Film Term Paper

The genre of horror movie has experienced numerous changes throughout its history. Accordingly, modern horrors do not resemble Hollywood golden standards of different epochs. In fact, it might give the impression that they do not even belong to the same genre. Constant borrowing of techniques, ideas and approaches destroyed any sign of hierarchy inside it. Sometimes, it seems that the horror now exists only to confound the critics, not allowing them to develop more or less stable methodology for describing it. However, The Shining by Stanley Kubrick, Cronos by Guillermo del Toro and Let the Right One In by Tomas Alfredson are representatives of different epochs that serve as vivid examples of the transformations that occurred in the genre. At the same time, these movies provide an opportunity to see the similarities as they all belong to modern horrors.


The Representation of Protagonist

Comparing these three movies, the special attention should be devoted to the character of a protagonist. Unlike the epic and courageous characters of the traditional Hollywood horrors, modern heroes reject any pathos, and the process of association with the protagonist becomes accessible for the audience. Cronos tells the story of Jesus Gris, played by Federico Luppi, an old antique dealer living with his wife and granddaughter. One day, he discovers the secret of immortality, though it has a terrible price. Since he is neither a teenager who gets superpowers from a radioactive spider nor a psychopath who makes a deal with the devil, he arouses considerable sympathy. The hero finds himself in front of a terrible choice: either to live forever, but become a monster depending on human blood, or to destroy magic apparatus, which gives immortality, and die leaving a young granddaughter and wife alone. Overall, the ordinariness and inexperience of Jesus Gris make this story touching to a great extent.

In Kubrick’s Shining, the hapless writer Jack Torrance gets a job of a security guard for the winter season in a deserted Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado. However, he gradually begins to go mad, eventually declaring a real hunt for his wife Wendy and son Danny. For Stephen King, as for the author of the literal source, the character of Jack is less interesting than his son’s supernatural power of foresight. Thus, the primary conflict of the novel was between the unearthly hotel and Danny. However, Kubrick’s interested in the character of the father has played its role. Thus, the boy’s magical power is a metaphor for a child’s sensitive response to the demons that appear in his parents. Picking an ordinary person and leading him to madness, the director claims that the same can happen to everyone.

Let the Right One In speaks about 12-year-old Oskar who lives in a dull and full of bleak loneliness town. Oscar has no friends, his classmates elected him as an object of ridicule and bullying, and his divorced parents do not care about their child. An unbearable pain lies in Oscar’s speech while holding a knife in his hand at the beginning of the movie. However, everything changes when he meets Eli, who is also 12 years old. She has no fear of cold, an unusual behavior and seemingly greater loneliness than Oscar. One cannot imagine a more suitable friend. However, Oscar and Eli have to pay a terrible price for this friendship, as living as usual becomes an intolerable and impossible solution. The inner world of a child who experiences the problems that everyone shares to a varying degree, makes this horror story intimate. Therefore, modern directors in this genre make a transition towards the personalization and empathy.

The Concept of Conflict and Representation of Evil

The modern horrors tend to narrow the conflict personalizing the representation of the main character. The current trend presupposes contracting it to the size of a town, a building or a protagonist, while the problem can expand to the countries, continents or even the planet Earth, as in the movies like Dracula, Frankenstein or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. At the same time, modern horrors keep the approach of evil, which is typical for this genre. Such method implies that the experience of undergoing contains nothing familiar. Moreover, it is endowed with an alien essence that comes from the depths of the subhuman ages or worlds of inhuman nature. Moreover, the majority of horror characters demonstrates complete powerlessness and helplessness. Thus, the difference between a modern horror and its predecessor is in stylistic approach, but not in the perception of the supernatural.

On the one hand, the combination of a personal conflict and an inhuman nature of evil creates an extremely successful formula. Del Toro has always gravitated towards the otherworldly creatures with human traits. Therefore, in Cronos the alchemist becomes a monster, but he never ceases to love his granddaughter Aurora. In the first place, the movie reveals to the audience the conflict between the desire to live forever and to remain human. In a much broader sense, it is the conflict between the reality and imaginary world. In addition, Let the Right One In is understandable as the tragic story about the process of growing up that may incur frustration, misunderstanding, anger, hopelessness, and desire to actively confront the cruel world. Furthermore, this movie claims that first love is both beautiful and dangerous feeling, as all events of the story occur with the direct participation of a vampire who is the representative of far more powerful and inexplicable essence. For example, the scene in the swimming pool fully reveals the powers of Eli.

On the other hand, unlike del Toro and Alfredson, even unlike Stephen King, who emphasizes the inhuman nature of fear, Kubrick desires to rationally explain the nature of fear and madness, and understand what psychological mechanism underlies it. While using the components of traditional horror films, he wants to rationalize the world where supernatural things occur. Moreover, he claims that the world of the movie can be a fantasy, but, in terms of imagination, it must correspond to the viewer’s knowledge about the reality. However, even Kubrick could not completely reject the inhuman representation of evil in the literal source: in one scene, the ghosts of the hotel capture the soul of Jack and show him the shadows and past events. Thus, the conflict between irrational and logic is the driving force of the story, as all examples combine personal and intimate conflicts with the intrusion of inhuman powers.

Historical Context and Reflection on Socioeconomic Processes

Similar to any form of art, the horror movie becomes a perfect opportunity to reflect on current social and cultural events. Thus, in the context of contemporary multiculturalism and coexistence of different religious practices and mythological systems, any film should be considered as a metaphor of global and personal processes. Del Toro creates his Cronos during the adoption of NAFTA trade agreement between the US and Mexico. In addition, the director insists that he is a true liberal who emphasizes civil disobedience. Therefore, in his movies children, as the least powerful characters, have the biggest influence on the story, and their choice to live in a fantasy is an act of disobedience. Moreover, stating a conflict between two worlds, del Toro converts it into the conflict between two nations. At the same time, he sees the concept of a movie as a universal solution that can be helpful for both sides.

Unlike del Toro, Kubrick decides not to focus on the political context. The director outlines the idea that the hotel is built on the desecrated cemetery of native Americans. However, it serves not as a political statement, but as the primary way to rationalize the story and make it understandable. Thus, Kubrick places the action in the mountains of Colorado to avoid any political and social influence.

Tomas Alfredson in Let the Right One In chooses similar decorations. However, his purpose is completely different. Likewise to extremely popular sub-genre of existential horror that tries to answer the question of what people would do in order to survive, Tomas Alfredson’s movie tries to understand what people would do to escape from the loneliness that seems bottomless, especially for the 12-year-old boy. Joyless background serves as a symbol of deterioration of society. The dreary and snowy town is full of calm and disciplined inhabitants that gossip about politics at a local cafe. These citizens with emptiness in their eyes get rid of childhood, pushing it to the back of the memory like a nightmare, and continue to exist, not daring to let true feelings and emotions into their lives. At the same time, the characters of Eli and Hakan are foreigners in this country. Thus, the movie reflects on the problems of immigrants. In this context, the society that fears vampires does it not only because they are mysterious creatures, but because they are minorities with unknown culture and traditions. As one can see from the examples above, the decision to implement socio-political context fully depends on the author’s vision of the concept of the movie.

Distinctive Features of Visual Style

The primary visual distinctive feature of all three movies is a subjective look at the events. Such approach appeals to the perception of the central character by actively using the subjective camera. The principle of you-pay-for-what-you-see that dominated in traditional horrors is unwanted in the late twentieth century. Today, the viewer starts a journey of screen space without solid ground under their feet. However, instead of experiencing discomfort or fear, the audience becomes a part of an exciting game where everything is possible. Therefore, the extreme attention to details becomes the common trend for modern horror.

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The visual aesthetics of Let the Right One In deserves special notice. The color palette of the movie contains numerous scenes where the snow mixes with blood the same way as the school is mixed with personal hell, childhood with adult problems, and first love with death. Let the Right One In is full of dreamy straight-line-camera passages through the cold landscape and extreme close-ups of snowy eyelashes. Alfredson contrasts white and red to outline the distinction between indifference and passion, depression with mental death, and true love with pain. Such approach to the colors is similar to the Cronos filming technique.

In his stead, Guillermo Del Toro’s ability to influence the psychological aspect of visual perception seems absolutely amazing. During the movie, an expressive makeup of antiquarian becomes more grotesque and ugly, while the dark and depressing music of Javier Alvarez creates an atmosphere of crushing despair and inner emptiness. The camera by Guillermo Navarro prefers to search for the shot solutions rather than directly show the events. At the same time, Cronos focuses on the colors to outline the borders of the conflict: red and gold tones are the features of the alchemist’s world, whereas black and white represent the industry environment: accordingly, across this conflict goes the blue color of time. Numerous references to the famous paintings and their presence in the movie also serve as the evidence of del Toro’s attention to the color.

Nevertheless, the visual style of Stanley Kubrick has become an extremely popular and well-discussed phenomenon. In Shining, he uses his cinematography skills to create a mysterious world that is most likely a projection of the schizophrenic consciousness of the main character. The cold winter hotel looks like a maze of countless rooms and corridors filled with dazzling and blinding light. Another labyrinth around the hotel is also unusual, because it seems even more mysterious and dark. Since the director contrasts the rationality with the psychic disorder, both mazes become the symbols of futility to defeat madness. The final scene that ends with the death of the protagonist proves such hypothesis. At the same time, Kubrick brilliantly uses Steadicam and one-point perspective to create a sense of reality. Since he is increasingly interested in the origin of the shining in Danny and origin of madness in Jack, the film is full of track shots and extreme close-ups. Such technique appears, for example, in the scene when Jack promises to smash Wendy’s head. Overall, the director traps his characters in their environment and makes the viewer an almighty spectator who observes this process.


The Shining by Stanley Kubrick, Cronos by Guillermo del Toro and Let the Right One In by Tomas Alfredson are the outstanding examples of modern horrors that show what transformations have taken place in this genre. Firstly, the concept of protagonist became more personalized. Second, as a result of such transition the representation of conflict became more intimate while preserving the traditional representation of evil. Third, the horror was transformed into a perfect basis for socio-political expressions and manifests. Finally, the visual style became focused on the details and nonstandard solutions. Such transformations allow claiming that this genre is not stationary, on the contrary, it rapidly progresses and becomes increasingly diverse.

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