Mild Spoilers for Goodnight Mommy
I’d like to preface this review by assuring you that I am no lightweight when it comes to watching horror films. On-screen violence and gore usually elicits the expected level of shock and disgust, while body horror reliably grosses me out.
Part of my love for scary movies is remembering that a movie is only a movie, and art is only art. The onscreen images are powerful, but they aren’t real. I’ve never forgotten that fact. I have never had to run for a bucket, nor have I fainted in a movie theater.
So when I almost fainted during Goodnight Mommy, it was because Goodnight Mommy is so precisely calibrated to create a deeply disturbing experience that I forgot to breathe.
As I lay on the carpet in my living room, waiting for the walls to stop swaying, I realized that Goodnight Mommy is one of the most harrowing horror movies I’ve ever seen. My friend spoke softly to me, coaching me through breathing exercises and assuring me we didn’t have to finish the movie if I didn’t want to. Which was so embarrassing, to say the least.
***Spoiler Alert: mild spoilers for The Girl With All the Gifts***
Stagnation is one of the unfortunate things avid horror fans deal with. For such a rich, dynamic, and prolific genre, horror often trades in the same old stories. Sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing the same serial killer thriller, haunted house short story, or post-apocalyptic zombie movie again and again. I’ve noticed a cycle to subgenres’ popularity, where one well-made novel or movie captures hearts, minds, and nerves only to inspire a lot of not-as-good imitations. Knock-offs are churned out in record time, and in the rush to get the product out, creators sacrifice quality and imagination.
This isn’t always a “bad” choice, since there is a lot of money in producing cheap and gory horror movies. It happened with zombies, possessions, and found-footage horror movies. It happens with vampire novels. These works have entertainment value, but they aren’t groundbreaking and become uninteresting.
As a fan, this vicious cycle frustrates and bores me. Horror is such a flexible genre, with great potential for constant reinvention. I always enjoy horror that offers something different.
Thus, whenever a movie or novel comes along that breathes new life into a worn-out subgenre, I can’t help but take notice.
Enter The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey’s innovative 2014 zombie novel. In a subgenre rife with the same old survivor story, Carey wrote a compelling zombie narrative reexamining many of the assumptions of the genre. The result is a novel that offers a fresh perspective on many of the tried-and-true themes of the zombie genre, including survival at all costs, us vs. them mentalities, and what it would take to rebuild a shattered world.
I’ve only hinted at it before, but you should know that I’m a Texas Girl, through and through. While I may not agree with everything my state has done, I love living here.
I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, having been born and raised in San Antonio before moving on to attend college in Austin and eventually settling in Houston. To me, “barbecue” means brisket and a “cookout” means the event where you eat barbecue. I say “y’all” and I don’t care if you think it’s cute or not. I’ll take Whataburger over any other fast food joint any day of the week. I think winter is two or three weeks in January where the temperature may dip below 40 degrees. There’s nothing I love more than a Texas thunderstorm. I love to go camping under the Texas night sky with plenty of food, beer, and ghost stories.
But of course you already know how much I love ghost stories. Especially Texas ghost stories.
I didn’t realize until fairly recently, but February is Women in Horror Month! February 2016 marks the 7th annual Women in Horror Month, or WiHM, which aims to “encourage supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries.” Women in all parts of the horror genre are represented—female horror directors, female horror writers, female horror artists, and many more.
I love that this initiative exists! Why should boys have all the fun? Everyone can contribute to horror. It’s refreshing to see women who love horror come together to support each other. There are many talented individuals sharing in this genre, be it through fiction, film, comics, or art.
About ten or fifteen minutes into The Witch, I realized I was holding my breath. My shoulders were tense, shrugged up towards my ears as I sank further into my seat. I told myself to relax and just watch the movie, but I couldn’t. It didn’t help that I ended up curled up in my seat in preparation for the next insane development. And it didn’t help that the story became more and more unnerving and the scares more and more startling. Hours after the film had ended, I was still tense. I couldn’t stop revisiting the film, obsessing over certain scenes and replaying others in my head, desperate for details I’d missed.
It’s been a long time since a film, horror or otherwise, has provoked me like The Witch has. Few horror films have ever left me in a state of lingering physical discomfort. Not many horror movies have scared me like this, where I could not predict what fresh hell would come next. And few movies have left me this awestruck, because The Witch is one of the best horror films I’ve seen. It proves the level of art and craft the horror genre is capable of attaining.
And that’s because The Witch is not just a film. It’s an experience, a study in fear.
Ah, February. In keeping with the human need for tradition and ritual, this is the time of year where everyone becomes temporarily obsessed with their and others’ relationship statuses. If you’re in a relationship, you’re bombarded with messages to spend hours planning the perfect candlelit Valentine’s Day date and spend a chunk of change for flowers, candy, stuffed animals, jewelry, perfume, and lingerie. If you’re not in a relationship, then you’re bombarded with messages about how you either need to find a Valentine or become recluse for those weeks that the grocery store explodes into a red and pink mess of cheap cards, candy, and other cheesy knick-knacks.
Why do we go to all this trouble? We tell ourselves its because if you love someone, you buy them “romantic” stuff, right? And if you don’t have a Valentine, then you should be constantly reminded of it, right?
But in all the bustle to buy and surprise and spoil, no one really stops to think about love itself, which is odd. After centuries, love is still an enigma, a cypher. Countless hearts and minds have attempted to elucidate the twists and turns of love, but no one has ever been able to truly plumb those murky depths. Everyone knows about love and its paradoxes, how it can make you feel happy and sad, grounded and insane. Love can introduce you to your soulmate and in the same moment cause you to feel a chilling loneliness.
Love is immense and pervasive. It touches everyone, sneaking unexpectedly into unsuspecting lives and wrecking the best-laid plans, for better or for worse.
Love is scary.