In the new horror movie “Woods”, Keri Russell plays a college professor in a troubled Oregon town who speculates that one of her students (Jeremy T. Thomas) is hiding a supernatural secret that has something to do with a series of brutal murders. (She’s right.)
Scott Cooper, the director of “Antlers”, which is currently in theaters, had no reservations about showing the film to his daughters, ages 15 and 18, although there is gore galore in its portrayal. of a starving wendigo, a creature rooted in Native American folk traditions.
Rather, he showed it to them because he knew the horrors he portrayed – like opioid addiction and the environmental effects of mining – would be pale in comparison to what they’re already afraid of: the Spiral. descendant of the natural world in front of their front door.
“When you live in California, you face climate change and drought on a daily basis,” he said. “They are well aware of what it feels like and of their future. My daughters understand that my film is a metaphor.
Mankind’s catastrophic relationship with nature and nature’s revolt against the human body are more than plots of horror stories. They also carry on the tradition of folk horror, a genre that has its origins largely in British cinema that the general American public recently tasted in Ari Aster’s film. ” Environment “ and that of Robert Eggers “The witch.”
Usually the films are set in a rural setting and touch on popular customs and ancient belief systems. The stories are mainly about clashes: between insiders and outsiders, city and country, technology and analog and modernity and an idyllic past (unless you were a witch).
As a specialist in popular horror Adam Scovell wrote, the genre is about “the evil under the ground, the terror in the woods of a forgotten lane and the ghosts that haunt the stones and patches of dark and lonely water”.
This fall, Disney Searchlight Pictures’ “Antlers,” joins other new, mostly independent, folk horror films from around the world. There are “The old methods”, a possession story set in a Mexican village; “Demi-god”, a supernatural tale set in the Black Forest in Germany; “The way,” about a Thai shaman and a demonic entity; and, opening on November 19, the Welsh language film “Celebration,” about a fantasy dinner.
Popular horror “wonders if the old ways were right,” as the scholar Maisha Wester put it in Janisse’s film. Howard David Ingham, the author of “We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror,” said that one of the reasons popular horror is so relevant now is that, whether it is pandemic or politics, “there’s a feeling we’re haunted by a bunch of unresolved business.
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“Are we afraid that our neighbor is secretly a witch?” Probably not, ”Ingham wrote in an email. “But it’s absolutely a metaphor for what we’re going through, how the fault lines in our society show up.”
The labeling of popular horror as a genre didn’t really take off until 2010, when it was used in the BBC documentary series ‘The History of Horror’ to describe three British films that fans call now the Unholy Trinity: “General sorcerer” (1968), with Vincent Price as the inquisitor; “Blood on the claw of Satan” (1971), on demonic rituals in 18th century England; and “The wicker man” (1973), about a pagan community on a remote Scottish island.
In the 1960s and 1970s, American audiences got a feel for the genre in a film like the HP Lovecraft-inspired occult drama “The Dunwich Horror”, but also in an absurd exploitation film like “Le Manitou”, a demonic bodily horror story, and in experimental cinema, as “Ganja & Hess», A black vampire tale. The folk horror films of this era were not considered part of a genre; the filmmakers were simply using horror to reflect the environmental, racial, and spiritual changes that surrounded them.
Later, American directors drew on folk traditions from popular films like “The children of the corn” (1984) and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). Over the past decade, the folk horror label has stuck around, and the genre garnered a dedicated audience and critically acclaimed, thanks to films like Jayro Bustamante’s “La Llorona”, and especially the works of Ben Wheatley (“In the ground”)
Although there are rich traditions of popular horror cinema around the world, folk horror films have been mostly made by white men, often out of the anxieties of white people. A filmmaker who is not from the culture he is exploring, said Janisse, “is going to have to be able to explain how it is appropriate for them to make the film in the current climate.”
Cooper, who is not Native American, said he was aware of his status as an alien, which is why he consulted with experts in Wendigo folklore and indigenous stories from the Pacific Northwest to “tell my story. without having the impression of co-opting their legend. . “
For filmmakers working in their own folk traditions, there is nothing scary about ancient creatures or beliefs, as they are steeped in their culture. Valdimar Johannsson, director of “Lamb”, a new Icelandic film about a couple’s child-animal, said Icelanders understand their folk story “as a normal thing and do not see it as supernatural or horrible”.
To the anthology film archives, “Popular horror” a new series curated by Jed Rapfogel and Jennifer Anna, explores the narrative and global dimension of the genre. The program, which runs until November 11, includes what may come as a surprise: “Get out.” But Jordan Peele’s film ticks two fundamental themes of folk horror: isolation and landscape, in this case a bourgeois white suburb where an island mentality leads to social violence.
In ‘Get Out,’ said Rapfogel, ‘the past is not the past, and things of the past reappear in horrible ways. “
This is one of the reasons why popular horror shows no signs of withering. As long as humans play with Mother Nature and continue to regenerate old hatreds, horror will hold its mirror.
“We could watch stories of human sacrifice, ghostly visitation, witch sabbaths,” Ingham said. “But in the broad sense, there is something about a folk horror movie that makes us think that yes, it is.”