Where the Danger Lies: Crime and Supernatural Cinema

An Introduction to March and April

Crime movies suggest the danger is trying to get in, supernatural movies suggest it is already here. While both genres focus on the relationship between killers and victims, crime films are interested in the moment and process of infestation. Supernatural films, by contrast, focus on the infection itself. This means the two genres, although similar in so many ways, arrive from different models. Crime is a violent entrance which announces itself. Supernatural horror is a pathogenic murmur deep within.

Since lockdown began, I have become more paranoid about the things outside my house. Staying home, staying away from people, I think we have all become slightly disjointed. Because I don’t quite understand this anxiety, I have started using something I do know to interpret it – film. One thing I’ve noted is that my fear of being asymptomatic is right out of a supernatural horror film. Going outside feels like some weird possession or exorcist movie, where the main character, or someone near them, has some terrifying and hidden thing inside them, and that something is rooting around and spreading. I have also become more aware of the borders around my home versus the outside, as though I have two capillary systems, my own and those around me. Much like a crime film, I find myself wondering how fortified my house is, and how well it can keep the disease out. Interpreting these fears (however extreme they might be) through cinema helps me understand where they are coming from, how I can manage them, and how to understand this bizarre era.

Surprisingly, watching crime and horror films has helped me manage this COVID-adjacent anxiety. With so much going on in the world, its somewhat comforting to just focus on a specific person, issue, or threat. Take for instance the haunted house model. I have been watching a great deal of Buzzfeed Unsolved, and it is helpful because it focuses on one location utterly removed from myself. The two hosts enter a supposedly haunted building, talk about that haunted space for 30min, and then leave. I enjoy this format because it highlights both supernatural and historic trauma, and suggest that the two overlap, and that anything supernatural is crime related. I think the reason I watch supernatural and crime projects is because they talk about haunted and traumatic spaces or people rather than cutting away or ignoring that they exist.

Saturday Night Live did a sketch this week about how funny it is that women love true crime documentaries and podcasts. They are certainly not the first to joke about this, and it is true. From my experience, I have met multiple women who are obsessed with old cases and have done research into the often racist and sexist investigations which followed. SNL’s punch line is that it strange that women want to watch something where other women are brutally murdered. Many find it weird that women are desensitized to projects where they are almost exclusively the victim. The same goes for horror films, as people seem genuinely concerned by female horror fans. For instance, I once mentioned at a party that I really enjoy the film Silence of the Lambs, and it made all the guys extremely uncomfortable and confused. One even brought up how confused they were because I am overweight, and so they assumed I would hate the film. I think the reason women enjoy horror and crime films is because we are already exposed to that terror constantly by just being women. We grow up beside the dead blondes, the sluts, and the male gazed corpses in media. It shouldn’t be surprising that a large group of women enjoy these movies, we are in them.

We use horror and crime films to understand how society thinks of women, and in doing so, we take back these subjects. We reread and adjust their male-centric gaze, and sometimes we give the random death some form of meaning and respect. If anything, watching a true crime or supernatural film is a way to manage this victim image, and to avoid becoming a stereotypical victim ourselves.

But we have also become more aware of how damaging these victim tropes can be through this process. There is a strong movement for true crime documentaries to focus more on the victims rather than their killers. A movement for different kinds of horror and supernatural stories to be told, by women and for women. For the ‘so-called’ victim to talk about what it means to be victimized in these kinds of films and to re-examine why these tropes appeared in the first place. Even shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit are trying to adjust their lens, although their victims are still 99.5% (I am guessing here) all women and children. That said, I think we are paying more attention to the horror and crime genres, specifically why they share a similar taste in victims.

As I was thinking about modern female representation in crime and supernatural films, both behind and in front of the camera, I realized something troubling. So many of the films I talk about on this blog are directed by white men. That is not to suggest that they are not good films, or that we should not enjoy them or spend time talking about them, it is just something I noticed. For someone who wants to be a director, I don’t spend enough time talking about other women who direct and write. So, I am dedicating the next two months to crime and supernatural films, all of which are directed by women. I am particularly interested in the way they treat victimhood and the tropes associated with these genres. I will say that I am slightly uncomfortable with the terms ‘female director’ and ‘female filmmaker’ as it suggests that their work is inherently different and feminized, and that they cannot just refer to themselves as a director or filmmaker. I want to explore that more in the next two months, so for now, I’ll preface this discussion by saying that these women are incredible directors, and they should be able to refer to themselves as directors, not just women who direct.

A personal side note, this is my 99th blog post, next week will be my 100th! I am so incredibly grateful to those who have stuck around and to those who just found this post. I will be highlighting a few of my favourite posts on the front page for the next week or so.