Movie Review: Halloween
I don’t typically watch horror films. Maybe it’s a wildly overimaginative brain, but I have generally chosen dreamless nights over a possible nightmare. I also generally find the genre a little stale. Essentially, the marginal utility of jumpscares and gory scenes is at an all-time low. There’s only so many times startling your audience into a fright can be impactful. Eventually, you get numb to it. A solid plot and snappy repartee, however, stick in your craw and are extra essential to make the best movies in this genre stand out from the dreck. With that said, I decided to watch a scary movie every night for the month of October (I really frightened myself for you guys, oh ) to try and face my fears a little.
As such, I’m ready to recommend some frights for anyone looking for a cultured scare, if you will. It’s also just in time for Halloween. I know it isn’t “in our culture” to celebrate, but why not indulge in a few flicks? So, for anyone trying to split a spleen, glean a scream, or just have a night unserene, watch these six on Halloween.
1. It Follows (2014)
It Follows boasts one of the most extraordinarily clever concepts for a horror film in ages. The story centres on Jay (Maika Monroe), a sweet high school girl who finds herself caught in a deadly bind after she contracts a sexually-transmitted death sentence after giving into her adolescent lust one night. Jay hasn’t caught an STD, but something much worse: a ghoulish apparition that stalks her wherever she goes, ever close behind.
It follows. When “it” reaches her, she will die…horribly. She can give it to someone else by sleeping with them, but if it kills them, it will move back to her, and so on, right up the line of everyone who’s ever caught it. David Robert Mitchell’s concept is brilliant, and while the script fumbles at moments, his execution of that concept is gorgeous. The film is shot with a hazy, dreamlike aesthetic that’s strengthened by Disasterpeace’s alternately ethereal and ominous score. Playing on our innate fears of intimacy and mortality, It Follows excels at a sensation of creeping unease; a relentless dread and paranoia that will…well, follow you for days.
2. Hereditary (2018)
Whether you think it’s “the scariest film since The Exorcist” or simply one of the best horror films in the last decade, Ari Aster’s debut feature is one remarkably self-assured, genuinely disturbing take on family dynamics. It knows exactly when and how to jump headfirst into insanity. Its mix of grief, grotesquerie and ghost-story dread feels nigh unbeatable. Toni Collette’s performance as an artist dealing with loss(es) is a masterclass in how to play someone slowly losing their mind; Alex Wolff’s portrayal as her son, equally heading off the rails, matches her step for step. Everything from the cinematography to the score suggests a bad dream you can’t wake up from. The movie requires several viewings, at least, so you can see how impressively the film is planting clues about what’s really going on the whole time. And then there’s the climax, which references numerous supernatural horror-movie ancestors without once seeming like it’s ripping them off. A new master has blown into town. Hail Paimon.
3. Midsommar (2019)
How do you follow a dark, shadow-filled fever dream like Hereditary? If you’re Ari Aster, you drag your horror into the light — specifically, a Scandinavian summer festival where the sun hardly sets at all. A group of Americans, including a lone female (Florence Pugh!), have come to this far-away, once-in-a-lifetime event to study folkloric customs and mythology; the sense that there’s something wicked happening right below the smiley, happy surface starts to take hold. Midsommar is the sort of movie that delights in turning its wheels so slowly that you’re not even sure it’s a horror story…until it confirms that it is and completely drops the floor out from under you.
4. Carrie (1976)
Brian De Palma brought the adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel to the screen a mere two years after it was published. It hardly seems a big deal now when virtually everything King writes ends up in front of the cameras almost as soon as the ink is dry, but back in 1976, this was a gutsy, cutting-edge movie. This is a disturbing drama of bullying, as Carrie is tormented both by her classmates and her psychotic, religious mother (played by a wonderfully over-the-top Piper Laurie) who has taken it upon herself to “spread the gospel of salvation through Christ’s blood”. King’s masterstroke is in the supernatural/telekinetic payback Carrie doles out when her prom night turns into a literal bloodbath. Thanks to lead actress Sissy Spacek and De Palma, this is one horror film that’s as likely to make you cry as it is to make you scream (and it will definitely make you jump, no matter how many times you rewatch that scene).
5. The Witch (2009)
A masterpiece of atmospheric horror, Robert Eggers’ brilliantly crafted period piece follows the descent of a 17th-century New England farm family into despair and madness after a local hag snatches their baby. Though the film contains some genuinely terrifying sequences, much of its overwhelming sense of spookiness comes from what isn’t seen on the screen, along with the tension that inevitably results when the family pits their unbending Puritan outlook against the merciless power of Mother Nature. And Black Phillip, the family’s goat, will put you off petting zoos for the rest of your life.
6. Infinity Pool (2023)
Infinity Pool, from director Brandon Cronenberg (son of famous freaky movie director David Cronenberg), is another movie you’re best going into absolutely blind. If you need selling on by anything, the movie’s cast includes both Alexander Skarsgård (Succession) and Mia Goth, both of whom you’ve likely watched before and enjoyed quite a bit. In a nutshell, Infinity Pool is a deeply bizarre and surreal movie that will start, slow burn for a little bit, and then reveal to you eventually; this is what the movie is about. It is nothing less than a trip. And a good trip at that.