Six Damn Fine Degrees #126: The Horror

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Most dramas will circle around the problem until they reach their core issue. Horror movies don’t – they seem to go for the jugular while the real issue might be shrouded in mystery until – gasp! – it is revealed, often gorily and always unforgivably visually. What I like about a truly good horror flick is the unflinching way they attack the real issue at the heart of its story.

Take the Australian ghost story Lake Mungo (2008), for instance. At the beginning of the film, it is already too late – we know what the result of the story is, and we get told how things unfolded. In any drama, the focus would be on the grieving parents, but Lake Mungo, while having a lot of feelings for Mum and Dad, uses them to tell the story of how Alice got where she ended up. The movie peels away layer after layer of the mystery until, incredibly, we are confronted with what happened. And that, of course, entails a lot of suspension of disbelief since we are stuck in a very scary ghost story. I may have said so elsewhere, but Lake Mungo is one of the best horror movies in years, and one of the best Australian movies ever.

Or we may never know how we got there. Take It Follows (2014), a movie that features human beings, somehow possessed, that will follow you and kill you. That’s it. We only know that that weird possession is transmitted by sexual intercourse – which may or may not the way to get rid of the possessive drive. The movie is not hurtling towards any great revelation; it’s just that it makes you care about one or several of the teenage protagonists so that you want them to survive. A drama would give you detailed psychological insight into the protagonists’ actions, while It Follows just makes you root for its main characters’ survival.

Or it may be a case of not seeing what is really there. Without spoiling anything: remember what the McGuffin was in Goodnight Mommy (2014).

Drama looks into the mirror: we might not like what we see, but we somehow know it is real. Horror movies show us ourselves, distorted and going down.

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