In the trailer for Get Out (2017) there are jump scares, gleaming surgical instruments, unnatural movement, musical stings, and a roaring skeletal stag. This is a film, the trailer suggests, that seeks to scare or at the very least unnerve you. The trailer situates the film as a horror film.
Following its release, Get Out was met with critical acclaim, and was nominated for four Academy Awards (winning the title of Best Original Screenplay). It was also simultaneously, and curiously, distanced from the horror genre, whether through its positioning in the Comedy/Musical category at the Golden Globe Awards, or by reference to it being a “social thriller”.
There emerged a persistent desire to delineate a specific term for an apparently “different” form of horror cinema, a term which could be utilised to disassociate Get Out, along with The Witch (2015), It Comes at Night (2017), A Quiet Place (2018), and Hereditary (2018) among others from the perceived low-brow quality of the broader horror genre.
The term that gained the most attention was coined by Steve Rose, who posited that “post-horror” represented a ‘new breed’ of genre films that replaced ‘jump scares with existential dread’. A slew of alternative terms followed this article, including ‘elevated horror’, ‘prestige horror’, ‘highbrow horror’, and ‘smart horror’. The commonality of these terms is clear, in their implication that the horror genre is not usually elevated, prestige, highbrow, or even smart.
These terms also function to distance the “serious” critic from the historically distasteful, and possibly deviant, position of horror fan, in their key suggestion that if a non-horror fan enjoys a horror film, then that film cannot possibly belong to the horror genre, which is a “bad” genre, and from which nothing of worth ever emerges.
The problem with post-horror therefore is characterised not only by a lack of understanding of horror genre history, as highlighted in Nia Edwards-Behi’s superb response to the term, but also by its critical ignorance of the horror genre as it currently stands. A genre which, as contributors to this theme week will show, has never been so varied and vibrant.
Get Out is a great example to
Get Out is a great example to open this discussion with, and I like the distinction here between how it was marketed vs. how it was received (horror fans & critics had no such issue understanding it as a horror film!). The attempts to distance it from the horror genre which you outline here seem to be deliberate strategies to detach from some kind of imagined generic baseness. The starting points for celebrations of so-called "post-horror" are always to contextualise both the historical and current state of the genre as something lost, pointless, low, artless, or devoid of meaning. Horror is tired, and post-horror's waking the genre up, right?!
You mention Nia Edwards-Behi's response to Steve Rose's article, in which she outlines the ways in which the genre has been subject to this kind of reframing throughout both literary and cinematic history. Time and again horror films, filmmakers, cycles and trends have been de-contextualised, distanced from a genre that anyone with knowledge of its history can trace the connections to. I struggle to think of a genre that, beyond occasional standalone examples, is subject to similar repeated debates.
horror and the supposed middlebrow
I think Get Out and Hereditary are great examples of this odd binary between critics and fans, and how there has to be a distinction made in order for a critic to approve; lest they tarnish their reputation. It made me think about how in the past, it takes the passage of time for a horror text to become acceptable, culturally significant, or middlebrow. Look at Psycho, Halloween: deemed as trash at the time of release, and now they are "classics." Only with temporal distance can they be allowed in the critics good books.
Laura's point at the end there about how there is interesting, how other genres might not have to be put to such extreme tests as horror - rom coms maybe?
I think the observation made
I think the observation made here, that the trailer for Get Out situates the film as ‘horror’ from the outset, is interesting; there is an overt suggestion that genre tropes, familiar ones at that, are at play and recognisable (positioning the film within a rich and diverse cultural history that has been at best overlooked when thinking of ‘Post-Horror’ as a viable descriptor, or genre in its own right). It will be interesting to see if there is a resurgence in the usage of the term around the release of Jordan Peele's Us.
Similar discussions to the ones debated here seem to emerge when any cultural form is pre-fixed with the term ‘post’. As a point of comparison, one such example would be post-punk music, characterised by groups such as Joy Division, Wire and The Fall. The prefix ‘post’, as it is used here, suggests a sense of lineage, transition, and most importantly, an awareness of what came before. Diverse influences, changing aesthetics and formal innovation ultimately lead to a wider sense of nuance within this genre. That being said, there is always a sense that the genre is never fixed or static and remains subject to change and reinterpretation. This is something that ‘Post-Horror’ does not allow for (or ignores).
One thing that struck me when considering Nia Edwards-Behi’s response to Steve Rose was the mention of The Neon Demon, a film which explicitly deals with issues of beauty, extreme violence and aesthetics. Likening this film to Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Dario Argento’s late 70s work, it is clear to see how the art/ trash/ horror binaries explicated in my own post could just as easily be attached to this film.
Add new comment