Some may call 2011 a weak year for film, and as any good film fan knows, this is false. It was a weak year for the blockbuster, with hardly a single standout. However, from a different perspective, 2011 was an incredible year for film. The independent and foreign scene delivered us some true classics that will be remembered for years to come. It is also from the independent and foreign scene that we had a genre stand out, and that is, surprisingly, the horror genre.
Of course, it would be easy to glance over 2011’s horror output and see nothing remarkable. The great horror films this year did not come from the major studios but rather from some of the most unlikely places.
Critics, audiences and studios alike have a tendency of re-categorizing critically acclaimed horror films as anything but. It is an issue with the genre, and has been one since the early days of film. The genre is not respected alongside the other major genres, and is often mislabelled as to help it out during the awards season. This can mask the great pieces of cinema being made within the horror genre, some more obvious than others.
This happens typically with auteur filmmakers, who working within any genre push the boundaries and make films so different that they are hard to classify. Auteurs who work under the horror genre have an even bigger issue, as horror more than any other genre seems to have a strict set of guidelines. When a film pushes those boundaries, critics and distributors often label it as another genre. This happened with Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 critically acclaimed film, Black Swan.
Three of arguably the best films of the year fall under the category of horror, but due to both the content and the filmmakers behind each film, they have been categorized as dramas, thrillers and so on. Pedro Almodovar’s brilliantly-twisted The Skin I Live In is an example of a horror film that due to style and approach, is ignored as a true horror film. Featuring a story more disturbing than most horror films, The Skin I Live In is a horrifying film. It does not jump out at you and say boo, but rather like most good horror films, it creates a mood that slowly unsettles you until it unwraps entirely.
Like The Skin I Live In, another of 2011’s best horror films has the subject matter of a typical horror film, but delivers the story in a much more effective, original and disturbing way. Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin has the basic horror concept of your average “evil child” film, however, this film is unlike any horror film you will ever see. Told in an entirely nonlinear fashion, Ramsay crafts a story about paranoia and a bad seed that has haunted me ever since the credits rolled. The naturalistic shooting style of Ramsay combined with the great performances adds a level of realism to this film that has made many argue it is not a horror film.
Realism and horror are two elements that rarely mix, and they will often throw viewers off. This is one of the reasons why Ben Wheatley’s Kill List is often mislabelled. The film opens like a British kitchen sink drama, that feels almost documentary-like in its depiction of a broken household. However, it slowly descends into a film so full of tension and discomfort that I left the theatre completely and utterly horrified. It was one of the few films that have left me a complete mess and is a true testament to why working outside the box can lead to true originality under genres often labelled as repetitive.
Horror, like any genre, has its ups-and-downs. It is a shame that audiences so rarely embrace the great pieces of the horror genre and instead eat up the cookie cutter crap that fills the cineplexes. Some may argue that if critics and audiences embrace a horror film, it does not matter whether they label it as such. And while that is true to a point, it is still disappointing to see an entire genre so regularly dismissed as is horror. It is our job as both film fans and horror fans to label these films correctly and give the genre the respect it so clearly deserves.