The Resurrection of the Horror Auteur
Horror has always been home to auteurs and directors pushing boundaries and testing the limits of nightmares. From the original auteur Alfred Hitchcock, who is the reason we have the term, to the renowned voices of the 80’s and 90’s such as Craven, Carpenter & Romero. There have been great names in horror, but for a stage it seemed to lose its way as far as signature voices. There were styles, franchises and production houses, but not necessarily specific individuals bringing their own unique voice and message back to the genre, it just wasn’t seen as profitable to be the ‘horror guy’.
Of course directors and writers have been creating stunning horror work since the genre began but it feels like there has been a resurgence, and recognition, of these voices in recent years allowing them to be horror auteurs and modern masters. Technological advances, indie studios and streaming have definitely created an atmosphere of welcoming for strong creatives to showcase their themes, aesthetics and motifs across multiple horror films. The horror auteur is once again on the rise. Here are 8 horror auteurs that have been on the rise in the past few years:
- Ari Aster – Hereditary (2018) & Midsommar (2019)
- Aster has already managed to explore light and darkness in his first two films, 2018’s Hereditary, a dark ‘haunted house’ film, and 2019’s follow-up Midsommar, a floral drenched cult film set almost entirely during the day. Grief seems to be the human pull of both of his films which deal with the consequences of an intense and shocking loss within the first act of the films that causes a spiral for the protagonists. The unsuspecting protagonists become victims, drawn into an already developed cult or ritual that is either their downfall (Hereditary) or rebirth (Midsommar). Aster layers his films with visual symbols and foreshadowing that entices the viewer into at least one re-watch to find these hidden symbolic Easter eggs. Balancing between beautiful nightmarish visuals and real life existential fears and tragedy, Aster finds the fantastical and horrific in the human condition.
- What’s Next: In a Reddit AMA session Aster is quoted saying, “Next one will either be a zonky nightmare comedy or a big, sickly domestic melodrama,” It may take a little while until we get another ‘full’ horror, but I believe that Aster’s style will always edge on the nightmarish.
- Mike Flanagan – Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013), Hush (2016), Before I Wake (2016), Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), Gerald’s Game (2017), The Haunting of Hill House (2018) & Doctor Sleep (2019)
- Flanagan is one of the horror ‘veterans’ on this list who has had a slightly longer career and is seeing his career rise and his name become household. He has become the person to go to when something seems impossible to adapt or translate to screen, shown especially with his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Gerald’s Game that seemed unfilmable until Flanagan applied his tense atmospheric style to it. His Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, propelled Flanagan forward, showing his trademark disjointed narrative, internal thoughts as visuals and familial themes in a modern gothic masterpiece. He’s delved back into the world of King with his most recent film Doctor Sleep that had the odds stacked against it from the get go but managed to showcase Flanagan’s talent for finding the humanity in everything he creates. His recent success has also opened up the general public to his incredible back catalogue of beautiful, tense and imaginative horror films.
- What’s Next: After the incredible success of The Haunting of Hill House Flanagan began work on The Haunting of Bly Manor based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Although delayed there’s also another Netflix series on the horizon, Midnight Mass, that already has a stacked ‘Flanagan’ collaborator cast behind it!
- Jordan Peele – Get Out (2017) & Us (2019)
- Peele may have risen to fame being the funny guy and one half of the brilliant comedy duo Key & Peele, but underneath those laughs was a man who craved horror. His directorial debut Get Out established him as a powerful voice in the genre and proved he could not only creep the audience out but carry a heavy message within his work too. Peele has dealt with racial, social and economic issues in both of his films, commenting on a modern America through dark comedy. Get Out explores the black American experience and the ingrained racism and exploitation they have faced, Us focuses on the class system of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ within American society. Using his comedy background and some brilliant pop culture nerd references Peele brings deep issues to the screen while keeping us rooting for our ‘othered’ protagonist. Peele uses beautifully terrifying alternate worlds such as ‘The Sunken Place’ and the underground society of ‘The Tethered’ that bring horror to the real life messages of his films.
- What’s Next: Peele has been focusing on his production company Monkeypaw Productions, which recently released revived anthology horror series The Twilight Zone. As a producer Peele is working with the brilliant Nia DaCosta to bring new life to Candyman as a spiritual sequel.
- Jennifer Kent – The Babadook (2014) & The Nightingale (2018)
- Kent may have begun her career in acting but she shines bright as an auteur director in the making. Her first feature film The Babadook explored a sinister creature from a pop-up book that terrorises a widow and her six year old son. The Babadook explores women’s issues through the horror genre, giving a voice to female fears and struggles, something that Kent has advocated the rise of. Her second film The Nightingale is a non-traditional rape-revenge film that once again explores a woman dealing with intense trauma and does not shy away from the violence and horror of her experience. Kent does not glorify these acts of violence and instead focuses on the intense inner turmoil of her lead females, even though one of her films is set in the present and the other in 1825 the motifs and themes run clear through both. Kent’s films focus on real psychological horror rather than jump scares, they are provocative and gothic in their horror. Alongside being an excellent genre director Kent is also a vocal champion for women in horror!
- What’s Next: Kent is in talks with Amazon Studios to finance her true crime thriller Alice + Freda Forever, based on a book by Alexis Cole, about an intense romance that ends deadly. She has also met with Guillermo del Toro to discuss working with him on a Netflix anthology series.
- Robert Eggers – The Witch (2015) & The Lighthouse (2019)
- The horror historian who does not compromise on his period aesthetic, Robert Eggers has made a distinctive name for himself within the horror genre. His first feature, The Witch, takes us to the 17th Century to deal with a coming of age, folklore witchcraft story that allowed audiences to ‘live deliciously’. From there he regaled us with sea shanties, mermaid tales and the exploration of confined insanity with his salty second feature The Lighthouse. Eggers experiments with Art House visuals combined with horror themes and a gothic aesthetic that may stem from his New England upbringing. His theatre training definitely defines some of his work, especially his use of important set pieces and his use of claustrophobic and isolated locations that enhance the horror his characters are dealing with. His idiosyncratic and esoteric style may be what has set him apart as a director, but it is also his internal writing, poetic dialogue and world building skills that enhance his unique vision.
- What’s Next: The Northman is Eggers upcoming third film that has been described as a Viking Revenge Saga. Filming has begun but has been postponed for now. The cast is stacked, with Anna Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe returning and being joined by two of the Skarsgård brothers, Alexander and Bill, and Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, and Murray McArthur.
- The Soska Sisters – Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009), American Mary (2012), ABC’s of Death 2 – T is for Torture Porn (2014), See No Evil 2 (2014), Vendetta (2015) & Rabid (2019)
- Our second set of ‘veterans’ on the list, Jen and Sylvia Soska, better known as The Soska Sisters, have been tearing up the scene since their 2009 directorial debut Dead Hooker in a Trunk, that took every film school rule and stuck a giant middle finger up to them. The Twisted Twins bring a Grindhouse style and plenty of action, gore and practical effects to all of their work. Their work is often visceral, blood-soaked and very feminist, especially their second feature American Mary a rape-revenge tale of body modification that calls out sleaze and empowers the titular Mary. Their use of body horror and their feminist view point was utilised in their remake of Cronenberg cult classic Rabid that follows a women who has undergone experimental surgery after a motorcycle accident and develops a ravenous taste for flesh that infects her victims. Rabid definitely cemented The Soska Sisters as hard hitting horror directors with their own style and stories to tell, even when working with other people’s source material.
- What’s Next: The Soska Sisters have their next project lined up, a monster movie titled Bob. Sylvia Soska has described it as a film “about trauma and the survival of trauma and how that really affects your perspective of life.”
- Radio Silence – V/H/S – 10/31/98 (2012), Devil’s Due (2014), Southbound – The Way Out & The Way In (2016) & Ready or Not (2019)
- Collaborations and filmmaker collectives are on the rise and Radio Silence, a group of filmmakers, is definitely part of that. The group started out under the name Chad, Matt and Rob with short films, including a Pranks Gone Wrong series and were known for their blend of comedy and horror. There have been some line-up changes over the years leading to Radio Silence being founded in 2011 with three main members Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella. Since then this trio have been bringing their signature fun and punchy style to the horror genre. Radio Silence got their foot in the door with contributions to anthology films V/H/S and Southbound that proved they could bring their DIY aesthetics, humorous dialogue and whip-smart writing from YouTube to the big screen. The trio continued their ‘found footage’ style in their feature debut The Devil’s Due and used the added budget to up the gore factor. Their latest feature Ready or Not has really set them up as creative, smart and giddy horror creators who bring the dark comedy to horror.
- What’s Next: Two members of Radio Silence, Matt and Tyler, have been announced as the directors of Scream 5 which is currently in development but under delays. Chad is listed as an executive producer so the gangs sticking together.
- Leigh Whannell – Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Upgrade (2018) & The Invisible Man (2020)
- Whannell may not be a new name in the horror circuits, having worked with frequent collaborator James Wan as a writer on projects such as the Saw Franchise, Dead Silence and the Insidious Franchise that led to his directorial debut with Insidious Chapter 3. Since then Whannell has stepped into his role as auteur director with Upgrade in which a technophobe is agrees to a STEM Implant after an accident leaves him paralysed. This use of science fiction in horror and the theme of ‘corruption through technology’ follow Whannell into his third feature The Invisible Man. Taking on such a well-known source, especially after the failure of other Universal Monster re-launches, was a big risk but Whannell manages to bring a modern, intense and darkly twisted new light to an old monster. Whannell, alongside Stefan Duscio, create a distinct camera fluidity during heavily choreographed stunt scenes that ups the action of his films and is complimented by the juxtaposing empty space and voyeuristic cinematography it combines with. After the success of The Invisible Man we are definitely going to be seeing more of this signature style.
- What’s Next: Whannell is currently working on a reboot of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York which fits perfectly in his wheelhouse. He has also discussed a sequel of Upgrade which could take the form of a TV Series from Blumhouse Television.
With horror auteur stars on the rise such as Issa López, Nia DaCosta, Carlo Mirabella-Davis & Jennifer Reeder who have all made, or are soon to make, their horror debut, it is an exciting time to be a horror geek. There’s room for fresh blood on the scene and an excitement amongst genre fans for what trends, stories and styles we’ll all be seeing very soon.