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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Return of Captivity Horror: Final Girls, Claustrophobia and the Inferiority Complex

We are more than halfway through 2016 and I find it really interesting that the three smartest, most entertaining, and genuinely scary American horror movies all fall within the category of captivity horror. You know the type: the ones in which the protagonist--ultimately a woman--winds up trapped in the primary setting of the film (usually a home, often her own) with a sadistic villain. This isn't anything really new in the horror genre, but it's definitely worth noting that in a presidential election year where we see a woman running for the highest position in America, we've seen a great number of women in film being held hostage by men who seek pleasure in turning them into their inferior victims.

Then again, as we've seen time and time again in this category of film, the women rise up, take charge, and reclaim their heroism--standing tall by the ending credits as victors of the story, the omnipresent final girls of horror. Take for instance, Hush, a Netflix original film that seemingly came out of nowhere (I only caught it when it popped up in my "recommended picks" list one day) and instantly became a "Did you see that?" moment on social media. The story follows a deaf woman who becomes trapped in her own home when a killer takes her handicap for weakness a la Audrey Hepburn's character in Wait Until Dark, and tries to elongate his torture tactics on a "helpless" woman. He's mistaken, because (spoiler alert!) she rips him a new one.

In the same weekend (the second weekend of March, to be exact), we also saw 10 Cloverfield Lane
take the big screen box office by storm. There were many theories about what its narrative alluded to (I remember one in particular even drew comparisons to Donald Trump's presidential candidacy), but what is at its core is a middle-aged white man (played by John Goodman) who comes across a young woman (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) presumably in the midst of a difficult breakup. He seizes the opportunity to manipulate her into believing that the apocalypse had come and his was the only place of refuge. Ah, mansplaining at its best. Needless to say, our female protagonist here figured things out and devised her own rescue plan.

And most recently there is Don't Breathe, another out-of-nowhere movie that had very few commercials and early buzz leading up to its release more than a week ago and is now the number 1 movie at the box office for the second weekend in a row. This pot boiler initially sets itself up to be another home invasion thriller by three white inner city millenials who feel they were robbed of society's goodwill so they steal from the rich in order to return the earth back on its axis. (I can get on my soapbox here about how so many millenials feel that the world owes them something and that they shouldn't have to work for anything, but I won't because that's not the point of this post). Anyway, they chose the wrong house to burglarize one night when they broke into the home of a blind ex-military man (Stephen Lang) still reeling from both the horrors of combat and the wrongful death of his teenage daughter by a drunk driver (a rich white girl who spends not a single day in jail for the crime because irony). The crooked millenials get more than what they've bargained for when Lang's character retaliates hard core, sealing final girl Rocky (Jane Levy) in his house to be his prey while his rabid seeing eye dog rips and roars across the dark, rickety house that has bobby traps everywhere. Like most modern horrors today, there are several false endings, so the increasingly claustrophobic setting makes for a serious nail biter.

I have a feeling this isn't the last we've seen of either of these three original horror films. I just hope that the captivity horror continues to reinvent itself and not become an endless cycle of the same narrative. With visionary film-making and thoughtful writing, this could be the very thing that saves modern American horror.


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