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Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Films That Unknowingly Predicted the Horrors of 2020

Genre films have been holding metaphorical mirrors up to our faces for as long as they’ve existed, uncomfortably (but necessarily) forcing us to examine our surroundings as well as ourselves through ways we can accessibly grasp. Thoughtful and reactionary, we’re astutely aware how much horror, especially, pointedly imitates life and historical context— everything from Nosferatu to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Dawn of the Dead is evidentiary to that— but it’s even more chilling when genre precedes reality, unknowingly predicting the real-life horrors that would follow in its wake.

And 2020 has felt like one, long, nightmarish film reel of real-life horrors that few could’ve seen coming— with the exception of some filmmakers whose recent releases feel unbelievably on-the-nose, as if they had possessed a cinematic crystal ball before writing and directing their latest features. The Beach House, She Dies Tomorrow, and Rent-A-Pal were our horror forecasters for the year 2020— alarmingly so— and even their creators are surprised by this.

Jeffrey A. Brown’s timely The Beach House could’ve fallen into the hole of countless other contagion movies that feel too far-fetched and impersonal to affect audiences that never endured anything of the sort. However, what Brown calls his “confrontational” film, which Shudder released this summer, hits a little deeper considering the current state of affairs.

When a young couple arrives at a relative’s remote beach house, the unnamed town feels…off. Deserted. Eerily quiet. Apocalyptic, even. These sequences of desertion are nothing new; 28 Days Later and A Quiet Place depict doomsday all the same, yet, viewing the opening sequence of Beach House within this specific timeframe immediately recalls the initial months of our own early 2020 quasi-apocalypse, as everything was closed and everyone was subjugated to the indoors, with American towns completely devoid of activity. By placing the film inside a beach town— transforming a typically idyllic setting where many of us would be spending our summers under normal circumstances into a backdrop for fear— it has begged us to heed its warning to stay home. For the first time in our lifespans, watching the latest end-of-times on film felt tangible, succeeding at what these kinds of movies have imbued all along, as Brown describes: “Any possibility at joy and fulfillment becomes a fleeting pipe dream when your home and life is disrupted by yet another cataclysm. Then it’s down to base survival.”

He explains, “Throughout writing The Beach House, I was dealing with my own fears, broken down and recombined into a horror narrative, to somehow keep these alligators at bay. Before Covid, I would watch science documentaries and skip the pandemic/contagion episodes because they freaked me out. Dealing with these anxieties through a creative outlet was an honest exploration of my nightmares in seductively comfortable settings, which is how I see my life. That the alligators are now at the door is horrible.”

The characters in the film become exposed to a very wet, very slimy contagion that is transmitted through the ocean water (and air) leaving lesions, gross infections, and seemingly slow, painful deaths to those affected. As overheard on a car radio, the disease is “entirely unknown” and a mystery to all, tragically leaving a few characters with the choice to either suffer through it or take their own lives. What’s scarier, though, is the few answers we’re given: the film’s disease is rather mysterious and unexplained, much like Covid still remains a mystery to us. While we, at least, become more cognizant and continue to discover more about Covid’s uncertainties, the characters of The Beach House never stand a chance. The filmic, unnamed infection ravaging through the town is reminiscent of a nature-fights-back contagion— almost a punishment to humans for years of neglecting their surroundings. (Even though Brown suggests that this contagion is less vindictive and more so a product of cosmic horror realms.) Vengeful or not, this thing is just unnecessarily cruel— like our own very real situation.

“I’d hope a viewer of The Beach House ultimately feels less alone by the movie, to know I am having similar anxieties, and we are having a conversation about these concerns through the characters and the imagery,” Brown says. “Even in trying to figure out how all the pieces add up in the end— that’s the conversation I wanted to have with the audience.”

Reversely, Amy Seimetz’s contained psychodrama She Dies Tomorrow doesn’t depict a thrilling fight for survival, like other contenders in the pandemic subgenre would. Instead, it looks at how those infected choose to live their remaining days after already accepting their deaths as imminent.

When a woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) contracts a viral sickness, convincing her she will die the next day, she confides in friends before inadvertently passing the belief on to them, until their collective worriment spreads like a disease. The film follows how each person handles their own self-destructing grief for, what they presume, is the end of their lives: some try to protect their children; others get drunk and demand their corpses be turned into leather jackets. Less cataclysmic on a grander scale and more introspective, She Dies Tomorrow is the embodiment of what a personal apocalypse feels like (and what 2020 has felt like for each of us, individually) in 84 minutes: absurd, existential, unusually morbid, and internally anxious for not knowing what the next day, week, or month is going to bring— the only harsh exception being death.

As Seimetz explains, her film was intended to be a metaphor for grappling with anxiety: “It’s a weird conundrum, because when you have anxiety, you should share that with people. (But) I always feel like I’m burdening them with it. So there’s the irrational fear that I’m spreading my personal shit with everyone.”

She continues, “In addition to that, there is something with words— you say it out loud, and then fear (spreads.) If you think of it like a virus— I think of fear as a barbed presence— even if you can laugh it off in the moment, somewhere in you, it sticks in.”

Even for those of us who may have never been diagnosed with anxiety before can probably connect to it this particular year, as adjusting to every hiccup within our plans, schedules, and routines has been challenging, to say the least. She Dies Tomorrow does, however, offer a glimmer of hope and comfort, positing for us to stop pressuring ourselves to have it altogether. During the film’s final moments, a character whispers to herself, “It’s okay; I’m not okay”— reminding us that, “It’s okay to not be okay,” as Seimetz says. “That always brings me a bit of solace. It’s correct to feel those feelings of anxiety.”

A consequence of quarantine, solitude has become our uninvited friend during 2020. The cancellation of social gatherings and physical proximity has led us to utilize tech-friendly means of communicating to fill the void, even when zoom calls and social media interactions could never be as fulfilling. While Jon Stevenson’s Rent-A-Pal may take place 30 years in the past, its morality tale is more relevant to the present: A lonely bachelor named David (Brian Landis Folkins) stumbles across a “Rent-A-Friend” VHS tape while searching for companionship and becomes addicted to his one-sided, pre-taped “friend” Andy, (Wil Wheaton) pushing away the few IRL relationships he has. Like most of us in this very moment, David feels trapped in the confines of his home, caring for his elderly mother full-time with little freedom and nothing to look forward to. But turning to technology to aid his loneliness backfires, as his friend inside the VCR proves to be nothing more than a toxic influence on him, leading to his downward spiral.

David’s downfall becomes a warning for us too. Subsisting our recent loneliness with an over-reliance on time spent online has been detrimental to many of us— warping our realities and getting consumed with daily Internet trivialities, i.e. doom scrolling, Twitter drama, and/or validation-seeking from all the wrong sources. David clings on to the “conversations” he shares with Andy, which, at first, seem fixed and impersonal, before escalating into violent and offensive. Similar to our feeding off of bad news and negativity online, David has allowed technology to give him all the wrong, unhealthy ideas about what constitutes legitimate connection. Stevenson considers Wheaton’s Andy to be an allegory for all of these things: “Andy is a predator who preys on the vulnerable; vulnerable people seek validation through whatever sources they can find. For most people, the closest and most immediate source of validation is their device, so it’s no surprise that predators flock to the Internet.”

Stevenson was all too familiar with isolation, well before the pandemic. Initially inspired by the real 1987 VHS service “Rent-A-Friend” during a dark time in his own life, Stevenson felt compelled to write a horror film based on how that tape made him feel. But he didn’t expect it to be released during such a time when it would be so connective to audiences: “When I wrote the film, I was completely isolated myself, albeit for very different reasons. So now that everyone is isolated, both physically and emotionally, a movie like this might resonate with people. There’s so much relief in knowing you’re not alone in whatever struggle you’re going through.”

2020 may carry a heavy load, and as we process the traumas and curveballs it has thrown at us, there’s an odd comfort in watching movies that parallel our experiences, making sense of similar issues. And that’s what they’re there for: “Films are amazing in that they can help people articulate their own feelings, in the same way that nightmares help us work out our anxieties and fears,” Stevenson says. “So, it seems weird that a horror film might bring people comfort, but it can.”



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3632156/know-films-predicted-horrors-2020/

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