Horror is the most overburdened genre in existence, weighed down with so much symbolic, political, and sociological portent that it’s a marvel when a film can actually get down to the business of being scary. While unpretentious and well-crafted efforts like Rob Schmidt’s Wrong Turn fall by the wayside, the latest offerings from each newly minted horror “auteur” come with allegory locked firmly in place for critical exegesis, while any actual insight into their ostensible “real” topic is precisely nil. This isn’t to say that horror films are obliged to stay out of the real world and within their own supposed generic boundaries—rather that an attempt to address the real world must be made intrinsic to those boundaries, a part of the film rather than an imposed reading.
Larry Fessenden is a self-confessed horror filmmaker, and not only perhaps the greatest one working today—his potential rivals being Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Bong Joon-ho—but also the most pointedly political, emotionally invested, and unguardedly honest. Unlike his dissembling contemporaries, his films are defiantly about what they are about. Rather than the comfortable “archetypes” with which so many horror faux-teurs skim across any real investment in their material, Fessenden always has an actual subject, whether it’s the self-destruction of addiction in Habit or the familial breakdown of Wendigo, and it’s from these subjects that the atmosphere and fright emanate. Fessenden is not making art movies (or political tracts) in horror-film clothing, but employing the genre to break open the dread at the heart of his subjects, to give their terrifying formlessness a transitory form.
Click here to read the rest of Andrew Tracy’s review of The Last Winter.