Never been a big horror fan. I admit it, I was a wimp. Grew up with ghoulish boyfriends who loved to sit in the movies and slobber over blood. Those were the days when movies were a quarter, so a few pop bottles returned and you had yourself a ticket, and a box of JuJuBees for a nickel would last forever.
I remember once I got talked into taking the bus to Evanston to see “Horrors of the Black Museum." In the opening scene, a woman is delivered a box at home. Inside are a pair of large black binoculars. She takes them to the window to check out the view with her new gift. As she lifts them to her face, the camera cuts away. Then there’s a “click,” a scream of pain, and the heavy “clunk” of the binoculars hitting the floor. We then cut to the binoculars, which have two large bloody spikes protruding from the eyepieces.
I was up and out of my seat and on the next bus home. And I’ve avoided horror ever since.
Until, “Get Out.”
Having missed it at an industry screening, I was anxious to pick up on the Jordan Peele directorial debut that has been the early sensation of the 2017 season. With a $4.5M budget, no less, that has grossed more than $170M and counting. A funny, quirky, and clever little movie that plays on the perceptions of racial bigotry gone deeply and darkly bad, it saves it’s gore for the last ten minutes, by which time you’re so caught up in the movie, not only is the gore not a deterrent factor, but you even race right through a huge story flaw as you ride to the end with the protagonist and his Lone Ranger buddy who rides to his rescue. It’s horror for grownups, and it works. I suspect that every low-budget writer/director coast-to-coast is right now trying to storyboard his effort to capitalize on this phenomenon.
Then, on the success of that experience, I decided to try “Personal Shopper.”
Unlike “Get Out,” “Personal Shopper,” is not tearing up the box office - it’s $1.2M gross barely enough to cover the office incidentals line on a studio budget. Not a horror film, more of a character study in the guise of a supernatural thriller, this little movie from Olivier Assayag does feature a gruesome moment of gore, but it’s an already dead body, so no big deal. Mostly it’s about ghostly “presences” and whether or not they’re emanating from it’s star, the tormented and conflicted diva, Kristen Stewart, playing an international film star’s personal shopper, or representing external forces, including her dead brother.
I like Stewart. She’s a good actress who does her best work in movies no one sees – “The Runaways,” “Welcome to the Rileys” – movies where she decides to do more than pose parting her lips just a little more than three quarters of an inch, enough to show the bottoms of her top front teeth.
The meat of the movie involves an extended cell phone cyber-stalk by someone whose identity is a mystery to no one except Stewart (particularly given the number of characters in the movie), unless you buy into the possibility that these are supernatural fingers touch-tapping the digits. Still, this movie too has gotten interesting press, and I think it, too, will serve as a template for aspiring filmmakers who will be trying to copy Assayag’s blend of the supernatural and just enough gore to put you on the edge of your seat.
Low budget genre is the best way in for aspiring writers and directors, most of whom are nowhere near deft enough to pull off a “Moonlight.” Stay tuned over the next 18 months and keep your eyes peeled for homages to these two films among the dozens of low-budget indies that are flooding the market. If they operate on the level of these two films, we’ll all be in for some tasty viewing.