‘Tis the season for some hostage horror flicks

FEBRUARY 13 ― One of the more popular sub-genres in horror cinema is what I often call hostage horror, which usually consists of two variations.

Of course, there are plenty of circumstances that can lead to a hostage situation but the two most popular ones in this sub-genre are the abduction/kidnapping movie (which also includes home invasion situations) and the siege movie.

Popular examples of the former include classics like Misery, Funny Games, The Vanishing, See No Evil and more recent ones like Alone, You’re Next and Hounds Of Love.

As for popular examples of the latter, we can include stone cold classics like Assault On Precinct 13, Dawn Of The Dead, Die Hard and newer marvels like The Mist and Attack The Block as prime examples of the sub-genre’s excellence.

As popular as this sub-genre may be in the horror pantheon, they don’t really come along that often, except for maybe the home invasion movie (because of its obviously cost-saving single location appeal to many budding filmmakers out there), so it’s quite lovely to come across three pretty new ones (good ones too!) during the first two months of this year.

So, if hostage horror is something that tickles your fancy, read on!

A YouTube screenshot of a scene from ‘Bloody Hell’.
A YouTube screenshot of a scene from ‘Bloody Hell’.

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Bloody Hell

An absolutely refreshing delight that is destined to become one of 2021’s best horror films, Bloody Hell takes the familiar kidnapping/torture porn formula of the Hostel films (right down to setting the film in Europe, in this case with Finland as the chosen country) and turns it upside down by having the kidnapped guy being some sort of combat expert of the John Wick variety.

This potential John Wick scenario is established by the film’s opening scenes, in which our hero Rex (an outstanding Ben O’Toole) is released from prison, and in glorious flashbacks we find out that it’s because he thwarted a bank robbery too enthusiastically, and even though he saved plenty of people, his enthusiasm in fighting the robbers resulted in the accidental death of a bank employee. This made him a villain in the eyes of the law but a hero in the eyes of the people.

Randomly choosing Finland as the place to start his new life, little did he know that his micro-fame as a vigilante/hero has made him the target of a Finnish family, which resulted in his kidnapping.

With that simple yet brilliant setup, prepare yourselves for a rollicking and bloody ride that will surely satisfy fans who’ve wondered what would happen if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre vs John Wick was ever made.

Run Hide Fight

Imagine Die Hard in a high school, but this time with the gorgeous, surely soon-to-be-a-star Isabel May (whom I first saw last year in Let’s Scare Julie) in the John McClane role including all the thrilling excellence that can be found in the Die Hard films, especially the first three.

Setting an action movie during a school shooting would of course be understandably distasteful to some, especially to those who’ve lost loved ones in tragic incidents like the ones depicted in the movie, but I think the filmmakers here have done enough to disentangle the line between the serious and exploitative, delivering a thrilling tale of bravery that is in no way offensive or disrespectful, or at least deemed respectful enough to warrant a slot at last year’s Venice Film Festival.

In fact, witnessing May’s character Zoe’s evolution from being scared at first to eventually becoming the unwitting hero to fight back against the school shooters taking the school hostage is quite a cathartic experience.

So, if you’re in the mood for some righteous action, you’ll be in for a great time with this one.

Spell

The renaissance in black horror continues with Spell, released late last year on digital platforms and January this year in physical format.

This new film from director Mark Tonderai, arriving eight years after House At The End Of The Street, seems to have flown under the radar of a lot of horror fans out there.

The movie focuses on wealthy African American lawyer Marquis T. Woods (played by Omari Hardwick), who gets a call informing him that his abusive father has died, compelling him to return, with his wife and children, to an area of Appalachia (which he was more than happy to escape from) in which superstition still rules.

An accident later, Marquis found himself waking up in the attic of an elderly black couple, with a foot injury rendering him unable to walk, and with his family nowhere in sight.

Eloise, the elderly woman caring for him, tells him that there’s no phone in her house, and she nurses him by administering all sorts of superstitious folk treatments, including making a doll in his likeness.

There’s an allegory in there about race, class and the legacy of slavery, but the film sadly doesn’t seem interested in exploring more of this facet of its existence, but instead is squarely focused on setting up sequence after sequence of nail-biting suspense and thrills, which it does with total aplomb.

A bit of a missed opportunity when it comes to the allegorical parts of the film, it nevertheless redeems itself as a completely involving, suspenseful and downright thrilling entry in the pantheon of kidnapping films. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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