After being on the festival circuit for what seems like years, audiences were finally treated to the wide release of The Witch, a film plenty of reviews will tell you is ‘the best horror film of the year’, or ‘truly terrifying’. However, if you speak to people who have seen this film, like I have, you’ll struggle to find anybody who thought it was good. In fact, most people I spoke to found it to be incredibly boring, and not one person told me they were scared at any moment. It got a generous three star review from me here on Third Act Film, meaning there was just about more good than bad, but the review does read a lot more like a list of complaints than a list of things I enjoyed.
This is not the first time this has happened recently. Over the last two years there have been two major critically acclaimed horror films released: The Babadook and It Follows. Both of these were similar situations, in that the reviews would have you believe these were incredible cinematic masterpieces, but most people who saw them would tell you that no, they’re boring and pretentious. Now there will be people reading this that enjoyed one, two, or even all three of these films, and that’s great, if you enjoyed them then that’s five hours of your life that you enjoyed more than me, but the point I’m trying to make is that you can find somebody who enjoyed literally any film. What I’m really discussing here is why there is such a disparity between critics and audiences with horror films like this.
To fight my corner, I’m going to head over to my good buddy Rotten Tomatoes. At the time of writing this article, The Witch is sitting at a very respectable critics rating of 89%, but a less than stellar audiences rating of 52%. It should be noted that 52% isn’t the worst score ever, but there is something to consider with these numbers. This isn’t the kind of film large numbers of general audiences go to see, so a lot of people who do watch it are the kind of person that already know they’ll enjoy it.
But the question is… why? From a film making point of view, it can be easily argued that these films are better made than other modern horror films. The cinematography, and perhaps even the acting is much more of a focus, and it can therefore be argued that technically these films are more well made, but they fall down in one area – they’re not as scary to general audiences.
A lot of people don’t find the ‘slow burn’ kind of tension building to be scary, and actually find it a little boring. While genre tropes like jump scares might be considered a cheap way to scare people, guess what – they work, because they appeal to a basic human reaction. They might not be classy, and they’re definitely easy to get right, but films that do every cliché correctly are more scary to more people. Because these are all classed as horror films, and the main job of a horror film is to scare people, I find it hard to say that a film like The Witch is a better horror film than the average release in this genre, that audiences flock to see.
What do you think about modern horror films? Do you think a horror film has to be scary to be considered good? Share any thoughts in the comments.
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