Breaking news, ladies and gentlemen: Horror is back and it’s here to stay. As of this writing, the total gross of John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” has reached approximately $100 million in domestic earnings alone. It’s a miracle.
An original film by previously obscure screenwriters appealing to audiences and critics alike, all while turning a massive profit? How could this have happened? This isn’t 1999.
Lame jokes aside, it’s satisfying to see American moviegoers finally put their money where their mouths are. Critics and audiences alike are quick to whine about the death of originality, detesting the unending remake-and-adaptation cycle that seems to run all of Hollywood.
Nevertheless, the moment “Free Fire” or “Mother!” — even “Annihilation” to a certain extent — steps out on the scene, those same individuals withdraw into the shadows and allow inspired original films to become box office flops.
Sure, you’ll get a “John Wick” every once in a blue moon, but it’s the exception to the rule. I’m certain other factors apart than indifference plays a role in these events; still, the commercial success of “A Quiet Place” is an encouraging step in the right direction.
Financial statistics aside, “A Quiet Place” could signal the rise of more innovative, risky horror films in the near future. Krasinski’s first foray into the genre is an intelligent, meticulously crafted thrill-ride; it’s one of those rare films with both a clever premise and the execution to match it.
Krasinski flawlessly laces tense set-pieces with artistic undertones, and for a mainstream movie released in April, it’s surprisingly daring. In fact, “A Quiet Place,” for all intents and purposes, may bring out the conclusion and the dawn of a new era in American filmmaking. Too bold of a statement? Well, allow me to explain.
Throughout much of the last decade, the state of original, mainstream American horror was a desolate wasteland. “Audition” and “28 Days Later” — two of my all-time favorite horror movies — received an American release during this period, but these films originate from Japan and England respectively. In the United States, it seemed like good horror movies had died out.
Debatably, American horror was saved by a pair of young directors: James Wan and Eli Roth. The combined success of Wan’s directorial debut “Saw” in 2004 and Roth’s sophomore outing “Hostel” the following year crossed boundaries and gave the American horror scene a credibility which it had not held in years.
The notoriously graphic, low-budget films turned both stomachs and sizable box office returns. Soon, the spotlight turned away from foreign horror films and back to the United States. The remainder of the decade saw many more original horror films, some of which spawned a crowd of imitators.
In 2008, “Cloverfield” sparked the found-footage craze. One year later, “Paranormal Activity” resurrected the demonic possession trend that had ruled the horror genre in the the 1970s. Movies like “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious” steered audiences away from the gore-centric “Saw” franchise and into the horror of the haunted suburban household.
The 2010s, however, saw the rise of quieter, independent horror movies. Adam Wingard’s subversive “You’re Next” and David Robert Mitchell’s nightmarish “It Follows” sought to terrify audiences in a subtler, less obtrusive fashion, and accomplished this with great success. However, while horror gradually returned to form, a new cinematic terror slowly brewed just beyond the horizon.
In the early 2000s, superhero films were similarly breaking new territory. Directors began taking superheroes seriously, instead of treating them as campy adaptations of even campier comic books. “X-Men” and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” films laid the groundwork for serious superhero films.
However, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” was arguably the carrier for superhero fever. Between DC adaptations and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comic book movies are Hollywood’s foothold in the industry.
With the oversaturation of superhero movies in Hollywood, one has to wonder: what’s next? After the overwhelmingly positive reception to “A Quiet Place,” I believe I might have the answer. Horror movies might be making a comeback.
Of course, it makes no sense to assume that one good horror movie will mean a comeback for the whole genre. But my deduction isn’t derived solely from “A Quiet Place.” Rather, it’s a combination of all the factors I listed above. And that’s not even mentioning the recent arrival of other great horror movies, such as “Don’t Breathe,” “Get Out,” and “Unsane.”
As an artform, film often functions as a reflection of society at that specific moment in time. A major sentiment found in movies nowadays is an overbearing sense of cynicism. This isn’t always represented by violence and brutality; this cynicism appears in everything from kids’s movies to true-life dramas.
Gloomy color schemes, anti-heroic protagonists and gritty re-workings have spread across dozens of franchises, from “Star Wars” to “Winnie the Pooh.” However, while this sense of pessimism is a growing trend throughout the film industry, it’s been at the core of the horror genre since the genre existed.
After all, horror films are macabre almost by definition; that’s the appeal of the genre, and I suspect people will seek out this sense of thrill until the end of time. There’s a certain attraction to exploring the taboo and topics deemed off-limits. Furthermore, the darkness of the genre taps into your deepest fears and anxieties.
Many people experience fear and anxiety on a day-to-day basis, whether it takes the form of an unwavering anxiety or a specific phobia. Horror films fashion and rework these emotions into physical constructs for the audience to enjoy and forces viewers to encounter them head-on. These movies exhibit the worst that life has to offer and transform evil into art.
In addition, the horror genre has a financial advantage over other genres. Horror films are cheap to make and when they succeed, they do so in spades. Take “Lights Out” for instance. The 2016 film was made with a budget of $4.9 million and grossed $148.9 million worldwide.
And while quality influences profit in some instances, even critical disasters can make it big in the box office. Despite its reputation as a critical failure, “The Boy” still managed to gross $64.2 million worldwide off a $10 million budget in the same year. Countless additional examples attest to the success of this business model.
That being said, I don’t think the financial success of “A Quiet Place” necessarily dictates that every horror film from here on out is guaranteed to rack up revenue and critical acclaim. After all, every genre has its ups and downs; for every “Get Out,” someone will make a “Bye Bye Man.”
I also do not believe superhero movies will vanish overnight simply due to Krasinski’s use of sign language. Nevertheless, I’m holding firm to my beliefs. Hopefully someday soon, we’ll witness the return of original ideas and the fall of nostalgia-soaked remakes.
As with anything in life, I say these things knowing full well I could be totally wrong. Maybe in a few months, I’ll have to retract every embarrassing, hyperbolic claim I’ve written in this piece.
However, if Jim from “The Office” turns out to be the hero who saves Hollywood and brings about a new era of original ideas and fresh concepts, you’d better believe I’ll deny I had any doubts and claim all the credit for myself.