If there’s a better sign of horror’s vitality, popularity, and open-endedness in 2021 than David Gordon Green’s resuscitation of the Halloween series, then we haven’t seen it yet. Green got his start directing independent dramas like George Washington and All the Real Girls, taking occasional pit stops for the odd Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter. Throw in a bit of Joe and Manglehorn and you’ve got Green in a nutshell.
Then in 2017, he pitched John Carpenter on the Halloween sequel he and Danny McBride came up with together, and now we’re looking at Halloween Kills in the rearview (October is moving fast) with Halloween Ends on the books for 2022.
This has us all thinking: If a guy like Green can take his experiences shooting idiosyncratic mythologies, stoner comedies, and rural American repression, and filter them into directing a horror movie, then who else out there should take a stab at the genre themselves?
The Directors Who Should Make a Horror Movie
This is less about seeing whether Nolan has the facility for making horror, and more about whether he’s capable of working with two-digit budgets anymore. The last time he shot a film for under $50 million he made The Prestige, one of his best, and ever since he’s worked exclusively with budgets in the hundred to two hundred million range. Remember Memento? Remember Passing and Insomnia? Nolan can do a lot with a lot, but he can do a lot with a little, too. And no genre has as little buy-in as horror. Let him take the atmosphere of Memento and The Prestige and jam it into a movie with a quarter of the resources he’s used to.
Grant that Amy Sherman-Palladino is a TV showrunner and not a “filmmaker,” per se. But so much of the family and relationship drama that comprise her work, Gilmore Girls most of all, toe comfort lines that transitioning her talent for making the air between her characters feel toxic and dreadful into real horror doesn’t seem farfetched. Could she sustain that tension for an entire season? Maybe not. But Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass recently reminded us how talky character-driven horror does and doesn’t work, which gives Sherman-Palladino a blueprint for adapting the stifling and waspy elements of her quippy style into something genuinely terrifying.
Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney
Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney have spent the last few years working together on quirky, charming, genre-agnostic indie films with an immediately identifiable handmade aesthetic, a’la Sylvio and Strawberry Mansion. The latter played at Sundance earlier this year. Because we live in an unjust world, it has yet to enjoy a theatrical release. But Audley’s played parts in his share of horror films – V/H/S, The Sacrament, and depending on how you define “horror,” Felt and She Dies Tomorrow – and Strawberry Mansion picks up a bit of horror’s language in its final act. Should the spirit move them, Audley and Birney could reappropriate that quirky, charming, handmade aesthetic for more determinedly frightening visions.
This one’s a bit of a cheat, but hear me out. The artist canonized as St. Vincent but born as Annie Clark doesn’t like horror movies. This is a laugh, because in 2017 she directed a segment for the women-led horror anthology film XX, “The Birthday Party.” All told, Clark’s contribution to XX stands out among the rest of the pack for clarity of vision. Were you to watch the movie without knowing she’s the one sitting behind the camera, you’d know she’s there anyway. It’s all in her high-drama sensibility and the operatic buildup to the kicker, equally as hilarious as it is shocking. So while yes, Clark has directed horror before, she has yet to make a full-length feature, and four years after XX, it’s time she tried her hand at it.
Clemency, a film set on death row and focused on the prison warden as well as an innocent man doomed to die under her watch, is, in turn, harrowing and haunting. The story makes the case against the death penalty. It’s chiefly political, and visceral without being sensorial. But watching Chinonye Chukwu confront the evils of capital punishment with her dual leads, the great Alfre Woodard and destined-to-be Aldis Hodge, is akin to watching an exorcism where the demon is man’s worse nature. Pardon the pomposity, but it’s true. People are so awful to each other that their awfulness seeps into others’ souls like groundwater into the basement. Chukwu is accustomed to exploring the dark heart of man. She ought to try remaking that darkness as a literal monster instead of a figurative one.