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The horror movies the Academy forgot

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There were no horror films nominated for Best Picture at the 2024 Academy Awards, which comes as little surprise. Only six horror films have ever received a Best Picture nod, including Steven Spielberg’s 1976 shark classic “Jaws.” In fact, horror films rarely score Oscar nominations in any category. This year there was just one: The Chilean horror-comedy “El Conde,” which imagines former dictator Augusto Pinochet as an immortal vampire, is up for Best Cinematography. 

Horror movies are frequently box office successes whose earnings dramatically exceed production costs. This year, ten of the 50 highest-grossing films worldwide were horror pictures, including the latest installment in the Evil Dead franchise, “Evil Dead Rise.”

So the lack of love for this genre is a pity, especially since every year there are several horror flicks that transcend jump scares and CGI villains to depict the same kind of universal human stories that the dramas do. 

Social media spoofs

Contemporary horror movies have leaned so heavily on the theme of personal loss  that there is even a name for the practice: “griefsploitation.” Still, some clever filmmakers are able to put a fresh spin on depicting trauma — for example, first-time Australian directors Danny and Michael Philippou, whose film “Talk to Me” was released in the United States last July. The story revolves around a severed hand that a group of teenagers take turns being briefly possessed by, before uploading the footage to social media. It is at once a bitter spoof of youth media culture and a surprisingly thoughtful and unsettling meditation on grieving and addiction, as 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde) gets hooked on the hand when it allows her to communicate with her recently deceased mother. 

The social media underworld is also smartly satirized in director Kurtis David Harder’s thriller “Influencer,” a film that was released on Shudder last year and feels like an updated version of “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” In “Influencer,” Instagram model Madison (Emily Tennant), runs into a mysterious, beautiful stranger named CW (Cassandra Naud) on an island vacation, and her new friend generously offers to show her around — until it becomes clear that CW has more than hospitality on her mind. 

Breathing new life into old themes

Rich white vacationers have received their share of on-screen contempt in recent years, from the cruise ship satire “Triangle of Sadness” to HBO’s critically acclaimed series “White Lotus.” But the most cutting takedown of these tourists might be from director Brandon Cronenberg in “Infinity Pool,” a 2023 movie that follows a group of sightseers visiting a fictional Mediterranean island dictatorship called La Tolqa. James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are a couple in crisis who meet Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert) and agree to accompany them off the tightly-guarded resort for a day of vice-filled merriment. When a wasted James runs over and kills a local, they are plunged into the dystopian nightmare of La Tolqan justice — where, instead of a prison sentence or trial, people are forced to watch clones of themselves getting tortured and executed. 

Another horror film from last year that gives some well-trod themes a fresh look is “Huesera: The Bone Woman,” from Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera. Clunky title aside, the movie does a good job of considering society’s warped expectations surrounding pregnancy. Valeria (Natalia Solián) receives the news of her impending motherhood with some emotional ambiguity — a completely normal reaction that  many expectant parents have, but which is rarely depicted sympathetically on screen. Unfortunately, in this case, Valeria is also being hunted by an evil spirt. 

And finally, an additional Latin American standout in the genre from this year is Argentinian writer-director Demián Rugna’s “When Evil Lurks,” a propulsive reimagining of the demonic possession story that also functions as a brutal critique of government indifference to social problems. When brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jami (Demián Salomón) find a “rotten” — aka someone who is possessed — they ineptly try to dispose of the problem. But this inadvertently triggers region-wide supernatural chaos, as the brothers try (and fail) to get anyone in an authority position to care. 

For your consideration: five movies that should have made the cut