Sarah Cullen checks out Douglas Keesey’s examination of over 100 contemporary horror films.
In the opening note of Twenty First Century Horror Films, author Douglas Keesey writes that “This book gives explanations of what these movies mean.” Such an assertion is a bold move for any film critic to make. And one which I am not sure the collection is wholly successful in achieving – after all, what does Keesey mean by this?
Covering over a hundred movies from the last twenty years and broken into three major sections, “Nightmares,” ”Nations,” and “Innovations,” Twenty First Century Horror Films spans a wide range, both from the United States and worldwide. Keesey uses this format to explore an expansive collection of films, each examined thematically or with regards to their country of origin, with approximately a page and a half for each instalment.
Focusing mainly on story summary with a psychoanalytical bent, Keesey’s film-outlines tend to prioritise the actions of character over issues of style or production. Some of the subsections, particularly in “Nightmares”, are surprisingly short, with many of the subsections having only two films per subheading. Several, such as ‘Sharks,’ have only one (Open Water in this instance). There is also surprisingly little value judgement to be found, which is disappointing because some of the most interesting material to be found is in the compendium’s more analytical moments. Keesey’s examination of both the pros and cons of the 2013 Carrie remake, and the discussion of Cloverfield‘s problematic interrogation of 9/11, to take two examples, provide some interesting food for thought.
There is, however, no explanation given as to why certain films are chosen over others. While no collection of the twenty-first century could expect to be fully comprehensive, some explanation regarding the selection process would be helpful here, particularly due to the decision to include horror films from the late nineties, such as The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project.
Keesey also warns in the opening note that the “meaning” of a film is often tied up with its ending, and for this reason he advises readers to have either watched the film already or to be prepared for spoilers. While this advice works for the most part, there are a couple of times when prior knowledge of the films may in fact be required, as the plot summary does not provide quite enough information to be followed otherwise. In the description of Under the Skin, Keesey writes that many of the men Scarlett Johansson interacts with were in fact “regular Glaswegian guys unaware that their conversations with this woman were being filmed by hidden cameras.” Following this, he describes one man as being “mesmerised by the sight of her flesh” to the point that “he does not notice himself sinking into a sticky black substance” where he soon implodes: “his innards sucked out of his skin.” While the reader will no doubt discern that this is presumably not a “regular Glaswegian guy”, the text unfortunately does not make this entirely clear!
While Keesey’s collection is often a thought-provoking look at many of the most influential horror films of the past two decades, it’s hard to argue that he has achieved his goal of explaining what these movies mean. Certain sections of the book are stronger than others and in particular more critical assessment would be welcome. However, Twenty First Century Horror Films will be a useful tool for academics and horror enthusiasts alike, providing as it does some interesting alternative viewpoints to an established canon.
- Paperback: 1 pages
- Publisher: Kamera (23 Mar. 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1843449056
- ISBN-13: 978-1843449058
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 19.7 cm