Body horror has been around for the past century, but mostly became a recognised art form in the 70s and 80s. It’s making a comeback, and creating loud noises in the cinematic world. It’s a sub-genre within horror film that encourages the audience to submerge themselves in physical existence, and explore how the supernatural, bodily violation, disease, and more influence a person’s transformation.
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg perhaps comes to mind first with iconic films such as Fly and Videodrome. But, we can’t forget Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man, or Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage that contribute to the strong lineup. It’s also impossible to sweep the facts under the carpet that the body horror genre was entirely dominated by men in the late 1900s. Some would say this is just like the entire film industry, then and still today. Now, more women want to – probably always wanted to – be involved, and audiences are invited to revisit the genre that has undergone quite the reformation. Julia Ducournau’s films such as Titane, Raw, and Junior are reinventing the genre, along with other powerful features such as Rose Glass’ Saint Maud, Hanna Bergholm’s Hatching, and Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy. It’s interesting to see that some audience members walk out of the cinema watching these films, and the disgust that they express.
Are we, as a society so estranged and uncomfortable with our bodies that we find the lack of control and the understanding of physical metamorphosis so unbearable and terrifying? Bodies lacking the looks of the socially established norm and transforming in ways where the mind or external circumstances have no interference is without a doubt hard to digest. What the human body can produce, the different smells, fluids, colours, how it feels inside, and all the processes that hide underneath the skin is easier to ignore than explore. Our bodies contain us, yet our minds try to change the subject as the less we know, the more comfortable we are.
It’s certainly not the case when technology interferes with our bodies. In James Cameron’s Terminator and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, the characters live in their amorphous bodies, where technology is the reason for transformation. That seems to cause more excitement than disgust amongst audiences. The fact that AI, machines, software, technology, and algorithms make us more comfortable than abortion, accidents, surgical procedures, or a disabilities is slightly absurd. What also carries some absurdity besides the genre’s theme is the division it creates. There’s an underlying anxiety that surrounds the dark sides of life, such as death or illness. It makes you wonder if we are fully unable to cope with the most basic thing: reality. Sure, body horror can be gruesome and visually upsetting, but there is so much violence and aggression inherent in the world, constantly fed to us by the media, that the divide becomes unreasonable. It may even be an excuse to see the bigger picture.
For film lovers, it’s exciting to experience the genre’s journey and how it transforms mindsets and attracts a new loyal and passionate audience. To leave on a controversial note, however, it’s undeniable that without new technology, the genre can’t progress, and viewers might be left with body horror films that don’t keep up.