In terms of out-and-out quality, we are living in a golden age of horror cinema. Jordan Peele, Jennifer Kent, Ari Aster, and many more directors have used the genre as a way to look at the times we live in. Elevated Horror (not, as I initially believed, Elevator Horror, solely referring to that one Shyamalan movie Devil) is the name given to these types of films, which, to me is as hilarious and tunnel-visioned as a lot of criticism about the genre tends to be. Critics so often seem to approach horror by appreciating how far from the horror genre a certain film can get, and that’s why they need to pretend the horror they like is elevated above the hoi polloi that the rest of us idiots enjoy.
Let’s be real: there has always been elevated horror: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosforetu, Bride of Frankenstein, Psycho, The Shining, and many more. Call it elevated, call it prestige, but it isn’t anything new. What is new is the people getting to make these films. Every example I’ve mentioned in this paragraph was created by a white male director – that’s the difference. Horror is opening up to diverse creators and that’s legitimately fantastic – the only way to keep any genre alive, kicking, and relevant. But the snobbery is the most frustrating thing – the idea that horror much go above and beyond its very genre to be worth watching – and this is where writer/director Jennifer Harrington’s sophomore effort, Shook, comes in.
Shook isn’t a masterpiece; in fact, when it comes to masterpieces, it would never be in the conversation, due to the supposed shallowness of its subject (social media and influencer culture). I have to wonder, though, if it’s the vapidity of the beauty guru community, or that it’s viewed that way by people that don’t engage with it that keep viewers from realising that Shook is a hidden gem. I don’t know – after all, people loved Cam, which used the world of cam girls in a similar but not identical fashion.
Shook is unapologetic pulp, yet it still has something to say about our present societal situation. We follow Mia, a beauty blogger and social media star as a supposedly routine night watching her sister’s dog turns into a Saw-like cat-and-mouse game with a mysterious fan. It’s an extremely modern movie with the same attention to detail about how our need for technology as a means of escapism, comfort, and denial can be used against us. Slick and confident, Harrington moves the camera through her sets like a user scrolling through their social media feed, giving things a propulsive forward momentum that thunders towards this well-earned but compellingly silly climax. It doesn’t re-write the thriller handbook, but it uses and homages the tricks of the trade to fabulous effect. Horror doesn’t have to avoid its own genre to be fantastic; it doesn’t have to elevate to prove its worth.
Ultimately, Shook is about simple pleasures. It isn’t afraid to be a bit frivolous, mainly because the frivolity of Mia and her friends is the clever way that Harrington sets up the false sense of security, which she slowly and then very, very quickly unpicks in gleefully campy fashion. I like it – I know reviewers aren’t supposed to be that obvious, but it really is that simple. Shook is proof that even the sillier side of the horror genre has something to say – and that elevated horror doesn’t have to come in the form of sombre prestige seriousness to work, nor does it have to subvert the genre to be worth it. Fuck horror snobbery, and give some love to the wildly entertaining package that this brilliant little genre exercise comes wrapped up in.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via HeyUGuys)