I am of the mindset that the great waves of American horror films post-WWII grew simultaneously alongside great stratifications in popularity towards the most escapist of things. I believe this because we can, and frequently do, get stuck in rudimentary binaries. One of those binaries is undoubtedly escapist things, and non-escapist things. The 1980s were a glorious time for the super-fun Hollywood blockbuster, and also the great slasher wave. Post 9/11 cinema saw huge blockbusters like multiple Spider-man and Pirates of the Carribean films rake in huge profits, while “torture porn” films that embodied concerns over domestic and foreign tramplings of human rights became a whole new genre of cinema. If there is still a film industry left in a few months, it will continue to be a battleground of mass-produced MCU nonsense and A24 “elevated horror.” This is because history repeats itself, and we respond to the various traumas facing ourselves in various ways.
Personally, I loathe escapist big-budget cinema, and much prefer depressing things so the counter-point side of this strawman binary that I’ve set up is better suited to how I feel about everything. Right now is probably a great time to watch horror films, and weirdly, while I’ve struggled to focus on a lot of the films that I’ve attempted to watch, the two that I’ve been able to hone in on laser sharp are The Devil’s Rejects and Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water.
I was completely unprepared for Dark Water, an actually good version of The Babadook where the physical space is manifestation of the mother’s trauma instead of a murderous pop-up book. Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) is a freshly-single mother still in the process of finalizing her divorce. She loves her young daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno) more than anything in the world. When they move into a new apartment, there is a small spot of water damage on the roof that leaks into the apartment, and continues to grow as the building’s authorities refuse to handle the issue.
I believe the present moment is probably a great time to watch horror films, because the present is really scary. It’s hard to be hyperbolic about the present time, but this is the kind of event from where there is a before and an after. I’ve touched on this in the last two posts, but when “this” is all over, there will be changes. Some will be for the better, and some will be for the worse. My keyboard punditry believes that there is a great likelihood that the United States will not be a world superpower then “this” is all over, and that we will temporarily enter a period of no superpowers, or China will become the dominant world superpower. This is also entirely conjecture, much like anyone’s predictions as to what the future will look like. None of us have any certainty as to what that will look like.
As cliché as it sounds, we’re scared of the unknown. We’re scared that the unknown will bring loss and pain. Collectively, many of us are scared about the future, because it is filled with unknowns. We don’t know if we will get sick, or worse, our loved ones will. We don’t know if we’ll be able to comfort them in their moments of need. It’s scary, and nothing will assuage those fears for a little while. What’s even scarier is that there is no date by which we will know those fears have been assuaged.
I am very scared for a lot of these reasons. I am very scared for a lot of these reasons, and because the temporality of these reasons is presently indeterminate. That second part reminds me of being twenty, suicidal, and lost in a haze of “is this going to be forever” again. The scariest thing about that period of my life, was the sensation of waking up and immediately counting down the hours before I could go back to sleep. A lot of perverse mental math went into these calculations; it’s 7am now, and the earliest I can probably be done for the day is 9ish…fourteen full hours and counting.
This I can assure you is no way to live. It’s a pattern that I worked tremendously hard to break from, and managed to do so. Myopically, it’s one that I’m slipping back into, and it terrifies me. For an update from yesterday, I took a mental health day and I’m mad at myself for it. I probably, scratch that, definitely, needed it which makes me doubly angry at myself. I don’t want to need mental health days. I want to spend the next forever writing.
But I’m also glad that I took one, because again, I needed it. And I’m glad I took an hour to lay on the bed after going for groceries/a shoppers run this morning. I have never been more stressed in my life than going to pick up groceries this morning. These are necessary things that we do for self-care. But self-care also sometimes entails doing difficult things. Like dishes, laundry, some work, even when it is difficult.
The reason the ending of Dark Water hit me so hard is that it’s tremendously melodramatic, but it also touches upon after. It is the recognition that even at our most isolated, we are never really alone. That made me feel better than anything else this week.