The horror movies of the new millennium are certainly very different from those of the eighties and nineties. Granted, recent hits like the Insidious trilogy and The Conjuring harkened back to a simpler time where movies relied on spine-tingling atmospherics and a prevalent sense of dread to engage the audience. However, the new millennium mostly saw the rise of torture porn, as directors and script writers piled on the gore and revolting images in an attempt to elicit discomfort from an audience de-sensitised by the numerous unfiltered channels of the Internet.
Torture porn aside, there were also some atypical horror movies, which were mostly psychological in nature. It was probably fitting that these movies dealt with a brand of horror that was closer to home, now that social media has somehow made the world a smaller place and demystified various sources of horror inspiration. Now horror is a twisted take on the familiar, and springs forth from the least expected places. Below are three such movies which I recently revisited.
Hard Candy (2005)
Before Ellen Page made it big in the X-Men movies and Juno, she put in a compelling turn as a sociopathic teenage in a little known indie gem. Hard Candy is the type of story that can only take place in the 2000s and beyond. Featuring sordid internet chatrooms, amoral adults and youths who are not averse to entrapment, the genius of Hard Candy is that viewers are never quite sure who is the predator and who is the prey until the final scenes of the film. Much of the intrigue can be attributed to Patrick Wilson’s subtly ambiguous portrayal of Jeff. Was he an unredeemable paedophile getting his just desserts or just a very sad man trying to rediscover the innocence of a failed teenage romance? While most of the horror happened off-camera and was often implied, the movie still painted a nightmarish scenario that no guy would want to experience.
Funny Games (2007)
Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 film of the same name is chilling in a way similar to many horror classics of yesteryear in that terrible things happened for inexplicable reasons. Two boys went house-to-house in a serene suburban estate, first brutalising the family, forcing them to play sadistic games, before murdering the family in cold blood and moving on to the next family. There was no rhyme or reason for the boys’ action, no backstory giving any insight for the boys’ apparent psychosis and no comeuppance for the cruel duo in the end. If anything, Funny Games serves to undermine the conventions of typical psychological thrillers by illustrating how things fail to align with viewers’ expectations of a heroic triumph by Naomi Watts’ victimised character. At one point in the movie, Anna (played by Naomi Watts) managed to get the upper hand by killing one of the boys, only to have the scene “rewinded” and rectified by the surviving boy, thus breaking the fourth wall and assuring the boys’ victory.
Compliance may not take place in the private space of one’s home, but it shares the same vision of how the familiar comforts of one’s work place can easily be warped and twisted by an uninvited guest, even if said guest did not physically appear. In Compliance, a phony police call compelled the manager of a fast food restaurant to strip search her employee, on the pretext that the aforementioned employee had committed a theft. When the phony police officer on the other end of the line realised that he had gained traction of the situation, he made more and more disturbing and outrageous requests, which the hapless restaurant staff sadly complied with. While the plot may appear to be far-fetched, what was shocking about the movie was that it was not that far off from the real life event that it was based on.