“There is a big shift in sensitivity now. Audiences want different things,” said Flores. “Viewers are getting tired of formulas and are hungry for options. Then suddenly, with exotic movies appearing—like in the case of ‘La Llorona’—people are not only discovering new voices, but they’re discovering historical realities that are not commonly touched upon.”
Despite baseless fallacies that peg my beloved genre as nothing but titillation and gore on the cheap, horror’s limitlessness grants filmmakers an ability to express themselves on universally understood levels without sacrificing their self-representation—for example, Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Nájera’s “Diablo Rojo PTY.” Panama’s first recognized horror title is distinctly Panamanian, centering around the phenomenon of “Red Devil” buses that are a national horror story of their own. I found myself not only enraptured by Moreno and Nájera’s kitchen-sink application of gigantic haggish puppets or blessed rivers melting covens, but clicking down a rabbit hole of “Diablo Rojo” articles from Panamanian outlets to better understand this threat to pedestrians. Remember when video games like “Math Blasters” taught that learning could be fun? Apply that logic to horror cinema, and this should all make more sense.
As Flores comments: “There is so much pain and tragedy and barbarism all over the world. All fuel for fantastic horror movies, no? The drug war here in Mexico, for example, has propelled stories like ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid.’ Or ‘Belzebuth’? That’s a Mexican movie with teeth. American audiences were like, ‘Whoa, what the f**k is going on in Mexico?’ Audiences from abroad are much more anxious to hear what other people, other cultures have to say.”
Representation has long been a problem that’s permeated Hollywood systems (in and outside horror) with regards to employment, tokenization, and stereotyping. As that erasure is finally undergoing correction, what’s hitting theaters is playing catch-up with alarming results. From Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” to Ms. Guerrero’s “Culture Shock,” from Gerard McMurray’s “The First Purge” to Osmany Rodriguez’s “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” these films are centered around continued failings within communal frameworks. It’s important that these storytellers get their chance to reach wider audiences, so that culture can benefit from the entirety of its people instead of grooming some reality where entire communities are silenced while one governing party hogs the megaphone.
Horror has always been political. George A. Romero. Tobe Hooper. Wes Craven. All your favorite iconic masters knew that the scariest stories are rooted in truth. Xenophobia. Classism. Racism. Intolerance. Blanket toxicity against anyone who might register as “different.” “Not here, not in my America.” You can’t fault someone who’s only watched horror movies, or any media, generated by lookalikes with the same daily experiences to know any better. Hence why a film like Jeff Barnaby’s “Blood Quantum,” a zombie outbreak thriller that has plenty to say about the current state of native Indian reservations, stands out amongst other “The Walking Dead” rip-offs. At its core, it’s an enlightening and sobering dissection of how Indigenous peoples are still treated, emphasizing far more than just rotten flesh corpses chewing through another nondescript stronghold.