At the beginning of every year, movie fans can usually look forward to two things: Regret from eating too much over the festive season and really crappy horror films. The movie industry has long kept up the tradition of marketing horror for some quick cash. These films are usually lacking a proper plot and feature more jump scares than character development.
Lately, horror filmmakers have been going down a different path. Instead of movies that are jam-packed with blood and gore, slow-burn horror films are on the rise. Filmmakers usually write the threat as some type of metaphor. Whether they’re talking about human psyches or societal issues, these writers and directors have had a beautiful (but disturbing) way of showing it.
Viewers first started noticing this change in 2014. Both It Follows and The Babadook were independent films made by first-time directors. They were favored by audiences far and wide because of how different they were to what came before them. Instead of moving the plot with jump scares, both directors spent their time fleshing out the story.
It Follows director David Robert Mitchell doesn’t spend time telling us where the monster comes from. Instead, he keeps that tension going by having the audience constantly question themselves on where the monster is. By doing so, he puts us in the protagonist’s shoes and has us feeling just as paranoid. Mitchell seemingly writes a happy ending but makes it ambiguous. Is the threat still there? Was it the creature that was following them in the background? Mitchell leaves all of that up to interpretation. That is what makes an effective horror movie. He essentially keeps information out of the film to keep the audience guessing, which is what horror films should aim to achieve. With this genre, the phrase “less is more” should be used more often, but sadly people like to be spoon-fed information so they don’t have to interpret anything.
Another fine example of a slow-burning horror film is The Babadook. Like It Follows, this movie doesn’t waste time talking about the origin of the monster, but rather how it affects the protagonist’s wellbeing. Amelia is a widow who struggles to deal with her son Samuel. He keeps yelling about a monster in the house who is going to kill them both, and Amelia slowly starts to lose her mind. The Babadook is barely seen because the film focuses primarily on Amelia’s insecurities about raising her son alone. Director Jennifer Kent gets inside the character's head to paint her fears on screen. The monster is simply a metaphor for grief and denial. And while there are no jump scares, Kent keeps us invested by constantly wondering if what we're seeing is real or in Amelia's mind.
Slow-burn horror films might not be necessarily loved by all viewers, but they’re certainly a breath of fresh air. It shows that writers actually care about showcasing a good story rather than making a generic slasher. And if The Witch is any indication, it seems the trend has a pretty good track record so far.
Which slow-burn horror films do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!