Our son Donovan joins us this episode, so obviously the best idea is to look into horror movie families that make ours look downright wholesome. Check out the boy’s band, NEW PLAGUE RADIO!
6. The Woman (2011)
Forget Pollyanna McIntosh for one minute (if that’s even possible). One of many reasons that Lucky McKee’s powerhouse of horror is so memorable is that McIntosh’s feral cannibal (who must smell awful) is not the scariest person on screen.
There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a wild woman, chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.
It doesn’t go that well for anybody, really, in a film rethinks family.
Well, patriarchy, anyway.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Poor, unlikeable Franklin Hardesty, his pretty sister Sally, and a few other friends head out to Grampa Hardesty’s final resting place after hearing the news of some Texas cemeteries being grave-robbed. They just want to make sure Grampy’s still resting in peace – an adventure which eventually leads to most of them making a second trip to a cemetery.
But that’s not the family we’re after. The clan that will come to be known as the Sawyers begin humbly enough in Toby Hooper’s original nightmare: a cook, a hitchhiker, a handyman of sorts, and of course, Grandpa.
There are so many moments to recall. Maybe it’s the slamming metal door, or the hanging meat hook, or the now iconic image of the hysterical and blood-soaked Sally Hardesty hugging the back of a pick up truck bed as the vehicle speeds away from Leatherface.
Or maybe it’s dinner, when Hooper really gives us some family context. He uses extreme close up on Sally’s eyeball as she takes in the bickering family lunacy of a dinner table quite unlike any we’d seen before.
4. The Lodge (2019)
It’s Christmas, and regardless of a profound, almost insurmountable family tragedy, one irredeemably oblivious father (Richard Armitage) decides his kids (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) should get to know the woman (Riley Keough) he left their mother for. A week in an isolated mountain cabin during a blizzard should do it.
Dad stays just long enough to make things really uncomfortable, then heads back to town for a few days to work. Surely everybody will be caroling and toasting marshmallows by the time he returns.
What is wrong with this guy?! And it’s not just him. Turns out his kids are pretty seriously messed up as well. But fear not (or fear a lot) because Grace has some profound family dysfunction to fall back on, and pretty soon it’s just a guess as to who’s going to out-dysfunction the other.
3. We Are What We Are (2010)
In a quiet opening sequence, a man dies in a mall. It happens that this is a family patriarch and his passing leaves the desperately poor family in shambles. While their particular quandary veers spectacularly from expectations, there is something primal and authentic about it.
It’s as if a simple relic from a hunter-gatherer population evolved separately but within the larger urban population, and now this little tribe is left without a leader. An internal power struggle begins to determine the member most suited to take over as the head of the household, and therefore, there is some conflict and competition – however reluctant – over who will handle the principal task of the patriarch: that of putting meat on the table.
Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are is among the finest family dramas or social commentaries of 2010. Blend into that drama some deep perversity, spooky ambiguities and mysteries, deftly handled acting, and a lot of freaky shit and you have hardly the goriest film ever made about cannibals, but perhaps the most relevant.
2. Raw (2016)
Justine (Garance Marillier, impressive) is off to join her older sister (Ella Rumpf) at veterinary school – the very same school where their parents met. Justine may be a bit sheltered, a bit prudish to settle in immediately, but surely with her sister’s help, she’ll be fine.
Writer/director Julia Ducournau has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, peer pressure generally, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.
Because what we learn is not just that Justine’s sister will not be a good mentor, or that there is definitely something wrong with Justine. By the blackly hilarious final moments on the screen, we see the big family portrait.
With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.
Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.
Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.