By Adam Gage
Horror films are probably the most obvious example of films with an expected formula to how they affect the audience, especially within big-budget studio films. The most known instances of this are the dreaded jump scares, where a scene is usually filled with silent suspense, only to blare out something horrible-looking very quickly with an accompanying screeching sound to add to the jumpy effect. This can be seen in many modern horror films, and even the recent blockbuster horrors IT: Chapter 1 (2017) and especially IT: Chapter 2 (2019), where in the latter the formula is so excruciatingly repetitive, that the almost 3-hour film becomes tedious in its obviousness. The fact that the film’s budget is so high at $79 million, plays into the film’s need to have a set of expectations, where for the producers, money must be made to a mass scale, so ‘proven’ ideas must be used.
This extends into many different genres, like superhero or action films, but is especially problematic for horror, where the best films of its type leave a lasting impression on the viewer that is genuinely unsettling rather than just momentary frights. In contrast to these types of films, are some of the horrors released by independent studios, such as Hereditary (2018) and It Follows (2014). Both had comparatively small budgets, but the directors had more freedom to unleash their scares. They could do this by utilising mood and suspense to a greater degree, all the while exploring truly unnerving subjects, like grief and even STDs. This combination of terrorising images and sound, with universally rattling ideas can have a far more powerful and long-lasting effect. The downside to these films, are the budgets themselves, where the marketing is more limited and it’s possible that certain ideas had to be cut due to expenses.
On the other hand, the same studio that distributed IT: Chapter 2 this year, also in 1980 distributed Stanley Kubrick’s innovative The Shining. This is a film that exactly matches the description of the two films above, where the subject is explored subtly while burning truly disturbing feelings and visuals into the mind. It also had a rather large budget for its time at $19 million, and the director was given almost complete freedom. So rather than the bigger studios being an inherent problem to a film’s outcome, maybe they’ve just gotten worse.