The first month of the year is often met with optimism– we are certain of all the good things coming our way in the next 52 weeks. Prosperity, new beginnings and– of course– new media.
I hate to put an end to that optimism, but there is a glaring issue in the upcoming year I need to address.
2018 doesn’t look like a great year for the horror fans.
To be fair, we are coming off a record year. 2017 brought us not only the ingenious, critically acclaimed Get Out, but we were also graced with the top-grossing sensation that was Andres Muschietti’s IT. Asking for much else would be selfish, yet we still received bonus gems like Annabelle: Creation, Happy Death Day and Netflix’s Gerald’s Game.
Every boom, I’m afraid, must cycle back to a bust at some point. That point seems to be this year, with a mismatched collection of horror films set to release in the coming months of 2018. Rather than a steady stream of solid horror releases, it appears the horror community decided to take a few gambles this year. What’s to come certainly seems more acceptable than exciting. I am skeptical.
The upcoming Slender Man, inspired by a once a highly popular urban legend of this millennium, seems about four years too late. Again, because of the mythical Slender Man’s pop culture presence, this film has every right to smash. Telling by the trailer, though, I’m seeing visuals heavily inspired by The Ring with not a lot of pay off.
Truth or Dare
Jason Blum is responsible for some of the most paramount horror films of my generation. Truth or Dare, most likely a passion project of sorts, I predict, will not be added to that list.
The Strangers: Prey at Night
The first The Strangers installment was the perfect blend of slow-burn and slasher– earning it cult classic status in fan circles. These elements pushed the original film to success, yet The Strangers: Prey at Night seems to push the gas pedal with a played out, The Purge-esque marketing campaign.
Even giving these trailers the benefit of the doubt, 2018 horror I’ve actually seen began the horror-calendar on a sour note. This week I went to the theatre for a late-night screening of Insidious: The Last Key. While the first two chapters of the Insidious franchise delivered with some truly iconic execution, The Last Key transcended the third chapter’s sloppiness. I was ready to explore the epic “Further” hand-crafted originally by James Wan, but the fourth installment of Insidious proved stale, trite and frankly a film I wish I hadn’t paid for.
This experience got me thinking that the best of 2018 horror may have already arrived– in the last days of 2017.
I’m talking about the latest season of Black Mirror.
The world had not yet put away their Christmas decorations before we were all blessed with six new twisted episodes to join the Black Mirror anthology. Each episode diving into a world more sick and tech savvy than the next, viewers gobble up each new season for its stark cultural commentary– but most of all, each story in Black Mirror is heaping, dark fun.
I think we all knew Black Mirror was a perverse and shocking adventure, infusing elements of science fiction into The Twilight Zone‘s spooky storytelling ability. But it took up until the last episode of the new season for Black Mirror to finally take the “Nosedive” from drama into horror. And it. was. excellent.
“Black Museum” follows traveler Nish into a daunting, seemingly abandoned museum of crime. Curator Rolo takes her on a tour of the crime-scene artifacts, all chronicling the evils of human advancements in the Black Mirror age. This episode presents three narratives of different technological crimes, all tying nicely together in a bow with a surprise ending.
The episode is so good, in fact, I will not spoil the major plot twist. But I still maintain that this episode is more horror than ever before, pushing its original boundaries of violence and human suffering.
One subplot Rolo introduces is the harrowing tale of Dr. Peter Dawson and his peculiar fixation on pain and pleasure. This narrative is adapted from the short story “The Pain Addict” which is the most specific manifestation of horror in the episode. In summary, Dr. Peter Dawson is given the opportunity to have the afflictions of his patients mimicked in his own being; a technological stigmata, if you will. Originally designed to increase medical precision, Dr. Dawson discovers the practice can be used for his personal recreation.
The rest of the story plays out with sadism (and eventually masochism) comparable to Saw. Once again Black Mirror dares us to question our humanity as Dr. Dawson falls into an obsession with inflicting pain on others for his own physical reaction. Quite literally tweaking in some sequences, Dr. Dawson reaches orgasmic delight in butchering his patients… and eventually himself.
I watched in utter repulsion as the themes of sadism and pain prevailed throughout the episode. Again, no spoilers, but “Black Museum” plays heavily with the idea of computer simulated– yet totally tangible– torture. When I finished the episode, I found my gut reactions to be on par with film series like Hostel and Saw– its mood completely menacing and dreadful. Unlike all other episodes, that essentially present viewers with an alternate reality to ponder, “Black Museum” presents audiences with a question; whether or not they can keep looking at the screen.
That, to me, is a quintessential component of horror– and Black Mirror nailed it.
I continue to remain hopeful about horror in the months to come. Namely, I’m looking forward to seeing husband-and-wife duo John Krasinski and Emily Blunt team together in A Quiet Place this spring. I am also really banking on James Wan’s The Nun as continuation of The Conjuring universe; a franchise that seems to do no wrong in the eyes of Blockbuster-goers. And if all else fails, we will all have to saunter over to the Halloween reboot in October 2018.
Season four of Black Mirror is as entirely masterful and inventive as previous seasons. I highly recommend continuing onto all episodes of season four if you haven’t already (my favorites are “USS Callister” and “Hang the DJ”). If you’re in the minority and have yet to binge the infectiously bizarre anthology, by all means, prepare yourself for shocking parallels and their devastating repercussions. Keep in mind, too, that some episodes achieve more than others; empathy, the grotesque– and even a little horror.
What horror films are you excited for this year? What was your favorite Black Mirror episode? Leave a comment!