Sometimes, movies manage to capture horror in a complete unorthodox manner, contrary to traditional horror films. The films where I truly felt uneasy came from pictures that aren’t even considered horror.
These come primarily from psychological thrillers. You might begin to ask yourself whether thrillers and horrors go hand to hand; after all, many can agree that thrillers can be truly terrifying. And if that’s the case why is this even a discussion at all? The truth is, many horror films just don’t cut it; they can truly be called horror when they utilize the aspects that create a thriller. Today i’ll go over what exactly makes these films nerve wrecking and possible hopefulness to see horror films tailor to these conditions.
Thrillers are filmed with grim cinematography and offer an immediate predicament while adding mystery. The mystery aspect gives the audience a reason to stay engaged and can employ a much more horrific trap to the viewer when the horror is spontaneous. However, horror films act like horror films. In more cases than one I’ve seen the main protagonist presented with some new eerie object, whether that be a box, a house, a doll, a book, you name it. After some acknowledgement of the ominous properties this object holds, it acts out heinously (jumpscares). After a couple of classic jumpscares the protagonist contacts an expert or immerses themselves in their own research and deals with the problem. Of course the film ends ambiguously in the event it does well in box office; there’ll always be a sequel. This cookie-cutter way of developing a horror film has lost its touch and should definitely have a name to categorize it.
However, when thrillers such as Seven, Directed by David Fincher starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, utilize its time to create suspense and refrain from showing ALL of the gruesome imagery, you get a film that might as well be horror. Seven does a remarkable job of having the audience create an image of their own. Take this scene for instance. The viewers are well aware of what happened but, we never see the body of the victim or the atrocity take place. We conjure our own image purely from the victim's testimony, and the murder weapon, not a pretty image. The box scene is another instance of don’t show, tell. This is the most pivotal instance of the movie and Somerset just opened a bloody box. We never see what’s in the box but, John Doe tells us, and that’s all we needed. We feel Mill’s disparity; he too didn’t have to look inside the box to create an image of his own.
Films like Taxi Driver, Black Swan, and Nightcrawler all have something in common, a protagonist that radiates uncomfortability. Taxi Driver’s protagonist, Travis, is an honorably discharged marine who lives alone in New York. He spends his free time at porn theaters and works as a taxi driver at night as a catharsis for his insomnia. Black Swan’s main character, Nina, is reclusive, shy and is practically imprisoned by control from her mother. All of her free time is dedicated to ballet. Nightcrawler’s Lou depicts him as socially awkward and controlling. Audiences aren’t used to these kind of characters. In a sense, they are the ignition of horror in all three of these films. Nina has to achieve artistic perfection, and does so at a cost. Travis is haunted by an emptiness that causes him to act out on the sensibilities of good and evil. Lou wants to be established, he is a smart man that will do anything to achieve his goal, even if it means killing his own partner. By no means are any of these characters good hearted people. But, it certainly says something about the film if you’re still on their side no matter the price they, or anyone will pay for their actions. When the audience is already uneasy with the character they have to endure the journey of the film with, it amplifies their actions and the thrill surrounding their conundrum into pure terror.
By no means do I hold Taxi Driver or Nightcrawler as this grand horror film. But they do encompass the characteristics that can be implemented into traditional horror. I hope to see more horror films utilize these techniques. “It” comes to theaters September 8th and let's hope it lives up to the hype.
If you had a film question, there would only be one person to ask, Eric. Devoted to learning film, and part time philosopher in his past time, Eric will take you on a journey through film.