By Patrick Young
Until recently, I was never that big into horror films. While I think I don’t scare very easily, I never understood why people would actively want to watch these movies, especially when they’re generally pretty lousy and over-reliant on jump scares.
This year though I wanted to try expanding my movie tastes into the horror genre and so I began my journey into the darkness. I watched early flicks like The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, more recent ones like Sinister, Hereditary and Cabin in the Woods, and many more in between. While some were absolutely terrifying, many were pretty lame or silly, but I expected as much––not all of them are going to be winners. The experience nonetheless showed me the merits to the genre and that some were definitely worth checking out.
So, in this strange pandemic Halloween, with lockdowns and restrictions galore, most of us will (and should) be finding ourselves home in need of some sort of entertainment. Here are a couple films I recently watched that I think are perfect for our predicament.
Have you ever been stuck in one place for a long period of time, unsure when you’re going to be able to leave? Did you have a ton of questions and uncertainty that just never seemed to go away?
Oh, right. We all have. Well, I’m sure you’ve never been in a situation quite like this.
John Erick Dowdle’s Quarantine (2008) follows a reporter and her cameraman who find themselves…ahem…”Quarantined” in an apartment building after a virus that turns the people into rabid killers erupts within. Based on the 2007 Spanish film [Rec], Quarantine tells essentially the same story but as the title denotes, places greater emphasis on the horrors of being forcibly locked down rather than being named after the filming gimmick.
The entire film is shown through the lens of the cameraman creating a visceral nature unlike many other found-footage films I’ve seen. Much of the film’s horror comes from just the presence (or absence) of subjects in the frame, like the way the natural lights make figures look ghastly or the uneasiness you get when you watch live TV. It does not break any new ground for the found-footage genre but it executes on its mechanics tremendously.
As mentioned, horror also comes from the presentation of the quarantine, which during this particular junction in our lives, makes the film even scarier. In one moment, all is well for the characters and in the next, the building is on lockdown and pandemonium ensues. Army officials guard the entrances to put down any potential escapees, the power is cut, and as people are dying, the stress continues to escalate. Our quarantine for COVID-19 is nothing like what’s seen in this film, but it is nonetheless a more relatable film that it was just a year ago.
The Descent (2005)
Now I didn’t think I was claustrophobic, having been on planes before and was doing well remaining home during this quarantine, but then I watched this film and had to rethink that sentiment.
Continuing with this trend of enclosure as set by Quarantine, The Descent takes these feelings to a whole other level, moving the action from the cement walls above ground to rocky corridors below ground. In the film by Neil Marshall, a group of women descend into a cave system in the Appalachian mountains but quickly begin regretting this endeavor as they realize they are not alone.
After the twenty minute mark, all the film’s action takes place in these cramped subterranean passages, the characters being lit only by the aura of their flashlights. Once they begin crawling through the caves, just barely squeezing through the air-tight openings, I feel my anxiety setting in. Thankfully, this tension persists for a long time because the film does take a little while to get to the killing (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say this, right?)
I promise you though, once a certain point happens, you will be strapped in for the rest of the film, and you’ll be on a descent of your own.
I remember seeing the trailer for Coraline (2009) as a kid and promptly being told by my parents I would not be seeing it. This wasn’t a big deal to me because I was terrified and was thankful we were on the same page. ‘What is up with those button eyes? I do not like them at all,’ I kept wondering.
A decade later I’m happy to report that I’ve seen Coraline and am obsessed with it. Based on Neil Gaiman’s 2002 novella, Henry Selick in Coraline (2009) tells a pretty straightforward story about a child, Coraline, learning to be thankful for the family and friends she has. However, from the animation style to the dark and often unsettling imagery, the film is likely to unnerve the most suspecting individual.
Without saying too much about the film’s plot, a recurring image and symbol throughout Coraline is a children’s doll with big, beady button eyes; the opening credits play over a pair of Edward Scissorhands-like hands assembling a doll that looks like Coraline. When considered alongside the film’s stop motion animation style, there is an overwhelming feeling to Coraline of watching a bunch of toys being orchestrated through the film. This cohesive design between the art and story direction is among the best I’ve seen in film, making for a truly mesmerizing film experience.
Have you seen any of these films before? What are you planning on watching this Halloween? Let’s start a conversation below and beyond!