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Raised by Werewolves


 

 

 

At a time when American kids with guns are massacring their classmates while their political masters invoke ever more violent solutions to the problem, one thing is certain, which is that horror films will reflect these social changes in the monsters they put on the big screen. American Horror Story: Cult showed the literal effect of Trump’s America on different sectors of society, but social media pressures and rising divorce rates have also affected the horror scene in a major. Here’s how:

      A wave of 1980s nostalgia has begun to flow through many of the more recent film and television shows, bringing with it a Peanuts-style lack of available parenting. Programmes such as Stranger Things, along with films like IT (2017) and It Follows (2015), based their plots around the children in their respective households, completely disregarding the busy or sleeping parents. Storytelling of this type inspires isolated feelings in the protagonists and therefore the audience, enabling vulnerability to creep in. Character isolation isn’t limited to films without any obvious guardian presence, however. The peculiarly polarised nature of 21st Century society has produced films which reflect a crushing sense of desolution, even when their characters are surrounded by others. A film such as Goodnight Mommy (2014) made enemies of the protective figures in a family unit, while also presenting the idea of isolation in the children involved; works like these reflect the loneliness of modern life for many, despite their online links to everyone they've ever known.

      Strict parents or a bad family life is frequently the basis for films where the children see monsters, or a poltergeist takes the place of a domestic problem by way of metaphor. The Babadook (2014) told the story of a struggling mother with a difficult child - or was it a struggling child with a difficult mother? - and the unreliable protagonist asked the audience to question what was wrong with her child and why he was seeing the Babadook. All the while, the presence of the monster in the child’s life signalled that perhaps it was the mother who was the problem.

      Mothers are often seen to be the source of the insane thoughts in horror film scenarios. They will often see a monster or ghost before the rest of the family, which causes them to assume that she is paranoid or mentally ill (or maybe simply menopausal) . This sexist trope is tiresome in films where there really is something to be worried about, however sometimes the mother is the insane one. Serial Mom (1994) is a John Waters film where a mother’s love goes a little too far, and she turns into the killer of anyone who sleights her family in any way at all. This over-protectiveness takes parental love to a new level and turns the mother into the monster.

      Goodnight Mommy came to public attention after what was allegedly the 'scariest trailer of all time' for an Austrian horror film surfaced. The trailer was so creepy that one couldn’t help but want to see more. The premise involves twin boys and their mother, who comes back from hospital after an accident has caused her to have a surgical procedure on her face. She returns to the family home looking like something from Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) and understandably scares the twins. Her eyes, seen through the gap in the facial bandage, along with a lack of normal speech and strange actions, give cause for the boys to question whether she really is their mother after all. The film takes many twists and turns, but ultimately it suggests that family tragedy can affect a child more than we might like to think.

      Trash Fire (2016) is a black comedy that took the 'horrors' of family life and turned them on their head. The film follows a couple, Owen and Isabel, as they return to Owen’s family home - one that he has been running from his entire life. The creepy mother (Fionnula Flanagan -The Others) takes an instant dislike to Isabel and the couple are pushed into a murderous corner. The eerie atmosphere and unusual dialogue set an uncomfortable tone for the film as it evokes a feeling of creeping insanity and confusion throughout. Nevertheless, Trash Fire takes a natural distaste for returning to a toxic family environment and transforms it into a terrifying situation, and it might make you not want to visit the 'ol homestead ever again! 

      Fear of parents is a recurring theme in another comedy horror from recent years. Mom and Dad (2018), starring Nicholas Cage and Selma Blair, is about a mind-controlling terror attack on the kids of America, during which their parents suddenly and inexplicably want to murder them. The Visit (2015) has a similar premise, although on this occasion the grandparents are the enemy - for the most part, anyway. And as with Goodnight Mommy, The Visit also explores the notion of a family member not being who they appear to be. The twins in Goodnight Mommy spend the majority of the film questioning their mother’s authenticity and distracting the audience from the film’s main untruth in the process, while the grandparents in The Visit really aren’t who the viewer imagines them to be.

      Another terrifying trailer along similar lines about the potential horrors within afamily unit, whether genetic or psychological, is the one for Hereditary. The film seems as if it might bring a new twist on what terrible traits we can inherit from our forebears. Raw (2017) and We Are What We Are (2013) each presented rebellious scenarios about growing up in families of cannibals, while Channel Zero showed the effects of inheriting schizophrenia. Somehow, screen millenials appear to have become fearful of their parents and this could be reflective of their attitude towards the kind of world they are likely to inherit from them; it is a theme that doesn’t look to be in retreat any time soon.

      While teenagers are the main demographic for horror, and teenagers’ main enemy is their parents, it’s no wonder that so many genre films present family members as the threat. With the rise in the divorce rate as well as an upsurge in 'alternative' families, what better time for a boom in horror films about the fragmentation of family life? The metaphors are ever with us in monstrous forms, but it is worth remembering that we too have the potential to become the metaphorical monsters who will plague future generations. It need not always be the case that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children...