The Death of Deathwave


Curator's Note

The problem with post-horror is, in part, that it is only the most recent in a long series of terms that have been dreamt up in an attempt to elevate certain genre artefacts above others – and unfortunately this is an impulse that has not just been indulged by the press, but by filmmakers themselves.

In October 2015 – following the successful festival runs of a number of independent American horror films, including Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer's Starry Eyes (2014), Joe Begos' The Mind's Eye (2015) and Mickey Keating's Darling (2015) – the term "Deathwave" was coined by Adam Egypt Mortimer, the director of festival favourite Some Kind of Hate (2015), to describe the kinds of films that he and his contemporaries were producing. Shortly afterwards, writer Jerry Smith penned an article for Blumhouse (accompanied by the above image), titled "Deathwave – The New Movement or Just Another Label?"

As it turns out, it was just another label. First of all, Smith's interviews with industry professionals quickly revealed that nobody could figure out what it actually meant. To Mortimer, it was a matter of thematic unity; these were films concerned with "the true reality that death is on its way." For Graham Reznick, it was a political term that set independent horror apart from the mainstream, a reflection of a desire to "tell stories…that explore and confront our collective existential uncertainties." Others – chiefly Ti West and Adam Wingard, whose films had previously been grouped together under the similarly slippery label "mumblegore," took to Twitter and dismissed the term.

"Deathwave" was distinctly noble: its aim was to fight for a number of innovative independent filmmakers to be valued and recognised. It was also counterproductive. In attempting to explicitly elevate the excellent independent movies produced by the likes of Kölsch, Widmyer, Keating and Begos, it implicitly devalued the equally interesting horror cinema being made within the studio system. "Deathwave" thus inadvertently perpetuated the idea central to unfortunate media and industry terms like "post-horror" and "elevated genre": that the majority of horror cinema is meaningless. The term's swift death, then, is perhaps not to be lamented.


This serparation between studio and independent is really interesting, and this idea of the devalueing of work. Also Craig's point here about the confusion over what the term actually means, brings to mind the fluid nature of genre anyway. One person's horror is another persons thriller etc. The displacement of the Deathwave moniker even between those that might use it points to the deeper troubles of trying to label a text in the first place. Which brings us round to the theme of the week and the trouble of post horror: is it one label too many? Deathwave as another scramble away from horror, and its percieved meaninglessness. 

That fluid, evolving nature of genre is ever on my mind when we talk about new labels/cycles/subgenres. I wonder to what extent the specificity of horror plays in to that too - your point that "one person's horror is another persons thriller" highlights the subjective nature of the horror genre, and perhaps this is part of the drive to redefine everything? Maybe there's a hesitance to call a horror film "a horror film" if it doesn't fit someone's specific criteria for how they see "a horror film" (note how so many discussions of 'post-horror' draw from comparisons to films featuring gore or jump scares) 

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.