At home and at the cinema, this month is an absolutely killer month for horror. Here’s Travis Johnson’s guide to the bloody good films arriving on the big screen and on the teev throughout April.
Horror is coming back in a big, big, big way, folks. You can smell it on the wind, like the scent of stale blood from an abandoned slaughterhouse or the hint of burned corpsemeat from a shuttered crematorium. You can hear it in the breeze that rattles the dry branches of the lightning-split tree that leans drunkenly in the paupers’ graveyard.
And you can see it in the cinema listings, where no less than five major horror films are getting released this April. Plus there’s a heap of bloody good stuff arriving on the small screen.
Horror in the cinema
Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature directing effort is the big dog. A surreal and deeply allegorical nightmare, Us pits an affluent African-American nuclear family – mum Lupita Nyong’o, dad Winston Duke, and kids Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph – against their own twisted and scarred dopplegangers who have come from – well, that would be telling.
Starting off as a tight, exquisitely executed home invasion thriller, Us pivots at the midpoint to become something altogether stranger and more ambitious, building to an unsettling denouement that people will be arguing about for years to come.
Previously brought to the screen by director Mary Lambert in 1989, Stephen King’s 1983 novel of death, grief, and resurrection gets a new cinematic treatment courtesy of filmmaking team Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, who gave us the excellent Starry Eyes back in 2014.
Jason Clarke is Lousi Creed, the bereaved dad who does the unthinkable but oh-so-predictable when his beloved child is killed in a road accident – he plants her in the old Indian burial ground beyond the titular animal boneyard, despite the warnings of his kindly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow). What was already a grim meditation on mortality cants towards the truly disturbing as the film moves with the cadence of a funeral dirge towards its inevitable, awful conclusion.
Playing out like a lo-fi Irish riff on Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, The Hole in the Ground plays with the same fears of alien children and familial violence. Seána Kerslake is Sarah, the mother who begins to suspect that her young son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), has been somehow changed after she finds him near a mysterious pit in the woods near their house. Is she right, or has the abuse suffered at the hands of her ex-husband left her justifiably paranoid?
Writer (with Stephen Shields) and director Lee Cronin imbues familiar tropes with new, unsettling life by incorporating elements of Irish folklore into his film. The result is a sense of creeping dread that slowly builds to a terrifying climax.
Aka The Curse of La Llorona in other markets, this latest offering from the producers of The Conjuring is the directorial debut of Michael Chavez, who has been tapped to call the shots on The Conjuring 3.
Drawing on the Mexican folk legend of the same name, the ‘70s-set film sees Linda Cardellini’s social worker battle to save her children from the eponymous spirit, the ghost of a Mexican woman who drowned her own kids and now seeks to do the same to more unwary sprogs.
This latest addition to the Conjuring Universe gets points for, like The Hole in the Ground, anchoring its supernatural shenanigans in a less-explored cultural milieu. Whether it makes as big an impact as other entries in the horror franchise have managed is anyone’s guess, but fans of James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s particular brand of throwback thrills should be well served when it hits later this month.
Coming in under the radar (and technically in May, but let us not quibble) is this Filipino riff on religious horror – and really, it’s surprising we don’t get more like this out of the deeply Catholic country.
Directed by genre specialist Mikhail Red, Eerie sees Bea Alonzo as Pat, a guidance counselor who must investigate the dark past of the convent school she works at after one of the students commits suicide. As it turns out, Pat has psychic abilities, which let her communicate with the ghost of another student who also killed herself back in the day. Couple that with the girls school setting and the ever-increasing body count, and Eerie starts to look like a South East Asian riff on Italian giallo slashers ala Dario Argento’s Suspiria, which sounds like a good time to us.
Horror in the home
Even if you’re a bit of a homebody, you’re not safe from horror – we’ve all seen plenty of home invasion movies that left people in pieces in the comfort of their own loungerooms. But besides that, the major digital services all have plenty of thrillers and chillers on offer.
Netflix is bringing out the big guns with William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, the 1973 adaptation of Willian Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel of religious terror, which is rightly regarded as one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
Also on the slate: The Basement, in which The OC’s Mischa Barton contends with a sadistic serial killer; new zombie series Black Summer; and The Silence, in which Kiernan Shipka and Miranda Otto of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, plus the great Stanley Tucci, fend off giant bats and human cultists alike. Speaking of Sabrina, the second part of season one is also doing the rounds and is far more Satanic and genry-savvy than we ever expected.
Stan is giving us a triple-threat of Australian horror in the form of Boys in the Trees, Nicholas Verso’s supernatural coming of age riff; the survival horror Killing Ground, in which director Damien Power subjects No Activity’s Harriet Dyer to the murderous attentions of Aaron Pederson and Aaron Glenane; and the true crime miniseries Catching Milat, which reenacts the hunt for serial killer Ivan Milat (Malcolm Kenard). Returning to the service is the French erotic horror Sheitan, which sees a group of Parisian club-goers run afoul of a devil-worshipper (Vincent Cassel).
And finally Amazon Prime Video is home to one of the most controversial horror films of the last 12 months: Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria, in which Dakota Johnson’s nascent dancer is drawn into the plots of a coven of witches led by Tilda Swinton’s icy doyenne. Just between us, pound for pound Amazon has the deepest bench of older and obscure horror movies and B grade genre fare, too. So if you’re in the mood to catch up with Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback, Stuart Gordon’s Dagon, or the late Larry Cohen’s Q the Winged Serpent, Bezos will take care of you.