Horror films have always tackled real-world issues, think the cautionary tale of playing God in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) or George A. Romero’s subversive Night of the Living Dead (1968), which shed light on the horrors of both the Vietnam war and US racism.
In the same way that earlier efforts reflected fears of their day, over recent years a new wave of films has emerged that blend classic genre movie thrills with the real-world horror of issues such as violence towards women and ever-present racism.
Out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s Antebellum is one such film… To mark the release of the provocative thriller, we’re taking a look at some of the best films in recent years that provide terrifying social commentary.
GET OUT (2017)
The release of Get Out in 2017 was arguably the catalyst for the new wave of horror films dealing with racism and other social problems that have been released over the last few years. The film tells the story of a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) who goes to stay with his white girlfriend’s (Alison Williams) family, discovering they are part of a strange group that captures African Americans and performs strange mind and body transplants on them. Produced by Blumhouse and released by Universal, the film has all the trappings of a commercial horror story – it was a huge success at the box office and the 10th most profitable film released in 2017 – but it was also a huge hit with critics, with many hailing it one of the year’s best films. This finally led to a win for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars in 2018, a huge achievement for a crowd-pleasing genre movie. Director Jordan Peele has stated the film is a satirical horror film about racism in America – the film has sparked wide-ranging discussion on the subject, been the subject of many memes and also inspired academic lectures such as ‘Sunken Place: Racism, Survival, and Black Horror Aesthetic’, delivered at UCLA with Peele in attendance. With its huge success among audiences and critics, and its ongoing effect on pop culture and film discussion, Get Out is already proving to be one of twenty-first century cinema’s landmarks.
The same year Get Out was released, another film that dealt with an equally important issue was unleashed. Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, is a subversion of the classic rape-revenge story seen in films such as I Spit on Your Grave, however the intention of the film is to put the power into the hands of the woman with a focus on the revenge, hence the film’s title. As such, the initial assault is given very little screen time and not shown in graphic detail as it was in earlier efforts. Starring Matilda Lutz, the film is a fast-paced and ultraviolent thrill-ride as a woman named Jennifer goes on a brutal rampage against the men who assaulted her and left her for dead. With some incredible practical gore effects that will have you wincing and one of the bloodiest climaxes in a film in recent memory, Revenge is a truly wild experience as well as an empowering spin on one of horror cinema’s most controversial sub-genres.
THE FIRST PURGE (2018)
For those who don’t know ‘The Purge’, first introduced in 2013’s series opener starring Ethan Hawke, is a annual night of the year when all crime, including murder, becomes legal for a 12-hour period. This ‘purges’ citizens of their aggression and base impulses and thus, ensures law and order for the rest of the year. The fourth film in the franchise, The First Purge, is a prequel to the previous three films that shows the origins of this night of anarchy, when a dystopian government called ‘The Founding Fathers’ trial ‘The Purge’ in Staten Island, NY. However, due to initial resistance from the people, The Founding Fathers send in undercover hit squads to create violence, achieving their desired outcome of chaos and bloodshed. The conspiracy is exposed by a small group of activists and we discover the government plans to use ‘The Purge’ each year so the poor can kill each other in urban areas, saving them money on welfare programmes. Packed full of white-kunckle action as well as plenty of twists and a biting commentary on the Trump era, racism and misogyny, The First Purge is a fun horror-thriller with a serious message.
HIS HOUSE (2020)
Remi Weekes His House, is a British horror film that blends elements of classic haunted house horror with the very real horror of refugees fleeing a worn torn country and settling in a country that doesn’t accept them. Starring Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, His House is the story of a couple leaving South Sudan and settling in a dilapidated house in England provided by the local council that holds a dark secret. As well as experiencing a supernatural terror in their new home, the couple also encounter racism from the local community and little help from the local authorities when trying to sort any issues with their run-down dwelling. A big critical hit, Weekes’ film premiered at Sundance in January 2020 and went on to win the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer as well as four further awards at the British International Film Awards. His House is one of the best British horror films in recent years, and we can’t wait to see what Weekes’ comes up with next.
From the producer of Get Out and Us, Antebellum stars Janelle Monáe as a woman who finds herself trapped in a terrifying reality and must uncover the brutal truth before it’s too late… Successful author Veronica Henley (Monáe) is finishing a book tour before she returns home to her husband and daughter. But a shocking turn of events is about to upend Veronica’s existence, plunging her into a horrifying reality that forces her to confront her past, present and future – before it’s too late. Directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz craft a tense and provocative thriller with a terrifying story about racism in America and a comment on past classics that sanitised the antebellum era on film. Bush and Renz even managed to get hold of the same the lenses used to shoot Gone with the Wind in 1939, to create a similar aesthetic to Victor Fleming’s Oscar winner, but at the same time ‘correct it’, showing a more accurate depiction of slavery. For a tense and thought-provoking thriller, look no further than Antebellum.
Antebellum is on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD now from Lionsgate UK