It’s not a secret: 2017 is a horror show.
And as we head into the prestige movie season this fall, and its attendant awards circuit, it is the genre which traffics in our prevalent existential dread that is all the chatter in Hollywood. Last Wednesday, Darren Aronofsky screened his new film, mother!, for a room in New York populated by the likes of David Byrne, Marina Abramovic, Amy Heckerling, Steven Soderbergh, and Alexander Wang among many others, before which he issued a mea culpa: “I’d like to apologize for the film you’re about to see,” he said. “But I promise I made it out of anger.”
The movie, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as a thinly-veiled allegory for the planet, depicts the destruction humankind is wreaking on the globe to demoniacal effect, all within the confines of a gothic country house. It’s just the latest critically-acclaimed horror film to generate Oscars buzz: The Toronto International Film Festival, which kicked off this week and is often seen as a predictor of awards to come, will showcase dark fantasies like Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. These films defy easy categorization as a traditional horror film, but they trade in the macabre—as do, less obviously, the likes of TIFF films like George Clooney’s comedic thriller Suburbicon and Craig Gillepsie’s I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding—its own category of monster. There’s more: Elle Fanning will portray the original queen of horror in Mary Shelley, while Anya Taylor-Joy and Mia Goth contend with a haunted manor in Marrowbone.
Right now, industry tracking portends a stellar opening weekend box office for New Line’s IT remake. While the early reviews have been mixed, it could carve a path to the Oscars stage in at least one category—Pennywise’s makeup is easily one of the most indelible movie images this year. Of course, Sofia Coppola already won Best Director at Cannes for her Southern gothic The Beguiled, and it could also be Kirsten Dunst’s year in the Best Supporting Actress race. And even though it premiered in February, Get Out has not lost much momentum as an outside Best Picture contender; it was only bested by Annabelle: Creation in the horror box office. Neither is traditional prestige fare, but Get Out is high-wire satire that was difficult to pull off, and Annabelle: Creation is a launching pad for New Line’s entire horror cinematic universe; where in the past horror franchises relied simply on sequels, the studio is expanding the world of Annabelle‘s precursor The Conjuring into multiple I.P. —think The Avengers, with creepy dolls. Should the property eventually grow big enough, it too, like Marvel, might have a case to make to the Academy.
Historically, horror flicks at the Oscars have been like poltergeist—it’s supernatural when they appear. They’re sparsely nominated, mostly in the craft and acting categories. In 1974, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist became the first horror movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture. In 1992, The Silence of the Lambs earned the distinction as the only horror movie ever to win. If you take into account the thrillers, sci-fi films, and mysteries that are now often regarded as horror—Psycho, Rebecca, The Bad Seed, Rosemary’s Baby, Jaws, Carrie, Alien, Misery, and 1941 Best Picture winner Rebecca—you could add a few more nominations to that count. But still, Best Picture is tough to crack for horror—following Silence of the Lambs‘ win, it would be another eight years before another movie that could be called horror, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, crashed the proceedings. Of course, the expansion of the Best Picture field to up to 10 films in 2010 was made partially to accommodate popular blockbusters and genre fare. If mother! hits big at the box office and Get Out can sustain its momentum, they could be the first horror pictures nominated since Aronofsky’s Black Swan in 2011.
There are more wild cards around the darkened corner: Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina follow-up Annihilation, Lynne Ramsay’s buzzy You Were Never Really Here, and Lars Von Trier’s serial killer tale The House That Jack Built. These films, some of which will be released in 2018, will continue what has become a horror renaissance. While Scream paved the way for self-aware teen slasher flicks in the 90’s and Saw turned on the torture porn epidemic of the aughts, this is the most sustained wave of highbrow creepouts since the heyday of Dario Argento, Roman Polanski, and Friedkin in the 60’s and 70’s. These auteurs are turning our political pathos into a cinematic disturbia. If we are forced to live in this horror show, we might as well make hay of it.
If you’re still unconvinced, well, you only have to wait two years for Quentin Tarantino’s Manson movie.
This Summer, The Beguiled is a Surprising Source of Style Inspiration
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At 49, Nicole Kidman is still quite impressionable: