If you've spent any time on "Film Twitter" (a catch-all term for a nebulously defined and frequently contentious community of critics, fans, and creators) in the past couple of years, then you've likely come across the term "elevated horror." The classification encapsulates a varietal of the horror genre encompassing low-to-mid-budget thrillers with an art house bent.
While it's hardly a new phenomenon, elevated horror has had something of a renaissance in recent times thanks to studios like Blumhouse, Annapurna, A24, and NEON. Prime examples include much-discussed fare like Get Out, It Follows, Hereditary, Raw and The Witch. Elevated horror films separate themselves from the rest of the slasher pack by being based on original concepts instead of remaking existing intellectual property (Luca Guadagnino's 2018 reimagining of the 1970s giallo classic Suspiria is a notable exception), and they're often imbued with a commentary on present day or recurring societal inequalities and anxieties. Elevated horror has roots in the '70s and '80s, with predecessors like Alien, The People Under the Stairs, Carrie, Scream, and the works of David Cronenberg (who makes his long-overdue return to horror this summer with Crimes of the Future). While summertime has traditionally been the playground of action-stuffed blockbusters, it appears to be ceding some territory to horror, which has long been relegated to the months of February (bring your date!) or October (for obvious seasonal reasons).
Along with Alex Garland's MEN (read our review here) and the aforementioned — and apparently revolting — CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (June 10), THE BLACK PHONE (June 24) is one of the first elevated horror films of Summer 2022. It's interesting to consider that while the movie is certain to be outgrossed by Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, The Black Phone is the film original Doctor Strange director Scott Derickson opted to tackle instead after parting ways with Marvel Studios. Ethan Hawke leads the film's modestly sized cast as The Grabber, a serial abductor and murderer with a nightmarish mask and costume. The film's supernatural trappings, serial predator of children, and small town period setting evoke horror legend Stephen King. This should come as no surprise as the film adapts a short story by King's son, who writes under the pseudonym Joe Hill. Time will tell if The Black Phone is anywhere near as inscrutable and traumatizing as Stanley Kubrick's elevated horror opus The Shining.
The most anticipated horror film of the summer (and one of 2022's most hyped overall) is the mystery-shrouded NOPE (July 22) from Oscar-winning auteur Jordan Peele. As has become his wont, the marketing for Nope has been enigmatic, and details of its plot are scarce. The film's official logline reads only that the film follows "residents in a lonely gulch of inland California who bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery." For his latest "horror epic" (Paramount Pictures' words, not mine), Peele has assembled an outstanding cast that includes Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, Stephen Yuen (who starred in a particularly memorable episode of Peele's 2019 reboot of The Twilight Zone), Barbie Ferreira (HBO's Euphoria) and the great Keith David. In another tantalizing tidbit, the credits also list prolific motion-capture performer Terry Notary, who's worked on Avatar, Kong: Skull Island, The Lion King, and the recent Planet of the Apes films (read: Nope may well turn out to be some manner of creature feature).
Closing out the season's wave of elevated horror is BODIES BODIES BODIES (August 5), which made a big impression during its world premiere at SXSW this year. Recent thrillers have exploited social media as a vessel for suspense (Unfriended, Searching) or explored the lived experiences specific to Millennials and Gen Z (Like Me, CAM). Bodies Bodies Bodies appears to take these thematic concerns to the extreme, cheekily addressing ideas of "woke-ness" and "cancel culture" in a farcical horror context (it's tagline "this is not a safe space" would be a dead giveaway if the film's riotous trailer wasn't already). Bodies Bodies Bodies' basic set-up follows the popular party-game-gone-wrong formula, and stars Lee Pace and a cadre of promising up-and-comers: Amandla Stenberg, Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby), shock comic Conner O'Malley, tabloid regular Pete Davidson and Maria Bakalova, who received an Oscar nomination for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
All of these films suggest that elevated horror won't be going away anytime soon, and have incurred onto the summer landscape, providing some much needed diversity in contrast to the dominant superhero slugfests, nostalgic rehashes and CGI family fare. ♦