The Oscars are scared of horror
2018 made me love horror. Before, I was largely apathetic to the genre — I couldn’t relate to the desire to be disturbed and horrified, held among many horror fans. And, for the most part, the horror films I’d seen previously seemed to rely on tacky and artless clichés that left me feeling less scared and more bored. However, two films I saw last year, “Hereditary” and “Suspiria,” completely changed my perspective. These art-house horrors are spellbinding, unsettling and profound in their urgency. They’re certainly scary, but not just for the sake of being scary. The most horrifying parts of these films are not the jump-scares or the nauseating imagery, but the insights they give into the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves. Given all of this, I was absolutely shocked by the news that neither of these films received a single nomination from the Academy, when bland, paint-by-numbers movies like “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” received several.
The Oscars have a long history of disregarding the horror genre. Only one horror film, “Silence of the Lambs,” has received the Academy Award for Best Picture. “Psycho” and “The Shining,” both widely considered masterpieces by today’s standards, won nothing. “The Shining” didn’t even get nominated. Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” a brilliant social horror film from 2017, was nominated for four Oscars in what looked like could be a turning point for horror’s role in the Academy. Unfortunately, the snubbing of “Hereditary” and “Suspiria” proves that nothing’s really changed.
“Hereditary,” directed by newcomer Ari Aster, is a devastating family tragedy disguised as a horror film. Its eerie atmosphere is enhanced by its cinematography, which blurs the lines between the house the family lives in and the dollhouse the mother, played by Toni Collette, is in the process of creating. Because of its ability to subvert the viewer’s perception of reality, the production design is certainly Oscar-worthy. In her role as a grieving mother and artist, Toni Collette delivers what may be the greatest performance of the year, deserving not only to be nominated for but to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.
While “Suspiria,” 2018’s other horror gem, admittedly focuses more on style than substance, its technical and aesthetic accomplishments are more than worthy of Oscar consideration. Centered on a German dance company in the ’70s, “Suspiria,” like “Hereditary,” delves into the demonic. The makeup, hairstyling and costume design in the “Volk” dance sequence alone are deserving of nominations. And I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to suggest that Thom Yorke’s haunting score is the best of the year. But, alas, the Academy didn’t feel the same way.
The Academy’s failure to recognize these films demonstrates its complete disinterest in celebrating movies that challenge their audiences. Horror clearly doesn’t fit the Academy’s ideal of a safe, impactless movie, best exemplified by this year’s Best Picture winner “Green Book.” Of course, we all know that awards don’t determine a film’s value. However, they do determine which films are seen by the masses, and which filmmakers get funding to further their craft. We can only hope that, over time, Academy voters will become more open to a challenge.