Growing up, I loved me a good horror story. I devoured horror books, watched late night programs about “true” ghost hauntings, and even tried to write a couple of horror short stories myself for school essays.
Horror films, you would think, would be a perfect fit for me. I started watching horror films that my parents deemed suitable for my age and I loved them, but it didn’t take long for them to become weary. In fact, discovering horror films was also what made me turn my back on the entire genre.
There was a sameness that permeated the entire genre that bore me. From books, tv shows, and now even the films? I picked up on the plot threads they all shared, even in the supposedly true stories.
I found horror films to be remarkably lazy. They were never scary, only shocking. It is easy to confuse the two, especially in the confines of a horror film where directing choices amp up the shock value. They all relied on the same few tricks and it quickly became a snooze-fest.
Admittedly, my exposure to horror films back then was limited to what my parents had allowed me to see. Perhaps there were films out there that were truly scary but I did not know of them.
In hindsight, I realise now my view of the genre was severely limited. But it was enough for me to swear off them. I would make the occasional revisit but the film that really did the genre in for me was Final Destination.
Having had grown up a bit more, and gathered at a friend’s house without any parental supervision we put in the disc and pressed play. It was probably the first film that ever disgusted me — not because of its gruesome kills, but because of the gratuitousness of everything. I loathe it.
Word of mouth for the Final Destination films was insane, everyone kept talking about how scary and how good it was. It made me really excited but the end product just sickened me, I never touched a horror picture since.
Even when acclaimed horror films like The Conjuring rolled around, I never went to see them.
In 2017, my entire perception of the horror genre shifted again thanks to one film. Directed by Fede Alvarez, Don’t Breathe was released in 2016 and was met with incredible fanfare.
It flew under my radar during its initial release but stumbling upon it was probably one of the best things that has happened to me.
Don’t Breathe felt like a truly fresh horror film when I first watched it. It took the time to build mood and suspense, and the film almost never resulted to cheap scare tactics. Using the concept of remaining completely silent, it builds a remarkable tension that left me anxious and uncomfortable.
It truly got under my skin in a way no horror film had for a long long time. I immediately took a liking to the film and it convinced me to give the horror genre another go — if Don’t Breathe could be this good and effective in imbuing dread, maybe the newer horror films would not be so bad.
So I started devouring more horror films, from audience favourites like The Conjuring to the experimental-arthouse types like Climax.
Some blew my mind by how remarkable they were, and some disappointed me. But I knew one thing for sure, I was wrong about the genre.
Had it not been for Don’t Breathe, I would have missed out on films like Midsommar and The Lighthouse just on the basis of a skewered judgement call. It also led me to finally watch classics like The Shining.
Don’t Breathe brought me down the rabbit hole of horror films that landed me at the footsteps of the arthouse horror film. As pretentious as it sounds, these films have become my favourites, often connecting with me in a way that no other type of film has.
These films regularly showcase incredible craft. Often among the best I’ve seen in modern cinema. They feature remarkable scripts and technical mastery that do so much more than scare you, it frightens you.
It forces you to confront anxiety, pain, and even paranoia. It’s the most unnerving form of deliverance and they won’t leave your mind even after the credits roll.
Discovering these films is what I would imagine finding god would be like. The sheer liberation they bring is unlike anything.
I recently rewatched Don’t Breathe and it kind of pains me to say that the film does not hold up as well. In the grand scheme of horror films (to be honest, it’s more of a thriller but I digress), it is pretty average. Admittedly, it’s concept was better explored by A Quiet Place only 2 years later.
I’m more aware of the film’s flaws as a horror/thriller film but I still think it is a well executed film. The sequence in the pitch black of the basement shows the potential of the concept, which A Quiet Place took and executed to tremendous effect.
Don’t Breathe made me feel really anxious and filled me with dread the first time I watched it, and while it didn’t do the same this rewatch, I still really appreciate it for what it is.
This film will always hold a special place in my favourites list for how it managed to change my mind about the horror genre. And now I wait with bated breath for Scott Cooper’s Antlers.