Much like folks living in the more temperate climate zones of the Earth, horror movies experience seasons. Certain cinematic conventions move in and out of prominence so steadily that, in the words of one filmic philosopher, “if you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.” If one were to map out the crest and fall of various predominant trends in studio horror films over the last thirty years, it would probably appear as the readings of some obscene heart rate monitor.
This ebb and flow should not be marginalized. Horror, more so than any other genre, is a window into cultural zeitgeist. The things that scare us in the movies are often a direct on-screen translation of the things that scare us in real life; our fears changing and evolving over the years. For a while, we hid our eyes from giant bugs and alien assimilation; an echo of America’s concern over the Cold War and Communist invasion. Later on, and for a long time, slashers were in style, and suddenly the killers were in our own backyard; a subversion of Regan’s conservative neo-suburban bliss. As fears shifted, so did the trends of horror.
And what has been scaring us lately? Found footage. Why? Simply put: audiences in this day and age are jaded. Speaking specifically on behalf of American horror fans, the litany of titles in the genre as old as the medium itself, coupled with our surviving the awful scourge of the torture porn movement has dulled the scare centers of our collective brains. Amplify that by the fact that the attacks of 9/11 forever altered our perception of true terror and reminded us that pure evil is not relegated to the silver screen.
The found footage craze is therefore, and once again pursuant to this genre, capitalizing on social fears. These films remove the fourth wall, the last vestiage of safety for scary movie fans, and place the audience in the same supernaturally perilous situation as the characters in the film. Also, a vast majority of these films profess to be true stories, some going so far as to create fake websites for the purported victims. The real world became so frightening that Hollywood tried to blur the lines between reality and fiction. But found footage is slowly dying. Soon, much like the popular found footage trope, we’ll be ominously remarking, “and that’s the last we ever saw of them.”
So what’s next? You're Next.
Trends don’t have to be invented in order to keep pace with the times, sometimes it’s simply a matter of the wheel coming around again. To wit, I offer that the next major craze in studio horror will be home invasion. Sure, there have been a number of titles released under this banner over the last several years, and indeed they seem to have already had their day in the sun. But consider two very intriguing 2013 releases.
The Purge (May 31st)
There is a real appropriateness in the release order of these releases, and their titles as well. First up is The Purge. The film takes place in a dystopian America in which the crime and murder rates are reduced to next to zero. Oh, except for one night every year in which all crime is legal and no one may be arrested no matter how heinous their actions. One family however, in the midst of barricading themselves in their home and waiting out the night, takes in an injured man being hunted by a group of particularly nasty exploiters of this massive legal blindspot.
It’s not just a home invasion horror flick, it’s also a full-on siege film a la Assault on Precinct 13; fitting as The Purge star Ethan Hawke also appeared in the Assault remake. What makes this film such an interesting entry into the home invasion catalog is that it takes a marked satirical tilt. The idea that humanity will be more apt to abide by the law if given this one night to purge its baser instincts is intriguing. This will be the kickoff, the inciting action that potentially brings about the purge of the current found footage trend.
You’re Next (August 23rd)
An affluent family gathers for a reunion at their palatial estate. Rifts have formed between some of the siblings, but everything looks promising for a lovely weekend. That is, until a horde of killers, each wearing animal masks, decides to target the home for a brutal murder spree.
On the surface, You’re Next seems another standard setup for a home invasion horror film, but some unique twists built into the screenplay, by A Horrible Way to Die’s , effectively make You’re Next a game-changer for the subgenre. In fact, it’s a film that challenges several widely held conventions of horror in general.
Could it just be a coincidence that these two home invasion horror films, innovative as they may be, are being released in theaters the same year? Possibly. After all, You’re Next was making the rounds at film festivals back in 2011 and has been sitting on Lionsgate’s shelf for two years. But going back to the societal reflective nature of horror for a moment, there may be a good reason for these films to take root with audiences and grow into a new trend.
Netflix and other streaming video services, as well as the advent of Redbox rental vending machines, have changed the way most people watch movies. The emphasis on seeing movies on the big screen in the theater has taken a backseat to convenience. Film consumerism is becoming more and more an intimate, in-house affair. So what’s left for horror filmmakers to do but once again invade the home? These films are identifying the new film-going experience and, within their narratives, literally going after people where they live.
Don't be surprised if a new crop of these home invasion horror thrillers springing up over the next few years. They will startle you in the theater, and terrify you at home.