Horror films: A place to make a point

Sometimes horror films are terrifyingly predictable. Other times, they are refreshingly real

Helen Aikenhead // Features Editor

Warning: spoilers ahead for It and Get Out.

Through the means of film, powerful commentary can be made on the errors of society. More often than not, it is the films that do so which are celebrated and remembered years after they’re pulled from cinema screens. It’s understandable then, that when attempts are made to speak on something bigger and they fail, they fail so much more tremendously than those who play it safe.

Horror is not a genre where viewers generally look to be moved by some form of political or social statement, however that’s not to say that it can’t— or hasn’t— been done. Horror and thriller films by design have a unique platform at their disposal through which they can deliver social commentary— their eerie nature both complements and amplifies any sense of societal whistleblowing.

However, it isn’t required, so it is perfectly acceptable for them to simply be the reason why you sleep with the lights on for the rest of the week. Also, because it isn’t required, when these movies do deliver a thoughtful message, it can be all the more compelling.

The latest take on Stephen King’s It, from director Andy Muschietti, fell into the rare grey area in which it managed to do neither. It didn’t fail in the sense of reception— in fact, it was a hit worldwide. Where Muschietti’s It failed to make the mark was in bringing its intended message to the screen.

Some fans of the novel have argued that the original story is in fact one of social commentary, and they may very well have reason. The story’s antagonist— Pennywise the clown— is said to be a form-shifting realization of societal evils, revealing itself to a group of small town pre-teens by externalizing what they fear most.

The theme is one of discovering ubiquitous evils within the world and its inhabitants. Ultimately, the central group of characters is able to defeat this figure of evil by denying it their fear —fear being symbolic of heedless acceptance of the darkness within society.

In the latest film adaption, these themes are diminished to focus on the visually scary antics of a child-eating clown, and the blockbuster appeal of cheap jokes generously sprinkled in to break the tension. There is no obvious message or takeaway, making It nothing more than a disappointingly predictable pre-Halloween release.

What’s perhaps worse than completely erasing all signs of the original story’s underlying meaning is that the latest adaption alludes to it, only to then actively ignore it. All of the aspects are present in the small town setting; sexual predation, racism, abuse, misogyny, but never addressed. The blatant disregard of these issues is, frankly, more upsetting than the damn clown.

In absolute contrast, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, released earlier this year, used the classic horror format as a platter (or teacup, anyone?) on which to serve its message. The film follows a young African-American man as he travels with his white girlfriend to meet her family for the first time. When he arrives, protagonist Chris is on the receiving end of many ostensibly innocent actions and remarks made by the family. These remarks, however, are anything but innocent— they are laden with prejudicial double meaning.

As the story progresses, the sinister subtleties grow more apparent, until it is revealed that Chris is in the middle of a seriously twisted game the family has played for generations. Let’s just say that if they had won the game, for Chris, it would have meant torture and ultimately, death.

Jump scares and typical horror tropes are limited in Get Out to allow its message of real-life moral horrors to shine. Peele has described his goal in making the film to have been to comment on the experience of African-American men living in today’s America. Touching on a wide range of issues, from claims of a post-racial society to police brutality, Get Out is frighteningly real.

Earlier this year, in a discussion of his film with The New Yorker, Peele explained “the monster at hand is society.” For anyone who watched, that point was impossible to miss. Audiences of It, however, were left wondering if it wasn’t actually the film that had missed the point.


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