Heartbreak horror and its very particular wonders

NOVEMBER 21 ― Horror may be a bit of a disreputable genre nowadays, thanks to the proliferation of a lot of cheaply made, strictly by-the-numbers films that religiously follow established horror formulas in the hopes of making fast and easy cash by serving horror fans comfort food and nothing more.

This has made it quite it easy to forget that horror, whether in literature or film, is also often used by its author or film-maker to explore darker issues like heartbreak, traumas and phobias in a more commercially palatable manner.

Using horror films as a form of “exposure therapy”, by forcing ourselves to face our worst fears as a way of overcoming them, is probably one of the main reasons why the horror genre has become as big and commercially sound as it is now, even for smaller and low-budget films.

But even more fascinating, at least for me, is to witness the film-makers themselves use horror to touch on issues close to their hearts, or even try to provoke the audience into a serious discussion on the matter, all through the established shapes and forms of a horror movie.

Most of the notable horror films of recent times can be caught doing this, from the maternal trauma of films like The Babadook to Hereditary, the allegory on racism in Get Out, Us and Spiral, the dangers of addiction in Bliss, with even weaker ones like Ghosts Of War boldly touching on the pointless futility of war with impressive effectiveness.

Not to say that the only good horror films are the ones trying to get away performing this trick, because fine old school scares like Pod, Crawl and You’re Next will always have their place in the canon, but getting to witness film-makers exhibiting a bit more thought behind their expertly orchestrated mayhem is always going to be a much appreciated bonus as well.

And so it is with that pleasant bonus in mind that I’m recommending two very different but ultimately quite similar in that they’re both truly heart-breaking horror narratives; one a limited series and the other a movie, both on Netflix.

Since we’re still in conditional movement control order (CMCO) mode, I’m pretty sure you can find some time to sneak in these two titles, which I hope you’ll do because they’re very much worth your time.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor

Based on Henry James’ classic story The Turn Of The Screw, which of course has been adapted countless times before this, my favourite being The Innocents from 1961, one just needs to take a look at this year’s The Turning to see what a magnificently different beast showrunner Mike Flanagan has created with The Haunting Of Bly Manor.

Fans of his earlier Netflix hit The Haunting Of Hill House will understandably be a bit disappointed at this new series’ very obvious lack of scares, at least when compared to the more traditional horror forms of Hill House.

Still telling the story of a governess moving into a lavish old estate to take care of two children, using the same names and plot twists as well, Flanagan has instead focused a whole lot more on the heartbreaks and traumas causing the story’s well established plot machinations, providing the viewer with an emotionally satisfying viewing experience more akin to a drama than a horror series.

In fact, calling this The Heartbreak Of Bly Manor won’t even be a false bit of advertising.

Flanagan still sticks to The Haunting brand’s series structure with Bly Manor, allocating an episode for each character just like he did in Hill House, before everything comes together during the final few episodes.

Watching the more conservatively horror The Turning after you’ve finished with The Haunting Of Bly Manor, just to see how differently the same source material can be adapted even when both have been adapted pretty faithfully, will make you realise what a beautiful achievement The Haunting Of Bly Manor is, and why it’s one of the purest examples of heartbreak horror out there.

His House

One of the best horror films of the year, director Remi Weekes’ debut feature His House is a wondrous blend of the European arthouse refugee films that have been appearing at international film festivals in the last few years and the more common supernatural horror films that we’re all familiar with.

Telling the story of a refugee couple from Sudan, who are granted a house in England courtesy of the refugee/immigration system, and who must try to assimilate into life in England, failing which they might just be sent back to where they came from, His House has got all the emotional jeopardy that one can expect from films as varied as Dheepan, Le Havre, Fire At Sea and Midnight Traveler.

This being a horror film, of course that house turns out to be haunted, and their already frail psychological states, thanks to a slowly and carefully revealed traumatic event during their journey from Sudan to Europe, are tested to the hilt by the supernatural presence in the house, which director Weekes uses as a perfect excuse to stage some startlingly nightmarish visual set-pieces that would’ve made Lucio Fulci very proud.

Expertly blending the scares of horror and the heartbreaking trauma of the refugee/immigrant experience, Weekes has, thanks to the fluidly superb and tender performances from lead actors Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku, crafted an outstanding horror movie with a crucial, beating heart. Using horror as a coping mechanism has rarely been this good.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles