The Guardian recently ran an article proclaiming the birth of “post-horror“, its chief example being Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where a virus has wiped out most people, the film follows a family (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.) holed up in a cabin in the woods. When another survivor (Christopher Abbott) turns up at the door, they don’t know whether to trust him. And if that sounds like a horror film, that’s because it is.
Hauntingly shot, intensely claustrophobic and doomily bleak, It Comes At Night is a tightly-wound nightmare of human decline and social division; Night of the Living Dead without the zombies. But a lack of zombies makes it no less of a horror film. In fact it couldn’t be more of a horror film. And the desire to distance a high-quality picture from horror films is a classic case of genre snobbery.
Having read Steve Rose’s article repeatedly and with mounting frustration, I’m unclear on what qualifies as post-horror. And he seems equally confused about what constitutes horror. Twilight, apparently.
He postulates from his posterior that post-horror eschews “supernatural possession, haunted houses, psychos, zombies”, and in doing so he reveals a limited and superficial understanding of the genre. Almost as limited as horror producer Jason Blum, who recently claimed there had never been horror movies about race and got John Carpenter and George A. Romero mixed up in another Guardian article that made me squirm more than all of Blum’s movies combined.
Far from being a “safe space”, the horror genre is largely misunderstood. While it’s true that horror films often contain familiar ingredients (demons, chainsaws, Kevin Bacon), the genre stretches well beyond the DVD shelves of Poundland. Go to any horror festival and you’ll see everything from survival pictures to twisted sci-fi; surrealist art films and movies about a guy arguing with the talking mould in his bathroom (Motivational Growth, highly recommended).
As for It Comes At Night, this is a very traditional horror film. You wouldn’t call Night of the Living Dead post-horror, and really what’s the difference? Oh yeah. Zombies.
If your definition of horror films doesn’t include a movie like It Comes At Night, you might consider broadening it before inventing a new label to justify your admiration.
Rose wants to free horror films he finds impressive from a term he finds derogatory. Unfortunately for him, The Witch is a horror film. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror film. Nocturnal Animals is a horror film. David Lynch makes horror films. Personal Shopper is a horror film. A terrible horror film in which Kristen Stewart texts a ghost, but a horror film all the same.
Horror is a broad, spooky church; broader than its detractors would like. A lot of it is awful, a lot of it is brilliant, a lot is Jason Blum but a lot is fiercely original. Yes, a genre as old as cinema itself contains more than one type of movie. Shock horror.