The New, New Horror: ‘Winter’s Bone’

I promised myself that I wouldn’t neglect this blog after The New Horror Handbook came out, and then I promptly did just that. While I’ve had one book come out since then, and have been working on another, that’s still no excuse. In my defense, I have to say that there hasn’t been all that much going on in the world of horror.

Yet, that’s not entirely true. A couple of days ago I finally saw Winter’s Bone, and realized that there are indeed some interesting things going on in the world of horror; you simply have to know where to look.

To be fair, none of the marketing or published reviews of this independent film would ever lead you to believe that it is full-throttle horror flick. The setup: a teenage girl in the Ozarks must locate her bail-jumping father before the law takes the family homestead, sounds like the plot of a 1950s western. However, what we get is the spiritual successor to movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Wolf Creek.

The reason so much of horror is so disposable is that we’re constantly served a legion of poorly-developed, unsympathetic characters that are dispatched employing a formula so overused as to render the whole exercise meaningless. Even movies like Frozen that seek to mix up that formula a little promptly disappear from memory immediately after watching them.

In Winter’s Bone, we’re presented with sympathetic characters plunged into a horrific mystery that actually feels threatening because, unlike the Saws and slashers of this world, we don’t know the rules ahead of time. And there are images in that movie that will stay with you for days.

Though the movie won’t do anything to rehabilitate the mountain-people stereotype any time soon, it also withholds judgment on these people, too, which is a remarkable achievement considering the horrors chronicled here. With its rich cinematography (shot on a RED camera, no less, though you’d never know it), it simultaneously shows you a world you might not have seen before, and explains why the events to follow were as inevitable as they are horrific.

And yes, Winter’s Bone meets all of the criteria laid out in The New Horror Handbook: aesthetic appeal, an underlying message, and hidden depths.

If you’ve been itching to see something new in horror, you owe it to yourself to check out this movie. If nothing else, you’ll never look at nighttime rowing the same way again.

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