it was made for just $ 16 million, but earned $ 160 million worldwide. Barbarian it costs even less, 4 million dollars, and has defied the typical rhythms of the box office thanks to the strong word of mouth that you will not believe this film that puts the film in step with at least 10 times its budget. The bad little $ 17 million thriller Smilewhich initially was supposed to go directly to stream before Paramount Pictures decided to go into a theatrical release, hit $ 100 million without breaking a sweat – and in a fraction of the time it took, say, Brad’s megabudget. Pitt High speed train to reach the same goal.

And that’s not nearly all: there is also No, Bodies Bodies Bodies, The invitationthe double-header of Ti West’s X And Pearl. There was also a new one He shouted film – released in January during the depths of Omicron, when hardly any theaters were open – that went on to earn $ 140 million. If we want to be charitable, the best superhero movie of the year, that of Matt Reeves The Batmanit can also be considered a horror movie (it has a strange serial killer, a lot of corpses, a lot of rain).

All these films have also been, more or less, dear critics. It’s one thing if a big, stupid blockbuster sits up for an opening weekend, another is when audiences leave the multiplex feeling like they’ve really enjoyed themselves and simply haven’t fulfilled their continuity obligations between cinema and the universe. I can’t remember, for example, the last time I had such a stupidly wide smile on my face as when I saw the Zach Cregger movie. Barbarian – a wild ride that begins as a thrill versus heroin story about a woman fending off a slimy psychopath before morphing into a haunted house thriller before morphing into something completely new at least three more times. There is value, after all, in shock.

Maria Bakalova in Corpi Corpi Corpi.Gwen Capistran / Courtesy of A24

So: did the horror come to save the world of cinema, in this hour of its most desperate need? Not really. While it would be easy to say that horror movies are the heroes Hollywood needs, the scary truth is that it’s always a good year for horror. It is the only genre that constantly performs, even if it is always disrespected. The only difference now is that it took the entire collapse of the film industry – the pandemic, the streaming wars, the slowness of studies to make something that wasn’t based on an intellectual property franchise – to realize this. done.

Horror is as old as the history of cinema itself. Georges Méliès, one of the fathers of what we call cinema, made a handful of horror films starting in 1896 The devil’s housethe first known scary movie. Yet the genre has almost always been considered a disreputable undertaking. With notable exceptions that tend to pop up decades later: the ’73s The exorcist1999 The sixth sense2017 Go out – horror films do not require respect from the awards industry and are generally considered cheap, throwaway nonsense that exists to satiate bored youngsters until their tastes have matured enough to appreciate “real” cinema.

During the bleak ups and downs of the grindhouse era of the 1970s and 1980s – not to mention the days of Canada’s parallel tax shelter boom – the horror might as well have been pornography, with knives instead of other dangerously handled phallic objects. . (This juxtaposition is also the subject line of this year’s dormant hit Xwhich cleverly blends horror and porn into a gory tale of cultural indignation.)

Caitlin Stasey in Smile.Walter Thomson / Paramount Pictures

But despite the long-standing contempt for the genre, we don’t love horror movies that secretly. We always have. Even the most distracted viewer could easily name half a dozen horror films as among the greatest films ever made. Psychopath. Alien. Night of the Living Dead. The Rosemary Child. Carrie. The brilliant.

The reasons why horror always strikes are half obvious, half curious. There are the easy emotions that come with facing the unknown from a safe distance. There is the excitement that comes from watching the characters, almost always young and impulsive, being hacked and cut for their alleged moral violations. There is the pleasure of having a part of your brain that warns you not to look at the screen, while at the same time other parts of your body – your heart beating fast, your pulse rising – are pulling you in exactly the opposite direction. .

Amber Midthunder in Prey.David Bukach / 20th century studies

There is also the paradox of false danger: we tend to gravitate towards entertainment that portrays events that are worse than what is happening outside our window. When the real world is in chaos, there is a distinct comfort in the control we can exert over what we consume on our screens.

Horror is also one of the more progressive genres, with films acting like cinematic Trojan horses. The directors used the skin of a horror film to smuggle treatises on race (Go out), consumerism (Dawn of the dead), political paranoia (The haze), environmentalism (The host), the fragmentation of the modern family (Left), creeping American fascism (The purge series), and so on. Canada’s new wave of indigenous filmmakers are particularly adept at finding ingenious ways to tackle colonialism through horror, including the late Jeff Barnaby, whose zombie thriller Quantism of blood viewing is required.

Some of the best film professionals have started or continue to work in the horror space: Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro, Jennifer Kent, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Claire Denis, Park Chan-wook. The powerful performances of horror films in recent years – Toni Collette in HereditaryLupita Nyong’o inside WeAnnabelle Wallis inside MalignantFlorence Pugh inside NoonMy Goth inside PearlVincent Lindon inside Titan – rival any Oscar-winning drama.

Georgina Campbell in Barbaro.Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

But above all, at least when it comes to the world of contemporary cinema, horror takes audiences out of the house and into a theater. They are a reliable, evergreen product line – if we are to simplify things to that gross level of consumerism (and we really do these days) – that support a theatrical landscape that desperately needs stability. Horror movies perform well during spooky season, of course: last weekend’s box office was surpassed Halloween endsclosely followed by Smile, Barbarian then Terrified 2, a microbudget splatter party that broke out thanks to reports of mid-screening panic attacks from audience members. But horror films draw audiences just as deep in January or in the scum of August. They are industrial powerhouse machines for all seasons.

In 2015, I had a prophetic conversation with producer Jason Blum (Paranormal activity), which had just begun to establish itself by attracting Big names for his low-cost horror films: His idea was that directors and actors would choose the unlimited creative control of a horror film for initially low paydays and the opportunity to share in profits on dormant hits. At the time, Blum noticed that horror films were still shaking off their reputation due to the financial model he was trying to overturn.

“Low budget movies are not a sexy part of the business. There’s the idea that the more successful you get, the more expensive the films should be, ”Blum told me at the time. “It’s a self-fulfilling thing: when producers are successful, they produce high-budget films. And if they produce low budget films, they are an afterthought. “

Today, Blum is one of Hollywood’s bona fide superstar producers, with his production company Blumhouse screaming for about $ 5 billion at the global box office so far, including last spring’s film. The black phone.

when this The summer film season faced a third act as dry as dust – with 33% fewer titles released in theaters than in 2019 – which film came to the rescue of theaters and audiences? This would be Steven Spielberg’s reissue Jawswho earned a staggering $ 5.6 million during his brief revival despite being widely available at home and, you know, he’s 47 years old.

Of course, there are plenty of bad horror movies that help fuel the genre’s bad reputation – again this year, we’ve seen plenty of sloppy time wasters and franchise extensions (some even remember there was a new The Texas chainsaw massacre film released in February, or a new one creepers Jeepers that was dumped on the public last month?). This is the nature of the flip side of horror gaming: movies are simple to produce and simpler to market. Which is why the genre is a cornerstone of current streaming wars – what easier way to attract new subscribers than by flooding the market with horror movies, even if they turn out to be shoddy? The new one Texas chainsaw it was a Netflix production, Hulu made a new one Hellraiser and Disney + also jumped into action by producing a decade-long sequel to the children’s horror comedy Hocus Pocus.

There’s even a very successful streamer, Shudder, who does nothing but horror and has quietly produced, acquired and distributed the best new independent and foreign-language horror movies around, including the V / H / S series, Crazy God, Salum, Hellbender And The sadness. (One could write a whole other essay on the thrilling, and often very disgusting, things happening in the horror world outside of Hollywood, including the current Indonesian boom which includes Impulse, The queen of black magic And May the devil take you.)

Last week, director James Cameron let out a new teaser Avatar: The way of waterwhich will be released on December 16 and is by all accounts the most anticipated film of the year – the blockbuster that will really save Hollywood cinema horrible year. But the trailer that really got the internet excited was for M3GAN, a movie about a creepy Android doll going evil. That movie comes out on January 6, 2023, the only large release that week. I look forward to the bloody Na’vi-M3GAN battle.

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