Week 4 – Post Horror & Torture Porn

Rose (2017) defines this modern boom of prestige horror as “Post-Horror.” What does he mean by this term? Find and read some critiques on his definition online and respond to both. Do you think Post-Horror is a valid term or not? Using examples and references explain your position.

With films such as It Comes at Night straying from many of the tropes and conventions audiences are accustomed to seeing from the horror genre. Film critic Steve Rose coined the term “post-horror” in an attempt at defining this shift. According to Rose (2017), post-horror avoids relying on tropes that have become almost synonymous with the genre. Instead of jump scares or the kind of graphic violence which saw a resurgence thanks in part due to horror films released in the early 2000s (Reyes, 2014). Post-horror plays with these expectations (sometimes unintentionally through marketing) and instead explores the horrors humans are capable of. Rather than some titular creature a title such as It Comes at Night would suggest. In this case, the film can be described as an exploration of the anxieties being in a post-apocalyptic world would bring. Whilst the contagion the film’s setting is framed around is undoubtedly an important aspect. The film uses it to develop believable scenarios for the characters to react to (at least by horror film standards) instead of using it as a means of producing endless undead/zombie fodder.

Whilst it isn’t necessarily the most accurate method of gauging public opinion on the subject. Discussion on the popular website Reddit would suggest that many see the term as an attempt at defending these films from criticism and the divisive opinions these films have received from general audiences. With some referring to Rose’s piece as a meaningless and nonsensical take from a “hipster’. While others have cited that some of what is described in Rose’s piece has always been present or important in horror fiction. With the only difference being these recent films managing to find widespread success (at least commercially) when compared with their predecessors (Brown, 2019).

Personally, I can sort of understand where both parties are coming from. If one looks at the user reviews of the above film on review aggregators such as Metacritic. A large number of them express disappointment due to expectations set by the positive critical reception the film garnered prior to release, as well as advertising that would give the impression that the film would be more in line with popular (horror) films of the past (Metacritic, 2017). On one hand you have a significant portion of the audience who feel deceived, and film critics on the other trying to justify why they liked such films.

With that said, I view post-horror as a valid way to describe this era of horror. However, for a genre that is sometimes cited as the most profitable in film. It’s likely that another term will replace it. As the term “post-horror” would arguably have elitist or gatekeeping connotations if reception on reddit is an indicator of things.

According to Carroll, what is the role of torture in the torture porn franchises Saw and Hostel? Using references, explain this in your own words. How do you think these purposes might relate to the socio-political environment of that time period and such events like 9/11 and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal?

At a glance, one could assume that the graphic violence and themes (often referred to as torture porn) prominent in the Hostel and Saw franchises are simply a means of evoking reactions from viewers. Xavier Aldana Reyes, an academic in both film and literature studies, views torture porn’s purpose in these films differently.

In the case of the original Hostel, Reyes (2014) describes torture porn as a way for the European inhabitants of Hostel’s world to flip the power dynamic on the unsuspecting American tourists. A power dynamic established early in the film as the lead characters (Paxton and Josh) are experiencing Amsterdam’s nightlife for the first time. Where it is made apparent that their trip is in part motivated by the allure of romantic partners and casual sex. This inherently objectifies the women of these countries and gives additional purpose to the activities of the film’s antagonists, the Elite Hunting Club (EHC).

While the EHC’s main purpose is to provide subjects for its members to fulfil their sadistic desires and needs on. Intentionally or unintentionally, this also results in the film’s leads becoming objectified themselves. Taking away the control and rights they have over their bodies. A role reversal of sorts from when Paxton refers to a sex worker as a “fuckin hog”.

In the case of Saw though, its antagonist Jigsaw acts as a sort of moral vigilante or judge throughout the franchise, choosing to put his victims in situations where they must inflict self-harm to live or proceed further in his games. With each body part maimed, amputated or harmed having an association or link with the victim’s perceived wrongdoing. Torture porn is essentially used by Jigsaw as a means of ridding his victims of their supposed sins (Reyes, 2014).

With regards to how these purposes could be related to current events of the time such as the terrorist attacks of September 11. The argument could be made that Hostel exploits the post 9/11 psyche of the western world and uses this inherit fear of foreign others in a similar manner expressed by Reyes (2014, p. 128) when discussing Zac Berman’s Borderland and its reinvention of the hillbilly tradition in horror.

References

Brown, M. (2019, May 15). The problem with ‘post-horror?. Retrieved from https://overland.org.au/2019/05/the-problem-with-post-horror/

Metacritic. (2017). It comes at night – User reviews. Retrieved September 2, 2019, from https://www.metacritic.com/movie/it-comes-at-night/user-reviews

Reyes, X. A. (2014). Torture porn. In Body gothic: Corporeal transgression in contemporary literature and horror film (pp. 122-143). Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Rose, S. (2017, July 6). How post-horror movies are taking over cinema. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/06/post-horror-films-scary-movies-ghost-story-it-comes-at-night

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