by Anthony King
More than any other genre, horror seems to find comfort in exploring identity. A trio of new horror films have made this quite apparent to me. When confronted with fear, we're stripped away of all pretense. We're at our most vulnerable. And it's in these moments that the reality we once knew becomes distorted, if not completely disappearing. The reality of old is replaced with something otherworldly, our new reality – our real reality.
In Landlocked (2021), writer/director Paul Owens explicitly explores the worlds of both realities plus the gray space in between. Starring Owens' real life brother, Mason, and featuring the director himself as well as his other brother, Seth, and his father, Jeffrey, the story is about discovering who we really are through the past. But is the past we remember (or see) the real reality? Mason receives a tape in the mail of his father saying their childhood home will be torn down a year after Dad has died. Mason goes back to the house, now abandoned, and begins rummaging around. He comes across an old video camera and quickly realizes he can see the past while looking through the viewfinder. Obsession quickly sets in as Mason tries to record as many memories as possible. Eventually he enters sort of a prepossessed state and he (and we) begin to question what's real and what's not.
Speaking of Shudder, Stewart Thorndike's Bad Things (2023) premiered on the streamer earlier this year. Gayle Rankin stars as Ruthie, a young woman who has inherited her family's now-vacant hotel. One snowy weekend Ruthie and her friends head to the hotel to relax and reminisce. Things come to light, Ruthie begins to lose her grip on reality, and she (and her friends) question who she really is and where she came from. I describe Bad Things as a lesbian The Shining with a slasher in a CPAP mask. If this doesn't sell you, then there's no hope for you. Plus you get appearances from Hari Nef (groundbreaking trans model) and Queen Molly Ringwald.
Finally, I watched Mark Jenkin's Enys Men (2022), currently streaming on Hulu. It follows Mary Woodvine as a conservationist living on an uninhabited island off the British coast. She is tasked with recording changes (or not) in soil structure and plant life around the rocky coastline. All alone, The Volunteer (as she's credited) does the exact same thing every single day. Slowly, she begins to go mad. Hallucinations dominate her day. Are the things and the people we're seeing real? Were they real? Is The Volunteer alive? The island is a world of drab grays and browns and greens, yet a bright red rain coat, a brilliant blue sky, and stark white flowers punctuate a seemingly dreary but actually beautiful land.The crackle of the single radio communication device breaks through the monotony of the crashing waves, whipping winds, and constant drone of a gas-powered generator.
Sadly, I can confirm our questions of identity never stop. I go to a meeting with a gentleman in his 80s and he constantly talks about who he is and what he's supposed to be doing in life while all the other 60-, 70-, and 80-year-olds shake their heads in agreement. So I guess we're doomed to never know our life's purpose. On the flipside, this could be an exciting opportunity to never stop learning, exploring, and growing. The horror genre has since the beginning and continues to explore the topic of identity. While most horror films aren't explicitly stating, “This movie is about discovering oneself,” look at most of your favorite horrors and you'll discover that, in fact, they are about the exploration of one's identity.