In this post:
- A look at why I found this movie pretty disappointing, and what lessons we can take from that.
Recently-ish, we watched The Redeemer: Son of Satan. This is a horror movie about a group of people who get lured into their old school (I think), for a fake reunion, that is actually a means of trapping them so a preacher who is possessed by a demon (or something) can pick them off one by one.
The effort of trying to articulate how badly this movie missed the mark of effective horror, I think helped me to better understand how horror is supposed to work. So, from all of my trash-talking of this movie, here's how I think horror is supposed to work.
Horror stories are part of a literary tradition, that, like all literary traditions, has its roots in human experience. An invocation of supernatural elements represents a way to try to comprehend forces, whether natural, statistical, or societal, that are not immediately obvious to understand. To be really punchy in its representation of such forces, then, I think it should be possible to interpret supernatural elements as a metaphor for a more naturalistic situation, even if the text is unequivocal about the supernatural aspects.
For example, a killer ghost can be interpreted as fitting into anxieties about persistent social ills, copycat killers, etc, without having to chart out or explain what could be happening naturalistically. We can interpret "What if killing the criminal isn't enough to stop the crimes?" through the lines of considering punitive and capital punishment, the role of spectacle, the forces that give rise to crime, or we can watch killer ghosts catch fire and make wisecracks. I feel like I'm not quite articulating this right. It's not that I have any position on whether horror movies contribute to dialogues about complex issues, or whether they have any moral duties in terms of what questions to raise or positions to take. This is purely a question of whether there's proper emotional weight. I will even accept "Hey, here's a thing that's generally regarded as creepy."
Contrasting with The Redeemer, a movie about a preacher who makes up stuff from the bible during his sermon and nobody calls him on it, and also kills a bunch of people because... sin? He's maybe possessed by a demon, which definitely gives him an extra thumb, seems to give him off-camera teleportation abilities, and somehow or other allows him to successfully use extremely avoidable-seeming deathtraps.
Like, I don't have anything with which to relate "people are dying because they stand in the exact spot required for the deathtrap to even touch them". The somewhat more credible kills are done with guns and drowning, which raises the question of "why did they bring in a supernatural element?" The big thing the barely-explained supernatural elements seem to bring in is a license to not think too hard about editing or continuity.
Like, the killer suddenly appears in the bathroom that two women ducked into, which appears to have urinals (?), chases one out of what appears to be the only door, kills the other, then vanishes from the room, to appear in the library with a completely different appearance. I suppose if I were dealing with a serial killer, I'd prefer one that didn't have such abilities, but "teleporting quick-change artist with precognition" doesn't have emotional heft. Objectively, it's a worse situation, but when it comes to things that connect with us emotionally, people aren't applying rational objectivity.
I feel like I should have some kind of encapsulation of all of my ideas here, but frankly I did all that already. Read the beginning again if you feel like that would be nice; I'm not typing it up again.