Yesterday the UK newspaper The Guardian published an article titled “How post-horror movies are taking over cinema.” I recommend reading it, not only for context but for writer Steve Rose’s thoughts on recent horror films vs. the history of horror cinema. Don’t expect to give it an A+, though.
But I enjoyed the article and shared it on social media with “<3 <3” as my only comment. I loved that the piece had been written, and while I couldn’t agree with much of the argument, I am always glad when a mainstream outlet champions the power, depth, and merit of my favorite genre (I’m rolling weird fiction into horror for simplicity’s sake here) and reminds the general public that it can be a truly “serious art form.” The article attacks the stigma of horror as vapid monster filler restricted by rules while also strengthening that stigma. This is unfortunate, but I still appreciate the shout out from a lofty and influential platform.
This morning I noticed a bit of backlash to the coinage of “post-horror” and was directed to a response to the Guardian piece written by Nia Edwards-Behi for Warped Perspective. I recommend reading this as well because the writer is absolutely correct in the rebuttal. Slapping a label such as post- on a small group of recent films does sneer at everything that has come before them. To be clear, I don’t approve of that.
So yes, I agree with the argument and the counterargument. The latter is closer to the truth, in fact. As little as I would want the term “post-horror” to condescend toward what would then be called just “horror,” I am excited to see any celebration of the genre pushing envelopes, even if the envelopes are misconstrued. It will bring more readers and viewers into the fold, and it will perhaps inspire more creators to think more widely in the darkness. Never mind, for a moment, that Steve Rose is overlooking a continuous stream of creators doing just that and think, instead, of more creators doing it. More studios willing to invest more money. More queues at the cinema. More readers buying the books some of these films will be based on.
To my mind, the Guardian piece has its origin in the release of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, a new film about to open to fairly considerable interest. Applying the term “post-horror” to films that truly are horror is unfair, but I still find value in the label. I can’t comment much on A Ghost Story, of course, having not seen it, but I have found myself emotionally invested in it over the past few months. This is because it (seemingly) takes a horror framework and tries to do something non-horror with it, all while (hopefully) remaining faithful to the framework itself. I suspect the film might do this with both the haunted house/ghost trope and the cosmic horror element, so my interest has been very high. My personal interests as an author lie along this spectrum in some ways, though I certainly remain deeply in love with frequently creeping people out.
Horror has an audience no matter what it aspires to do. Its spectrum is beautifully wide and does not abide by the “rules” Rose mentions in his piece, though yes, much of horror is stagnant, made cheaply and unimaginatively for maximum profit, and that’s where the stigma comes from and is earned in many cases. But when horror aspires to be a “serious art form,” it is often and best done when there is an emotional skeleton beneath its surface, with some combinations of rich characterization, aching and universal themes, unflinching social commentary…you know, the things that make any literature or film powerful. The best horror, in my own opinion, has dirt and bloom, great darkness and great beauty. It crackles with feeling and becomes a sort of poetry. So it is possible that A Ghost Story will take this dynamic and flip it upside down so that the same elements are present but for a different purpose. It could be a wonderful achievement for horror and non-horror. (And it could be a big disappointment, of course, but that can wait until we’ve all seen it.)
In the end, I don’t think the Guardian article was for me or for serious horror fans. It was for everyone who doesn’t like zombie movies and slasher flicks but is open to experiencing the great many wonderful, gorgeous things horror can do like no other genre. We know horror has been doing these things for a long time. We know where to look. But others don’t know. Hopefully this is another small step toward them finding out, and we’ll all be the better for it.