Post-horror and the obscene character of (post-pandemic?) parties

What better place is there for a party then a stunning mansion in a remote location? Obviously the answer to this question changes if the party is taking place in a horror film. Bodies Bodies Bodies tells the story of one eventful drug fuelled night which begins with a reunion between old friends and ends with (almost) everyone dead. It’s been framed as a slasher comedy but I would suggest it is better understood as post-horror, albeit of a more comedic sort than most films which fall into this meta genre. The final scene is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in the cinema in a long time, even amidst all the carnage of a night gone ontologically wrong.

It struck me after seeing this that it was the third post-horror(ish) film I’d seen this year about parties, each of which unfolds over the course of a single event. Silent Night recounts the Christmas gathering of a wealthy group of British friends in the perfect surroundings of a country house borrowed for the evening. What starts as a subpar romantic comedy becomes an (equally flawed in its own way) apocalypse movie as we soon grasp that they’ve gathered together to greet imminent civilisational collapse in the same way they lived their lives.

All My Friends Hate Me documents a birthday reunion between the protagonist Pete and his old school friends. The expectation of a debauched weekend of reconnecting with old friends in a country house soon becomes something much darker, as Pete’s mounting paranoia tracks a slide into darkness between friends who are rapidly realising they no longer have as much in common as they once did.

Please note spoilers from this point onwards

I think it’s meaningful to talk about these films as post-horror in the sense that they integrate elements of horror films (existential threat, mounting dread, being alone in a dark house, dead cell phones and splitting up) into an entirely different mode of story telling. David Church defines post-horror as “a new wave of films combining horror tropes with the slow pace, austere style, serious themes, and narrative ambiguity found in minimalist art films”. He suggests these films refuse “seemingly average genre exercises” in favour of “exploring ‘serious’ themes like grief and existential dread”. This is why I’d define these three films as post-horror in spite of them all having comedic intentions, albeit in quite different ways.

They also lack a murderous antagonist with the menace coming from within the social itself. Bodies Bodies Bodies sees narcissistic, passive aggressive and drug addled twenty somethings murder each other because they misconstrued a fatal accident during the filming of a TikTok video as a killer being on the loose. All My Friends Hate Me reveals the only person who has done anything wrong, albeit in a horrific teenage incident, to be the paranoid protagonist who has spent the film suspecting others of malice. Silent Night plays with the generational guilt of those who have willingly destroyed the planet being forced to confront the consequences of their cumulative actions much more immediately and dramatically than they could have expected.

These films each use an external threat to drive the narrative but reveal the real threat is in here rather than out there. This is what I find so compelling about post-horror films. They explore the violence incipient within everyday life through the tropes of the horror genre, illustrating how who we are when we gather together can be far more deadly than a singular menace, metaphysical or otherwise, intruding from outside. This is what makes the party, more specifically the reunion, such a powerful framing device for post-horror. Each of these three films explores the antagonism lurking beneath the surface of friendships, particularly those between people who have grown apart. The silent resentments, the unvoiced grievances and the unseen hostility which might not even reach the level of consciousness.

For someone who has spent much of the last two years thinking about the post-pandemic, it’s striking these films were released in 2022. My own experience of returning to parties was surprisingly that I enjoy them much more than I used to, albeit for fairly idiosyncratic biographical reasons. But I used to hate them, largely refusing to go unless I was seriously pressured into it by a partner or close friend. I wonder if those less aggressively introverted than myself have found returning to parties a more ambivalent experience?

These films leave me wondering about the anxieties which coming together has involved after the pandemic, in spite of the pent up sociability which was almost palpable in the streets during the various phases of restrictions being lifted. Returning to the people who you shared close ties with but whose physical and/or social distance during the pandemic meant they dropped out of your lifeworld. It hints at something obscene latent within sociability, lurking behind the the events we value, waiting to ooze into view if a dramatic enough series of contingencies renders it possible.

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