You might want to leave these off the family-viewing list, though.
On Friday, Jordan Peele will officially release his second movie, Us. As his unsettling and impressive debut, Get Out won almost universal praise, expectations are high for Peele’s anticipated follow-up, and so far the film is sitting at a formidable 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Us surrounds a family of four, who find their summer vacation punctured when a crew of mysterious lookalikes invade their quaint beachfront home. Trailers so far contain a wealth of unsettling imagery and themes concerning family subversion, some of which look to follow on from Get Out in addressing issues concerning race.
Family has been a recurring motif in the horror genre since at least the 1930s, with Frankenstein hinting at deep-seated anxieties surrounding upbringing and social conditioning. Recent films like Mother!, Hereditary and indeed Get Out make those anxieties a little clearer, taking direction from the psychological Gothic narratives of the 1940s to expose the tensions that lurk beneath the family’s warm civil surface.
I won’t spoil things if you’re steering clear of all Us marketing before Friday, but both the film’s synopsis and its trailer give a good idea of the direction Us will take its family horror. But if you’re feeling a craving in the meantime, here are five outstanding family-centred horror films to see before Peele’s summer vacation begins. Maybe leave these ones off the family-viewing list, though.
Despite minor lapses in plausibility and originality, Lights Out is an underappreciated family shocker and a real showpiece for lead actors, Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman. It’s also delightfully simple, centring on the experiences of a young woman and her brother who as they are terrorized by the malevolent silhouette of a woman that appears only when the lights are off. Where another film (hi there, Hereditary) might have lost its way in details and theories concerning its main antagonist’s history, Lights Out resists over-contextualising, and in so doing produces a well-acted, expedient shocker perfect for post-nine o’ clock viewing.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
Though definitely working in some science-fiction and dystopia elements, Await Further Instructions is a knowing, bizarre and fun home-invasion movie that capitalises on that one day of the year where family breakdown becomes an all-too-common experience.
It’s Christmas Eve, and Nick has brought British-Indian girlfriend Annji along to meet his family as they celebrate together. Tensions quickly rise after we find out that Nick’s sister is a tad bigoted, that his father is a control-freak, and that his grandpa regularly dols out racist, humiliating profanities without so much as a shrug. After a series of chillingly effective exercises in British passive-aggression, the family wake up on Christmas morning to find their entire house covered in shining, black cords. Only the television works, and through it a series of increasingly demanding instructions send the family from frictional distrust into dog-eat-dog war.
Impressively, Johnny Kervorkian manages to alternate between suspense and all-out body horror without much whiplash at all, and ultimately opens out into an apocalyptic critique on our reliance upon technology. This should definitely be on the thrill seeker’s list.
Where to watch: Netflix (UK)
The People Under the Stairs
After young protagonist, "Fool" breaks into the house of his mysterious and brow-furrowing landlords, he discovers the family has trapped a number of young boys beneath its very stairs, and suddenly finds himself fighting to escape an increasingly demented funhouse of torture, cannibalism and cruelty.
While Get Out is much more controlled in the way it alternates between nail-picking tension and comic relief to ensure the horror of everyday racism never loses its effect, The People Under the Stairs is an enduringly stark 'haunted' house movie that reveals the white, upper-class household to be a depraved torture chamber headed by the disturbingly cult-like Mummy and Daddy.
You can always trust Nic Cage to dedicate every drop of energy in his body to any film he’s in, but like Cosmatos’ Mandy, Mom and Dad is over-the-top in so many other respects that the actor feels quite at home.
Replacing the killer dogs of White God with disapproving parents, Mom and Dad sees a teenage girl and her brother fight to survive after caregivers everywhere suddenly turn on their offspring. Odd, creepy and frequently hysterical, it blends comedy and horror with an ease I’d admired in Get Out, though its anxieties lean closer toward losing one's identity to parenthood than class and race.
Where to watch: Amazon
Under the Shadow
Life in Iran has found several brilliant critiques in films of recent years. In 2017, the kaleidoscopic Tehran Taboo used rotoscoping to unabashedly explore both social and legal contradictions prevalent in contemporary Iran. Persepolis, meanwhile,was a funny and charming tale about growing up there as a rebellious, punky teenager.
Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow turns the haunted house structure into an intelligent and deeply troubling commentary on national trauma and Iran’s relationship with the wider world. Set in 1988, it follows mother Shideh as she strives to protect her daughter being possessed by malevolent spirits she believes to have invaded the home after her building is hit by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War.
If Get Out underscores the racial and class tensions within American society, Anvari’s film explores the psychological repercussions of living under the constant threat of war, and in the process creates not only a chilling and subtly terrifying horror movie but an important and above all compassionate family drama.
Where to watch: Netflix (UK)