is the latest of many recent indie horror flicks to take a smarter look at those good old tropes
of sex and death and growing up to come up with something that's both scary
and smart. It's a thinky throwback to Halloween
and other suburban classics, complete with a synth-heavy soundtrack and an
intelligent young woman at the center of the action.
Maika Monroe (The
) stars as Jay, a teen who is looking forward to fooling around with
her new beau. After
what seems like a fun hook-up, Jay finds herself tied to a chair in a creepy
abandoned lot, and the guy she just banged is apologizing to her but, like, she
just really needs to listen to what he has to say! Apparently, the hottest STD
around town has a tremendously awful symptom — a shambling, icky horror that
follows you around until it catches you and kills you. No one else can see it,
and it appears in different guises, and it just won't stop until it catches you and kills you. The only solution is
to sleep with someone else, and make sure they
sleep with someone else, because if they die, It comes back to you. The eerie
town Jay and her friends live in is practically devoid of adults; there aren't
cell phones or fancy new cars or anything that would tip you off to the 21st
century, except a weird-looking clamshell e-reader. It's a nuanced, beautifully
shot, and deeply creepy movie with a fabulous female character at the center.
Although some genre fans
will bristle at the idea that the recent spate of horror movies have been
better than usual simply because critics and film festivals have been paying
them more attention, well, it does
seem like they've been improving since the days we had to scramble for copies
of The Evil Dead
on VHS. Although we're
far from seeing equal representation onscreen when it comes to white dudes
versus everyone else, there are an increasing number of standout films that
have straight-up cool and complex female protagonists.
The U.S. horror films of the '60s and '70s played around
with class anxiety, the horrors of war, the sexual revolution and its
increasing empowerment, then shifted toward a more reactionary "sluts 'n'
slashers" vibe in the '80s and '90s. While we can always count on endless
cash grabs from the folks who just won't leave Freddy and Jason alone, an
increasing number of filmmakers are interested in more socially conscious,
nuanced examinations of horror, especially in terms of our sexual roles and
fears. It's not that every filmmaker is purposefully trying to subvert or
reinterpret Carol Clover's Final Girl theory
, but that all of these ideas are
floating around in our collective unconscious, for us to pluck out and play
with and riff on at will.
Horror is at its best and
most effective as a genre when it's cathartic and when it plays on whatever's
lurking around in our shadow selves. And, sometimes? Our shadow selves can be real bitches.