Horror movies have always routinely slipped social messages betwixt the bloodshed.
Just recall 1968 the George A. Romero classic “Night of the Living Dead,” which touched on racism and toxic groupthink in between the zombie flesh gnawing. The genre is particularly suited for commentary given its extreme nature which dominates, but doesn’t camouflage, the themes lurking at the edges.
But the rise of “woke” changed all of that.
Today, some horror films pack in not-so-subtle progressive messages, forcing audiences to confront issues instead of escaping everyday life.
Hollywood has a spotty track record on this front, leaning heavily toward films that put their priorities in the wrong place. Here are the best–and worst–of modern “woke” horror.
The 2017 smash hit introduced comedian Jordan Peele as a rising star behind the camera. The progressive comic didn’t hold back on the film’s take on modern racism, focusing on an uber-liberal family meeting their white daughter’s black beau for the first time. The family harbors a terrible secret,, putting the young man’s life in jeopardy. Peele shrewdly packaged those elements in an original thriller that felt both raw and invigorating regardless of one’s political baggage.
The film’s runaway success, including an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Peele, paved the way for some tepid imitators.
This 2022 Hulu original doesn’t shy away from its feminist trappings. A single woman (Daisy Edgar-Jones) meets a handsome stranger (Sebastian Stan) at the supermarket, but his motives are far from noble. A battle ensues, highlighting the power imbalances between men and women.
It’s a shrewdly-paced thriller that gives audiences a resourceful heroine. The subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart, but the production leaves most of the grisly business to our imagination. And when the feminist dialogue finally emerges, you’re so invested in the story even staunch conservatives may grin at its arrival.
Director Alex Garland, known for 2014’s brilliant sci-fi feature “Ex Machina,” explores the emotional chasm between men and women with this 2022 shocker. The title is a dead giveaway as to who deserves the lion’s share of the blame, but Garland showcases his skill in how he delivers that information.
It’s a shame the film’s vicar character, who arrives mid-film, pushes too hard on the film’s obvious intentions.But, even so, “Men” is unconventional from start to finish. It’s also one of the scariest films in recent memory, keeping the standard horror tropes off screen. And, best of all, it’s just opaque enough to allow audiences to draw their own conclusions during the delirious third act, brimming with bodily horror shocks.
“The Invisible Man”
This 2020 update on the classic monster yarn focuses on the “Man’s” girlfriend, making it woke right out of the gate. But not so fast. While the story follows Elisabeth Moss’s character as she realizes her abusive ex has the power to make himself invisible, that gimmick gives way to a remarkably tense thriller that grabs us in the opening sequence and never lets go.
Best of all, the film is bereft of lectures. It’s just one woman’s fight for survival and the toxic beau who will do almost anything to win her back.
Peele gave himself a can’t-win challenge with this 2019 thriller. Could he top “Get Out”? He didn’t exactly, but his second feature still spits out some wild horror beats and a story that’s both intriguing and inscrutable.
A black family goes on a beach vacation and encounters something that scares them silly–a dangerous version of themselves.
“Us” isn’t as scary, or as powerful, as “Get Out.” Still, Peele keeps the messaging on the periphery, letting audiences pick and choose what they want from its woke framing on American privilege.
“The Purge” Franchise
This low-budget series is as profitable as it is left-leaning. It’s mediocre at best, delivering ham-fisted messages on race, guns, conservatives, and Christianity. The series grew more obvious and less effective as it piled on the sequels.
The most galling installment? “The Purge: Election Year” (2016) cruelly attacking Christians with neither nuance nor empathy.
The original “Wrong Turn” franchise delivered guilty pleasures for genre fanatics. The saga grew increasingly cheap over time, with special effects resembling what you’d find at a second-tier Halloween party.
Still, the shocks were in-your-face and the plotlines were streamlined. But the 2021 reboot lost much of that lo-fi appeal. It also focuses on an uber-woke band of Millennials eager to mock flyover country.
Peele’s “Get Out” looms large over this debacle of a film. Janelle Monae stars as both a successful author who pushes intersectional politics and a slave trying to break free from her oppressors. The film lamely attempts to connect her two worlds, resulting in a stilted lecture on Racism 101 that delivers few jolts.
The 1992 original teased some potent questions about inner-city USA, so it’s only natural to think that the remake would do the same. Still, 30-plus years ago, storytellers weren’t as compelled to finger wag at the audience–something the new “Candyman” does without hesitation.
The reboot boasts a creepy soundtrack and slick cinematography. Otherwise, this tale of a hook-handed fiend can’t compete with the source material, and its BLM-approved dialogue is the wrong kind of scary.
So. Much. Empowerment. This horror remake, the second for the 1974 shocker, ladled on the woke so crudely even liberal film critics cried, “Uncle!” The Guardian perfectly captured the progressive take on this clunker: “it’s ultimately less of a horror film and more of a think piece, a hodgepodge of buzzwords and ideas, aiming high but crashing into the snow.”
This 2021 stink bomb united critics across the political aisle. To paraphrase Jay Sherman from “The Critic”: “it stinks!” The uber-woke tale focuses on a busy body named (what else?) Karen, played by Taryn Manning, who terrorizes her middle-class black neighbors. Every progressive trope gets a close-up here, and had the movie leaned even harder into its silly story, it might have emerged as a cult classic.
As it is, it’s just an embarrassment.