Shao Kahn has broken into EarthRealm. Threatening to take our best warriors and smash them to a pulp in Mortal Kombat, he’s compromised the safety of us all.
But what if he broke into your house? Abused your mom? Killed your kittens? Put all your toys in kinky sexual positions… and did worse to your dad?
That would suck. Welcome to the newest wave in horror, the home invasion movie.
For a decade now, there have been some grim turns in our genre that have taken the joy out of watching horror. First it was torture porn. Watching people tied to chairs having their parts cut off slowly isn’t fun. In fact, one would have to be part sadist to take any pleasure in that. It had its run for a while, and fell out of vogue, as evidenced by last October’s passing without a new SAW film. But it didn’t really hit extinction. No, the torture film evolved. Or maybe devolved is a better word. People are still being tied to chairs and their parts are still being cut off, but now it’s happening in the sanctity of their own homes.
I admit that had I not reviewed a screener of Darren Lynn Bousman’s remake of MOTHER’S DAY, I would be griping about something else sucking this month. But Anchor Bay sent me a copy, neatly wrapped in plastic and sealed in a nice envelope. In return for their kindness, I tried to watch it in one sitting. That turned out to be impossible. For you see, for all my love of demons, zombies and children of the Antichrist, I’m actually a very sensitive guy. I’m in tune with humanity, and as an extension, people’s feelings. MOTHER’S DAY was so offensive, so hurtful to the human condition, so far from what I enjoy about horror that it took me several tries at the wheel to get through it.
And here’s why. This wave of home invasion flicks, be it MOTHER’S DAY or THE AGGRESSION SCALE or even the remake of STRAW DOGS all follow the same treacherous plot: people are comfortable in their homes; violent, disruptive offenders break into those homes; violent offenders violently offend the people in their homes. Now I haven’t seen SCALE or STRAW DOGS, but I’ve read enough about them to understand they follow this plan. Unless somebody sends me screener copies, I’m not likely to see either. Because I don’t want to watch people getting violently beaten, raped and tortured in their own homes. And I have every right not to.
I understand why these films have power. The home is supposed to be the safe place. Close the door on your way in, and you close out all the evils of the world. When someone busts down your door and holds a shotgun to your girlfriend’s head, or a knife to your little son’s throat, the one place in the world you should be safe no longer is. Reach back into our primal DNA, and cavemen held the very same fear. Since the dawn of man, we’ve done everything we can to protect the home. So when invaders come interloping into our kitchens, put up their feet on the counter and threaten to rape and maim us, it hits a nerve.
But here’s the problem: it’s so close to real, there’s no way I could ever stomach one of these flicks, let alone enjoy one. I’ve had the debate with slasher fans over the years, and I come back to it with home invasion flicks. The reason I love supernatural horror more than any other is because it’s farther removed from reality than a guy with a knife, or in home invasion flicks, a group of people with all sorts of weapons. I go to THE OMEN to get away from the stuff in the headlines, not to drive it further into my head. Home invasion flicks live and breathe off normal mortals who are so morally twisted, they’ll do anything to satisfy their ends. So while I can imagine a world in which the Antichrist and a jackal sired the devil himself, I live in a world where torture, rape and murder takes place daily. And I can’t ever get a thrill out of that happening onscreen.
And I’m firmly under the belief that only a sadist could. Look, you’re free to enjoy what you please. I’m not one to judge your entertainment, or what gives you a thrill. And I’ve written enough college English papers to understand catharsis. But I also understand that we’re all individually drawn to art for a reason; and if you like watching people have drills run through their hands as they’re strapped to a dining room chair, that makes me question why you would dig such a thing. Maybe some of you could comment for me on this post, and please explain. I can only speak for myself. I have no sadism in my heart, and so these films are just grim exercises in pain for me.
When I wrote my review of THEM (ILS), I made mention that it was part home invasion. But that’s not the whole of it. ILS is a smart film that’s really a something is out there flick. Yes, forces break into a house, but it’s a cunning chase, a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and the two lovers are never tied down and beaten. If more home invasion films took their cue from it, then I would have a lot less to gripe about.
As it stands, there’s a wave of these things out and soon to be released. If fans keep buying, filmmakers will keep making. My only hope is that there are a lot fewer sadists in the world that I surmise.
The teacher in me feels compelled to sum up this lesson as thus: If directors made home invasion films that focused more on chase and mystery than outright, unpleasant sadism, these flicks would be of interest to people outside of those who enjoy kicking bums. Until they start making those films, Shao Kahn says to these directors… IT’S OFFICIAL! YOU SUCK!