The latest incarnation of literary horror–though it’s admittedly hard to keep up–is the New Weird, which by extrapolation means that we’ve often been dealing with the Old Normal. This makes sense to me. The New Weird depends upon an infusion of fantasy or science fiction, genres that suggest that maybe we’re not all fucked after all, that there might be wonder as well as terror in this strangeness. The Old Normal is not having this. The world we have is imperfect, but hey, better the devil you know.
This cuts across political barriers and is stronger than the conservative bias of horror or the more calculated attempts to make the genre progressive. Reflexively, the particular malevolence of horror is from somewhere else and with someone else. So you get chav horror, like Eden Lake, where the working class refusal to abide by upper-middle norms goes quickly from “these kids with their loud music and their rudeness!” to “I seem to have been set on fire.” It’s brutally effective slippery slope logic–if you’re bothered by the first breaches of the norm, you can mostly buy the escalation (“I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” “It jumped up a notch.” “It did, didn’t it?”). But outside of the vacuum imposed by fear, you take a step back and realize how rarely you get horror movies about souped-up versions of, say, gentrification. I’d like to see different kinds of people getting to define their own in-groups and film their own more justified anxieties running amok, whether that’s in parodies like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil or smoothly-crafted social horror films like Get Out. Still Old Normal, just with the vantage point invaluably changed.
In the meantime, Eden Lake‘s inexplicable home invasion and equally inexplicable decision to have one character take a nap in the midst of a stint of survival horror deserve criticism alongside its dubious implications. But nonetheless, this particular example of the Old Normal has teeth. Its progression is simple–aggression begets aggression begets aggression, until it’s too late for surrender–but old enough that it’s powerful on its own. I love horror, but it may be the only genre where you can be this stupid as well as this morally repellent and still kind of work as a movie, even if your audience has to take a shower afterwards.