APRIL 8 ― Because the UK has a slightly smaller movie industry compared to the US, which in turn affects not only the sort of budget that British films have to work with but also the number of British films that do get made and released to the general public, British horror flicks are also not as bountiful in terms of the sheer number of films (mainstream or indie) that do get made and released.
As a result of that, because there are fewer horror movies being made in the UK compared to the US, it will also seem like there are fewer crap British horror movies being made as well, which is also the impression that a lot of people have about British films in general.
When people talk about British horror films, we’ll always think about the good stuff like Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man and even more recent stuff like 28 Days Later, Eden Lake, Severance and The Descent.
A bit more off the beaten path would be indie horror flicks like Kill List, The Borderlands and The Children, and clearly one can easily convince oneself that British horror is in general filled with a lot of good stuff indeed.
It has, however, been a pretty slow last few years, with only Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field In England) proving to be a consistent beacon of light for the genre.
In fact, it’s the Brit thriller that’s proven to be the more exciting section of British genre flicks, with films like Hyena and The Survivalist and the more mainstream sections of Brit horror like The Girl With All The Gifts and the The Woman In Black proving to be pretty good value for money.
So it’s certainly a very welcome treat to stumble upon a great new indie Brit horror flick that not only scores in terms of thrills and kills, but also serves as sharply biting social commentary.
That film is Prevenge, the directing debut of Alice Lowe, who also wrote it and stars in the film as a heavily pregnant woman on a murderous revenge rampage, mainly driven by what she thinks her baby is telling her to do.
It’s a neat way to depict the internal struggles caused by the hormonal imbalance that comes with pregnancy, amped up to 11 of course since this is a horror flick, but still with a foot in reality nonetheless.
What makes it really special is the way it nonchalantly challenges, makes fun of and even destroys generally accepted and sexist ideas about women, especially pregnant women, today.
Having starred and also written Sightseers with her co-star back then, there’s a bit of that naughty Ben Wheatley sense of humour in Lowe’s steering of the movie from the director’s chair, as we are at first made to identify with her character Ruth as her first few kills are men who seem to deserve the punishment.
But things get trickier as her moral high ground slowly erodes and her victims start to include even innocent people. It’s an episodic structure wherein each kill represents some form of debate on issues that concern the female experience, but presented as a fun slasher film with plenty of blood, gore and even hilarious dialogue.
And as Lowe slowly reveals the real truth behind Ruth’s quest for revenge, Lowe even gives the word “cut” multiple levels of meanings, literally and metaphorically, and you’ll end up thinking about Prevenge way more than you would after you’ve seen a standard horror movie.
This now brings me to another surprisingly thoughtful British horror film called K-Shop. Like Prevenge, this is more or less another slasher film, albeit one that cleverly repurposes Sweeney Todd and brings it up to date into the current era of Brexit, binge drinking and casual racism.
It tells the story of Salah, a graduate student writing a thesis on the socio-economics of nation-building, who is forced to take care of his dad’s kebab shop in an unnamed seaside town in England.
Taking care of the kebab shop gives him a front seat and first person view on the after-effects of British binge-drinking culture, where weekends are set aside by hardworking yobs to party themselves to oblivion, and he gets tipped over the edge and turns murderous after his father’s death at the hands of one of those party people.
Chancing upon the idea of serving out his victims as the lamb option in his kebab shop, which of course turned out to be a big hit, things get a bit more complicated when three people come into his life ― a hotel manager he met by chance, an apprentice at his shop and a captive that he can somehow identify with, despite the guy’s unacceptable offensiveness and racist attitude.
It’s not an easy film to navigate as it has a tone that veers wildly between being deeply serious and darkly funny, but in its no-holds barred depiction of the ugliness of British binge culture and the deep seated casual racism that still exists, especially among the working class, it is a tragic and timely representation of where the country is right now, a barometer if you will, in the lowly and unrespectable form of a horror film.
And for that, it is as valuable a film as any right now.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.