List of must-see films for the Fictional Crime section of my taxonomy of horror sub-genres.
Gothika (2003) Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz
Within the fictional crime sub-genre, there is a lot of room for films to look at crime, criminality, and law enforcement from various different perspectives. Gothika is one such film, in that it addresses law enforcement and the prison industrial complex from the vantage point of criminalizing mental illness. It also follows in a long tradition of gaslighting as a narrative theme in horror, beginning with Patrick Hamilton’s Gas Light (where the term originates, see posts on this topic here, here, and here) and continuing with more recent films including Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Shock, and Sisters. The film also deals with visualizations of the panopticon, and the relationship between race, gender, sex, and power.
Cape Fear (1991) Dir. Martin Scorsese
Cape Fear’s narrative premise is that a woman who is considered promiscuous cannot, by definition, be raped, making the film already automatically problematic. This said, however, the rest of the film seems to put forth a critique of the criminal justice system as being inherently inefficient and ineffectual. The film’s conflict comes specifically from the legal system’s inability to protect victims, especially with regard to violence against (white) women. Despite this commentary, the film still holds reverence towards the prison industrial complex.
Saw II (2005) Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman
Saw II disrupts the predictable crime thriller, combining elements of police procedural, gore porn, and pseudo intellectual ruminations on life, death, and survival of the fittest (a concept horribly misrepresented in the film, but that’s a rant for a different post). The second installation in the Saw franchise also includes a handy montage at the end that recaps literally the entire film in the span of 5 minutes or so, so that if you’d rather not actually watch the movie, you can skip to the end and know everything that happens without investing nearly as much time as you would if you watched it in full.
Nightcrawler (2014) Dir. Dan Gilroy
Similar to Gothika’s approach to crime and criminality from a mental health perspective, Nightcrawler looks at criminal acts (a phrase that the film seems to trouble) from the perspective of news media and sensationalism. While Nightcrawler is overall a very flat film, with a predictable plot and disappointingly little characterization for otherwise fantastic actors, it does begin a discussion of what constitutes crime and how capitalism and the privatization of broadcast news has undermined its usefulness in producing well-informed citizens.
Green Room (2015) Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
This film, which is blissfully strange and borders on gritty indie horror, makes a strong case for the relationship between constructions of time and visualizations of pain in the genre. Any and every scene in which someone is grievously harmed is entirely constructed around that physical trauma, to the point where the film’s sense of time is sucked out of it, leaving us to teleport between images of broken/shredded arms, head wounds, and vicious dog attacks. The film also engages, albeit obliquely, with the politics of fascism and punk rock culture, in a way that is especially prescient and interesting.
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures © 2003
Author: Geneveive Newman