2017 – The Highs and Lows of Horror and Sci-Fi
Taking a look back as we speed towards New Year’s Eve, 2017 has been a phenomenal, bizarre year for audiences and fandoms. With film, television, streaming, and other media tailored to the fandoms, it’s been a great time to be a nerd. Hardly a month has gone by without the release of some big budget superhero smack down or blockbuster sci-fi/horror either in theaters or on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Of course, there’s been some low points too, many of which have been brought to us by fans rather than studios. Let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows of 2017 in genre entertainment.
This has been a great year for women in film. Maybe one of the best in a very long time. Roles like Wonder Woman, Eleven, and Beverly Marsh we’ve seen a lot of strong, female leads and supporting characters alike who have broken the mold. We’re not seeing the helpless damsel in distress or vapid, mindless arm candy characters that have been prevalent for so long in genre films. One of the biggest stand out performances, however, has gone totally unnoticed in the mainstream in the form of Samara Weaving. Weaving’s first foray into horror came in the 2015 finale of Ash vs Evil Dead and brought with it some controversy as set photos of her bloodied face made their way into the internet the following year as “proof” of violence against a particular political party’s members. In 2017 she had two supremely memorable roles in horror. As Bee in the Netflix film The Babysitter, she was a devil worshipping ass kicker. And in Joe Lynch’s monumental, ultra-violent horror-comedy Mayhem, she plays Melanie, a woman trying to save her home from foreclosure while saving herself from a disease that rips away human inhibition and causes uncontrollable outbursts of violence. In a film best described as The Purge meets The Office, she becomes a perfect feminine counterpart to Steven Yeun’s character Derek as they take a sledgehammer to corporate institutions of greed and self indulgence that now more than ever seem prevalent in society. Besides, who can honestly say they haven’t wanted to stomp some yuppies in a high rise at one time or another?
Meanwhile, it’s not just actresses who have become phenomenal role models in the industry, but the filmmakers themselves who are shattering stereotypes and making some truly remarkable stories for fans. The Women in Horror Film Festival outside of Atlanta, Georgia this past October showcased independent films with a focus on women both in front of and behind the lens. There wasn’t a bad movie in the bunch during the three-day, first-year festival that acknowledged writers, producers, editors, directors, cinematographers and many more behind the scenes roles played by women in the industry who would otherwise go unnoticed. It was, hands down, the most entertaining weekend of original horror in the region and is already scheduled to return in 2018.
For years now, studios have played it safe on easily marketable, PG-13 horror and sci-fi flicks that look great statistically and bring in audiences of all ages while completely alienating fans of the genres with flat, emotionless stories. Thanks in no small part to the commercial success of Deadpool in 2016, studios took a chance on an R rating this year and the pay off, especially for audiences, was massive. It, Logan, Get Out, Jigsaw, and The Shape of Water all broke the mold this year as big budget, big studio productions that dove head first into a hard R and never looked back.
Meanwhile, in the realm of PG-13 studio blockbusters, nothing has garnered more contention and outright rage than Star Wars: The Last Jedi with “fans” launching online petitions to have the story itself completely stripped from the canon. And that’s the absolute nicest thing that they’ve done. Other petitions and online rants include demanding an apology from the director while many have chosen to attack cast members such as John Bodegas and Kelly Marie Tran with racial slurs and threats of violence because, you know, that’s what healthy, well adjusted people do when they’re upset about a movie.
Shows like Z-Nation and The Orville provided enjoyable, story driven alternatives to The Walking Dead and Star Trek: Discovery with a much less bleak view of the future and human nature. I mean, don’t get me wrong, people suck out loud. Angry fanboys have proven that. But unlike TWD and STD, Z-Nation and The Orville provide the same sort of introspective look at humanity and the future in these genres without being so abysmally glib as to make you want to cut yourself when it’s all said and done. They feature real characters in emotionally driven stories without the non-stop maudlin hopelessness that has become a staple of genre storytelling over the years.
This year has been a mixed bag. It’s been a great year for female-driven stories and strong female leads in film and television. It’s been an even better year for seeing unabashedly gruesome and terrifying movies in theaters. As the new year dawns, I hope to see more radical ideas on screen as filmmakers and studios take risks and break away from the notion that a movie can only be a success if it has the potential for future exploitation by investors. I also hope that the movies fans -or maybe just people in general- can learn some tolerance and forgiveness as we go forward into 2018.