Film: The Best of Indie Horror
Nikhil Taneja looks at how some of the best horror movies in recent times have come from indie directors
There’s one thing in common between the directors of the Spider-Man reboot (Jon Watts), Aquaman (James Wan), Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson) and Star Wars: Rogue One (Gareth Edwards), some of the biggest upcoming summer films of the next few years: they started out with indie horror.
Watts debuted with the gore-laden Clown, Edwards’ first was a horror film titled Monsters, while Wan and Derrickson are scare-a-thon legends now, with Wan having helmed the Saw series, Insidious and The Conjuring, and Derrickson having kickstarted the Sinister franchise, as well as directing a bunch of other horror films like Deliver Us From Evil and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The four of them aren’t exceptions to the rule, in fact, they are the new rule – the vanguard of pathbreaking indie horror.
Consider the financials of the biggest successes of the last few years, and it is original takes on horror that stand out – from home invasion thriller The Purge (cost $3 million, grossed $83 million) to supernatural horror Mama (cost $15 million, grossed $146 million) to haunted house screamer The Conjuring (cost $20 million, grossed $318 million). There’s been no better time to experiment with edgy horror, and no better time to be a horror movie fan.
The genre’s most successful producer, James Blum, whose production house Blumhouse Productions is behind everything from Paranormal Activity to Insidious to The Purge, in a nerdist.com interview says indie horror has worked so well because compared to old-school tropes of VFX trickery, his films are “grounded” and “real-feeling”: “Horror is scarier without special effects, you don’t need stars, you need locations where you feel vulnerable, like your house or particularly, your bedroom. The more claustrophobic it is, the scarier it is.”
Blum’s methodology is just that simple: smart, inexpensive filmmaking, with legitimate filmmakers. That’s also why indie movies have been moving away from werewolves, vampires and zombies or slasher, splatter and gore, to arthouse horror, helmed by auteur directors of the future, with a focus on nuanced storytelling and superior filmmaking. These are the same directors who are now getting picked up to showcase their artistry on the big screen.
Take last year’s budget breakthrough, It Follows. With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96% ‘Fresh’ (contrast it with The Shining, that’s at 91%!), it was on several best films of 2014 lists. In an interview with indiewire.com, RADiUS-TWC CEO Tom Quinn reveals how director David Robert Mitchell had put together a book of visual references and had a strong sense of style, character and place. Quinn decided to produce the film because it’s a horror film that’s “character driven” and “has a real director’s point of view, which is so rare.”
Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent’s is a similar story. Her storytelling in last year’s The Babadook won over Hollywood to the extent that she was in the running to direct DC Entertainment’s Wonder Woman.
The indie trend has resulted in several genre movie fests coming up across the world, with Texas’ Fantastic Fest being a favourite. There’s also Canada’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, UK’s Fright Fest and LA’s Screamfest. India jumped into the mix with the Mumbai Film Festival announcing an After Dark section this year, and is being curated by Jongsuk Thomas Nam, a veteran curator of genre films.
With Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films having made a deal with Blumhouse Productions last year for a multi-year, multi-film deal, exciting times are ahead for Indian horror film buffs, even as they continue lapping up international indie horror films. As horror movie specialist Raven Banner Entertainment’s James Fler puts it in an Indiewire conversation, “What’s funny in the US might not be funny in Asia — but scary is scary everywhere.”
Your date-night horror list #relationshipghouls
The mother of twin boys returns from a facial reconstruction surgery, bandaged and strange. The twins are not sure she’s actually their mother. Cue torture and children + mummified mummy = no sleep for a week.
Riffing off of teen horror movies, It Follows er… follows 19-year-old Jay who, post a sexual encounter, finds she’s been hunted by an entity. The only way to be rid of the curse is to pass it on to someone else. Through sex. That’s an STD you definitely don’t want to catch.
M. Night Shyamalan’s low-key return to form made for a surprisingly great watch. Two precocious kids go visit their estranged grandparents, who seem nice, till they start scratching at the walls and howling at the moon. Funny and scary.
A devout Puritan family in 17th century New England is cast out into the wilderness, so they try to build a new life at the edge of some seriously creepy woods. Soon, their infant son disappears, evil goats appear, children get possessed and the youngest daughter is declared a witch. It had Sundance goers screaming. You will too.