Halloween 2020: Five films that encapsulate the horror of our times, from The Shining to The Descent

Five films that are apt for the horror-filled year that 2020 has been, from The Shining to The Descent.

FP Staff October 31, 2020 09:02:20 IST
Halloween 2020: Five films that encapsulate the horror of our times, from The Shining to The Descent

Still from The Shining. Facebook

To say that 2020 has been a horror-filled year would be an understatement. With the ongoing pandemic, economic and humanitarian crises and many other earth-shattering changes, this year has carved a nightmare-inducing mark for perhaps many subsequent years to come. To commemorate Halloween, it's only apt then that we bring you horror film recommendations that signify the kind of year 2020 has been so far: mentally exhausting, claustrophobic, psychologically-challenging and downright terrorising. With the relevant context, these five films can be truly the spine-chilling experience needed for Halloween. 

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The Shining (1980)

It isn’t just the oppressive loneliness of a vast hotel encircled by winter desolation which makes Kubrick’s movie the paragon of pandemic anxiety, but that the man trapped in it - Jack - is gripped by unseen, and for the most part unknowable, forces which slowly strip his mind of sanity - in his case, those that exist outside flesh and bone, and in ours, those that reside deeply within them.

Indeed, that horribly Byzantine preceding sentence (and this one), with its tedious clauses and stultifying punctuation, is reflective of how Jack spends his time battling his way through a plot that offers no release - not for him, or, especially, his wife Wendy. Spooky twins, a river of blood and Nicholson’s crazed Cheshire grin aside, the qualities that define the duration of Shining for the husband and wife are foreboding and despair.

These past seven months, we’ve all been Jack and Wendy.

Recommended by Jaideep Giridhar

Don't Breathe (2016)

The irony of Fede Alvarez’s thriller lies in its name, as this Halloween season, there is no knowing which breath will draw in the cold air carrying an all pervasive coronavirus down our noses into our lungs. Don’t Breathe doesn’t have any ghosts, goblins or witches, instead follows three delinquents into an old, blind veteran’s house, who get caught in a deadly game of hide and seek. Because along with money, lurking in the seemingly feeble-looking man’s home are dark secrets and the trio quickly realises that breaking into this sinister joint has been a mistake.

Tables turn on the trespassers when the house is plunged into darkness, the old man’s deadly Rottweiler is let loose to sink its teeth into the intruders and even the quietest breath threatens to become the last. Departing from a commonplace ghost story, in Don’t Breathe, there is scant dialogue and not a moment’s comic relief. Yet, the film makes for a thoroughly chilling and compelling story filled with gnarly twists without any element as remotely paranormal as whispers or creaking doors. Instead, the three kids tiptoe from one room to another in a dreary, haunting silence, hardly making a sound, barely drawing breath to find a way out.

This harrowing tale is but a spooky reminder that as scary as ghosts might be, nothing is creepier or more claustrophobic than watching someone trapped in a strange house in the middle of the night with a senile, bloodthirsty madman prowling in the darkness.

Recommended by Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe

The Social Network (2010)

Who doesn’t like a good ol’ origin story? And how about one not birthed form a comic-book or featuring a superhero of one sort or the other? Even better if it gives you the chills and existential dread, huh? A true spectacle that, in hindsight, has become more relevant with each passing year?

This here is a retelling of the birth of a nightmare haunting billions across our dying planet today (and likely to continue in the years to comes). The genesis of a supervillain, if you will, and the rise of his ungodly empire.

Witness in horror a man’s rise from creating a website to rate college girls by their attractiveness to creating a social media platform, designed to feed on anxiety and need for a dopamine hit, used to incite a genocide, sway elections with targeted misinformation, spread dangerous conspiracies and falsehoods with real-life (at times, fatal) consequences, condition people of all ages into bubbles where the only information fed to them is the one which aligns with their predetermined beliefs, among other many such wonders. Of course, now and then, perhaps a puppy gets adopted by someone using the website; but then again, is there no better platform to look for someone to adopt a poodle than the one which acts as a hotbed for extremism and is the de facto online home for your delusional grandparents and racist uncle?

Masterfully crafted by some of the best in the business, the 2010 biography/drama has it all — form a great cast to a memorable score, and a fine screenplay. So come Halloween, give yourself a dose of trepidation which does not fade away once the film is over — as I write this, Mr Z is set to appear before the Senate commerce committee to face grilling (again) about how he plans to moderate user-generated content. All this as we head toward another United States Presidential election in a few days… Good times.

Recommended by Harsh Pareek

Cabin In The Woods (2011)

If it had a better film adaptation, The Yellow Wallpaper — Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 story of a woman confined to her room, being slowly driven insane by the wallpaper and her controlling husband — would have been my pick for this list. Or Onibaba (1964) — about (among other things) a woman who wears a demon mask to frighten her recently widowed daughter-in-law into staying within their house — if I could access an English-subtitled version.

However, 1. inspired by the somewhat loose interpretation of this list’s theme by the more insubordinate bolder of my fellow contributors; 2. fearing that the usual suspects featuring the Dead in all their iterations (Evil, Living, Night of, Dawn of), undead (Freddy, Jason & co.), and sundry Cloverfields (Paradox, Lane) would be too much the usual suspects; and 3. that the classy offerings of Peele, Aster et al would be snapped up, I’ve chosen Cabin In The Woods (2011).

Sure, it’s more satire than scary, but can you truly afford to have your head messed with when the wallpaper is already driving you mad?

Here’s how this Joss Whedon-Drew Goddard creation is just like 2020:

A. The protagonists are trapped in the titular cabin in the woods. Outside = bad + dangerous; inside = well, not good, but marginally safer than the outside.

B. Guaranteed loss of life and/or limb for all parties concerned.

C. Protagonists are being manipulated throughout by shadowy, callous powers-that-be interested solely in upholding old world order.

D. An apocalypse is imminent.

Okay, so maybe there are only four ways in which Cabin In The Woods resembles 2020, but — bonus: you’ll experience nearly every horror film trope in its 90-minute runtime. And it has a heartwarming moral: humanity is doomed, but a wisecracking friend by your side makes it almost worth your while.

Recommended by Rohini Nair

The Descent (2005)

The first time I saw British adventure-horror film The Descent, I was a horror-noob; easily scared and impressionable to all kinds of stereotypical tropes. We were in my best friend's home, during a sleepover, it was a winter night and we were snuggled into a blanket. My best friend and I have usually watched horror films with our eyes shut, a small peak from between our fingers. This is the only film in the history of our horror-watching experience (which spans years, even a decade) during which we just couldn't take our eyes off the screen. And trust me when I say, there were plenty instances where we could.

I watched the film all by myself in 2020 for the second time, now as a horror enthusiast. The experience was so much more different, and so much more terrifying given the context of the lockdown. In The Descent, a bunch of friends decide to go hiking into an unexplored cave in the wild (somewhere in North America.) As they venture inside, the horrors of the unknown start to the grip the women, from claustrophobic spaces to mind-bending injuries to unlikely beings that inhabit the cave, who are not happy about the visitors making their presence known. Over the next 90 minutes, shit truly hits the fan. And that's all I'm going to say, really, because there is no way for me to explain what happens without you watching it. It's an out-and-out mindf**ker, let me warn you. The Descent is also one of those films rife with symbolism, with two different endings, and multiple personal interpretations about what truly went down inside the cave.

Recommended by Swetha Ramakrishnan

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