Another weekend, another No. 1 finish by a horror movie at the box office — in this case, “A Quiet Place,” a taut, niftily constructed exercise in tension starring and directed by John Krasinski, who’s joined in the tiny cast by his wife, Emily Blunt.
Horror has remained a bright spot in terms of domestic box office in the U.S., having enjoyed a standout 2017 with fare like “Get Out” and “It.” While the genre certainly enjoys a long history, understanding why it continues to buck the trend of declining theatrical attendance has failed to produce a clear consensus.
The explanations proffered range from the psychological — people looking for a distraction from real-world cares, however temporary, perhaps especially in these stressful times — to the communal, with horror (along with comedy) being one of the few theatrical experiences that genuinely benefits from a shared environment. Hearing others react enhances viewing, which isn’t true of everything that can be binged at home.
Yet those arguments might not provide enough credit to the filmmakers, who have taken the form, played with it creatively and found new means of promoting it, even within the confines of relatively limited budgets — certainly compared to the special-effects-heavy blockbusters that otherwise dominate year-end grosses.
On the latter front, have many cited the nimbleness of producer Blumhouse Pictures, whose principal Jason Blum, keeps budgets low on these projects, then funnels the completed movies into venues where they stand a good chance of recouping that investment — from direct-to-Netflix plays for less commercially viable titles to the occasional breakout hit, like “Get Out” and “Paranormal Activity.”
As the New York Times noted, “Blum’s approach represents a particularly enterprising way out of the dilemma in which Hollywood finds itself in the age of endless ‘Transformers’ sequels and ‘Spider-Man’ reboots.” (Another Blumhouse title, “Truth or Dare,” starring Lucy Hale, arrives this weekend, on that most auspicious of horror release dates, Friday the 13th.)
Still, that potentially underplays how filmmakers have risen to the occasion, introducing wrinkles that bring just enough freshness to some of these exercises. In the case of “Get Out,” the hook was its approach to race and social satire, with a disarming dollop of comedy. “A Quiet Place,” meanwhile, uses the very notion of sound — one noise and you’re dead — to update the old-fashioned haunted house/monster formula, all in the context of a family drama.
Even “It,” having previously been turned into an ABC miniseries, found a way to introduce a clever new wrinkle by casting the kids in the first movie, leaving fans to speculate about who would play them as adults in the already-planned sequel.
According to Indiewire, horror accounted for about 9% of last year’s North American box-office receipts — a standout performance, especially in terms of return on investment. With its better-than-expected $50-million opening and an array of positive reviews, “A Quiet Place” should give the 2018 tally an early boost.
Granted, much of horror still remains cheap, manipulative and schlocky. Like most things, there’s also a tendency to overdo what works, such as the eventually tiresome fascination with found-footage movies after “The Blair Witch Project” took the box-office by storm in 1999.
Such gimmicks invariably yield diminishing returns. But taking into account those who have brought ambition to the conventions of the genre, movies like “A Quiet Place” shouldn’t be sold short in the ongoing conversation about why horror is making an inordinate amount of noise.