The Horror of Nostalgia

Recently Ken Loach described ‘fake nostalgia’ in television and film as ‘bad history, bad drama. It puts your brain to sleep.’ Aside from the obvious culprits, Downtown Abbey and Poldark to name a few, the closer you look, the easier it is to see this ‘fake nostalgia’ seeping through the cracks, into more and more programming. Stranger Things is probably one of the most prolific examples today of jumping feet first into Lake Nostalgia with its unashamed shout out to a host of 80’s films. We also have the nostalgically new remake of Stephen King’s IT to look forward to next year.

It seems the days of horror movies having to pull out all the corn syrup-y stops to make their audiences want to regurgitate the overpriced “sausage product” they purchased but an hour ago, has begun to disintegrate and has made way for something else. If we look at some of the most recent ghastly installments reaching our cinemas, we’ll see that the corn syrup is minimal, the deaths few and this teamed with a different approach to what scares the living shit out of us has got us questioning our fears and how the film industry is adapting to society’s fears as a whole.

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows was by far one of the most effective at this. The thrill and suspense of the literal, if albeit a very slow ‘chase’, was what gave this movie its standing amongst the critics. I couldn’t decide whether the film was trying to replicate the awkward sex education programmes of my youth (‘don’t have sex or you’ll be cursed forever’) or if it was trying to portray the baggage we take on when stepping further away from adolescence and into the 18-25 tick box. The ‘curse’ is essentially the worst STD, ex-partner or illegitimate child ever to come out of the woodwork after a passionate night of making love in a car with a man you barely know. It Follows is an interesting example of the return to the past. The adults in the film are briefly touched upon, the audience know they exist, but that’s the extent of it. The film is driven by its young cast, set in an unknown decade, we have televisions reminiscent of the 80’s, but technology that contradicts that. Mitchell’s film represents the monster of adulthood edging closer and closer, slowly it seems, but something that cannot be outrun. We’re never one hundred percent sure that the characters at the end of the film have banished the curse for good.

In a culture of fear, are we now finding ourselves longing for a more simplistic and wholesome horror movie? The notion of a New Sincerity that has been used to describe the likes of Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufman can also be seen to be seeping it’s sickly sweet gloop into the horror genre too. It Follows takes us ‘back’ to notions of friendship, love, childhood and the simple act of growing older. Things we can see in front of us, or in the distance getting closer.

If we take Gerard Johnstone’s horror/comedy Housebound as another example. The film follows Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) as she is confined to her family home with her estranged Mother after being put under house arrest, only to discover someone living in their house. Eventually we realise this ominous presence isn’t actually what it seems at all and in fact, ends up saving their lives. Kylie, another character seemingly running from her own impending responsibilities as an adult is now faced with her past (her Mother) and her future (also her Mother). This return to the home and family could be seen as a step back from the conventional horror movies of the early 21st Century in search of a story more simplistic and with characters more true to life to escape the very real horror many people deal with daily. Cinema remains, as always, a key indicator of society’s current state of mind, whether it’s giving us clues to what we’re thinking or alternatively, what we don’t want to think about. But if romanticising and longing for a more simplistic past allows us to produce beautifully shot, thoughtful and fun cinema and television, if it gives us the opportunity to feel the warmth in our bellies as we are transported to our rose –tinted adolescence then my name is April and I’m a nostalgiaholic.



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