• Through the Trees

End of the Year Spotlight on...Global Political Genre Films

Six 2020 horror films from across the globe that placed an emphasis on politics and social issues

Written by Martyn Conterio

2020 will be deemed a vintage year for the horror genre. Nary a month went by without an excellent title or two dropping via streaming platforms and online festivals. Taking the pulse of the genre reveals it to be in rude health and it left me once again marvelling at its ability to endlessly reinvent and reconceptualise life’s big themes, express our greatest fears, delivering an array of chills and thrills and gory spills.

Rob Savage’s Host was the number one breakout pandemic hit, while Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow eerily tapped into our coronavirus-fuelled anxiety, but other films landed in this dreadful time continued to reflect on wider social and political issues, reminding us the world might have slowed down significantly, but our collective problems don’t just stop or go away, not even in a global pandemic. It is by no means unusual for horror to tackle big stuff head on, but the bunch listed below impressed me this year, with not only their empathetic approaches or highlighting of a vital, finger-on-the-pulse theme, but the craft and sense of conviction which went into their making. Horror can dig as deep as ‘art cinema’, folks.

La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante)

I’m sick to the back teeth of horror films stuffed with rubbish jump scares and CG ghosts. Some directors don’t know shit from Shinola, when it comes to creating spooky vibes and creeping fear. There are no such concerns with La Llorona, an electrifying Guatemalan ghost story by filmmaker Jayro Bustamante examining Latin America’s disturbing past and activist groups today demanding justice for crimes against humanity (especially against indigenous peoples). Bustamante’s approach is resolutely and steadfastly subtle and the visuals often slyly playful. La Llorona is not only a classic ‘return of the repressed’ yarn hinged on political terror, class conflict and race, it serves to remind us all of the genocides, plights, oppressions, sorrows, struggles and traumas of indigenous people everywhere.

Av: The Hunt (Emre Akay, Deniz Cuylan)

Av (which translates as The Hunt) is a distressing and anguished state-of-the- nation address by Emre Akay. Since President Erdoğan has been in power, the country has lurched evermore rightwards and authoritarian. This extraordinary chase thriller sees a young woman hunted down by members of her family when they discover she’s having an affair. She must be killed to restore the family’s ‘honour’. A harsh but impeccably staged film, it’s yet another reminder to us all, women around the world struggle for autonomy and freedom under patriarchal systems.

His House (Remi Weekes)

Right-wing gobshites, the yellow press and psychopathic Tory politicians made a mountain out of a mole hill, regarding migrants crossing the Channel in dinghies. Remi Weekes’ astonishing debut, His House, shows us the reality of the situation, the waking nightmare of the migrant experience and the post-traumatic stress men, women and children endure escaping the misery of their lives and dreaming of a better future. They’ve been through experiences we can never possibly imagine, so give them a bloody break. A profoundly moving and frightening film ringing with humanity.

12 Hour Shift (Brea Grant)

Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift made excellent points on the inherent failures of the US healthcare and a capitalist system which forces frazzled men and women into taking multiple jobs just to stay afloat. Little wonder workers end up popping pills to stay awake and partake in shady scams. Angela Bettis shined in the lead role, playing an addict nurse up to her neck in trouble. Grant’s hugely entertaining film was a hymn to blue collar employees and their travails in an America where the rich get richer and the poor stay fucked over.

Don’t Click (G-Hey Kim)

G-Hey Kim’s film went down like a lead balloon, when it premiered at FrightFest, but it always amuses me when male critics and audiences suddenly get upset that a female director has made something properly messed up and confronting, which does not let the viewer off the hook for a single second, reminding them of their own complicity and maybe even tapping into their own deep dark desires in watching sexual violence unfold on the screen.

A film detailing misogynistic campus culture, the extreme objectification of women and the poetry of revenge, if watching Don’t Click’s unpleasant exhibitions of sadism and torture makes you feel gross and uncomfortable, well, duh, that’s the whole point of the exercise! What do you want, a medal for not being a psycho? G-Hey Kim is not messing about, and the film is literally called Don’t Click. A morality play featuring a protagonist who isn’t as innocent as we first suspect, I think there’s plenty of artistic value in its portrayal of toxic masculinity.

The Columnist (Ivo van Aart)

Released the same year as Kitty Green’s The Assistant and Jay Roach’s Bombshell, the Charlize Theron drama exposing the despicable treatment of female anchors and editorial staff at Fox News under boss Roger Ailes, Ivo van Aart’s satire took on similar subject matter and turned it into a rewarding and cathartic slasher. Headlined by Katja Herbers, formidable as the journalist on a rampage of righteous vengeance, literally cutting through a swathe of pathetic men and all their bullshit, The Columnist perfectly highlighted all the horrible crap women have to put up with on a daily basis, online and out in public.

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