Ignored by Awards, Loved by Audiences - Indie Horror Films Raise The Standard of Filmmaking

Archita Kashyap - 79 weeks ago

This has been a year when horror has bent techniques, merged into genres and emerged as good, engaging cinema. The spine chilling fear built upon well-crafted stories of A Quiet Place, Jordan Peele's Us, Suspiria and Hereditary has been ignored by award functions.

When Ari Aster presented Hereditary to audiences, he set out to disturb and disrupt. A horror film that manifests into a, fragmented and distressing mulling over the burden of guilt and familial legacy, Hereditary stands out as bone chilling. The film does not succumb to jump scares; neither does it depend a lot on audio editing. Terror grows into the minds of the film’s protagonists, particularly the mother, Toni Collette as much as it evolves atmospherically. It tells a story of a family burdened and in the midst of discovery - and does so riding on solid, raw acting. Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and the superb Milly Shapiro make this belief-defying, obsessively ritualistic film unique. Paraphrasing from a talk that director Ari Aster gave at the Film Society, Lincoln Center, he explains the process that led to Hereditary becoming a horror. “It began as a family’s story that is eating each other over grief (or grieving). Rather than make it an intense, kitchen sink drama that would have been a good film, but would have limited budgets and appeal, horror makes much of what’s happening believable.” 

(Toni Collete in a still from Hereditary (Image courtesy – A24)

Aster’s film, with Toni Collete’s riveting and heart wrenching performance, didn’t make the cut at most Hollywood and international awards. It’s not alone in facing this fate. A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s indie adventure without words and with loads of sound, did focus on the Oscars race. The fact that Paramount Pictures, which distributed the film worldwide, got a lifeline and more with the film’s incredible success has something to do with it. Yet, except for a nomination for Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl’s sound editing, A Quiet Place was largely ignored by the Academy. The film will now get a sequel by 2020, taking off from where the first one ended. 

Both Hereditary and A Quiet Place are landmarks in the horror genre, pushing it a notch further in cinematic treatment and quality. In fact, Bird Box, Susanne Bier’s film that is the most watched Netflix original ever, also does a fair job of going beyond jump scares and in the moment narrative. While awards don’t recognize the value of such films, their sustained, record setting global businesses proves that audiences savor this evolution in the scary movie.

John Krasinski and wife Emily Blunt turn the clock back to an enriched past of horror films where meaningful glances, understated pauses and voluminous silences ring in fear. A Quiet Place barely ever shows its monsters in its setting of a post-Apocalyptic world. Violent, bloody and deadly reactions emerge at the slightest noise - essentially delivering a simple but powerful story. With its form and structure, A Quiet Place optimizes a viewer’s imagination to induce horror. 

(John Krasinski in a still from A Quiet Place (Image courtesy - Paramount)

Krasinski made the film for $17 million and worldwide A Quiet Place made over $340 million. Essentially, Krasinski’s film is a family drama, of survival and desperate helplessness. Blunt’s performance, along with its cast of young actors, accentuates their dire situation so credibly that audiences were completely immersed in their journey. During test screenings, people watching would forget to open their packets of crisps, holding them static through the entire film; on one occasion, during a tête-à-tête with the director after watching it, a viewer was shaking with fear. Not a fan of horror as genre, Krasinski knew he had a hit on his hands when these reactions induced complete involvement of audiences with the film. In more ways than one, this film shares a similarity with Aster’s Hereditary - of a family coming to terms with a situation that has no precedent, and surviving the best they can. This interweaving of emotions makes the audience connect with characters effectively, and with their circumstances. 

Horror's expanse over family stories has become a winner, yet again for Jordan Peele. The actor- filmmaker who made his point in a twisted, powerful racial commentary with Get Out, has incorporated familiar elements of horror- jump scares, masked faces hiding extremely violent people and blood and gore- to make a direct comment on social and economic inequality. Us, with a family turning on itself as doppelgangers, has used horror to point towards the effects of inequality and indifference. 

Luca Guadagnino has faced a similar prejudice this year. Suspiria, his remake of the 1977 classic horror has polarized audiences with its poetic violence and visual extremities. A sequence in his version that features a ballerina’s body is tormented and crushed to demanding, possessed steps of another has terrorized some enough to leave the movie midway. Suspiria is set during the peak of the Baader-Meinhof movement in Germany, utilizing a politically rebellious and nebulous backdrop to exacerbate the bleak, underlying horror of this witches’ tale. Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino's 2017 romantic drama was the toast of the awards season with its lilting, visually soothing and heart-felt narrative. Suspiria stretches, like it’s ballerinas and dance students, to the other extreme. It emerges as genre bending, with Tilda Swinton’s lean, emaciated frame, adding credibility to the extreme passion of the dance school’s head teacher. Like the witches’ coven, it has enchanted those who have loved the film. Potentially, it will grow into a cult watch. 

(Tilda Swinton in a still from Suspiria (Image courtesy – Amazon Studios)

This has been a year when horror has bent techniques, merged into genres and delivered engaging entertainment on film and on smaller screens. On television and streaming, Haunting on Hill House, The Terror, Requiem amongst others created sophisticated moments of sheer spine chilling fear built upon well-crafted stories. Horror remains prejudiced against by critics and film awards. In filmmaking traditions set by Alfred Hitchcock, where tension spills over and consumes the viewer, and keeping with Steven Spielberg’s pulse rate rising narrative form, horror has magnified and blended with drama to tell beautiful stories on reel. Irrespective of mainstream awards and recognition, horror grows and flowers.  

Streaming platforms will accentuate its emergence over time by bringing it more audiences across the world, thereby making the role of mainstream recognition a sidebar to the genre’s full blown evolution. Also a whole universe of supernatural and horror based shows from British and European television and cinema are only just beginning to get explored by audiences worldwide. More is always good for the viewer, if not merrier in this case! 


A Quiet Place / Suspiria / Hereditary / Toni Collette / John Krasinski / Luca Guadagnino / Ari Aster

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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