A knock on the door; the ring of a phone; a text; sex; a Facebook message — these are just some of the ways filmmakers choose to begin their frightening tales of the invaded home. Despite differing modes of portraying these housebound monsters and murderers, the root of the fear and message is almost always the same: beware of the unknown.
Darren Aronofsky’s twisted psychological horror and allegory Mother! has proven to be a controversial take on the invaded home. A divisive film that’s full of masochism and a miscast Jennifer Lawrence, Mother!’s depiction of the invaded home returns to classics like Rosemary’s Baby yet still acknowledges its place in contemporary society in referencing modern nuisances like bad phone signal.
However, what differs Mia Farrow’s 1968 film from its exclamatory successor is that the former delves into the mixed symbolism that comes with the invaded home. Rather than simply it being about the physical home, Rosemary’s Baby is concerned with the invasion of a woman’s body, and the feverish psychosis that comes with every part of your world being called into question. Whilst Mother!’s depiction of pregnancy, birth, and uninvited guests alludes to Farrow’s film, once the viewer understands Aronofsky’s intended allegory the exploration of the invaded home remains surface level. And if the viewer is to read the film as a metaphor for the narcissistic artist and all-loving fan, unfortunately, like Javier Bardem’s character, Aronofsky was too caught up in his mother nature allegory to add multiple layers to the enclosed, invasive, home horror Mother! could have been.
In any case, Mother! tried and presented something new and controversial. Whether viewers think the film succeeds or not, through cluttered visual metaphors and constant close-ups, Mother! has brought with it a new angle to the subversive invaded home movie.
In the run-up to Halloween, then, it’s a perfect time to take a look at the top ten (subversive) home invasion horrors that are perhaps more worthy of a midnight October viewing. This list is in no particular order.
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby portrays lies becoming a twisted version of the truth, the destruction of a home, the questioning of a what and where a home is, and the significance of pain. As viewers see Rosemary tormented, abused, and lied to, Rosemary’s worldview becomes smaller and smaller.
Despite attempting to escape the world her neighbors and husband have pushed her into, it’s clear it’s too late. Stepping onto the blindingly sunny New York City streets pregnant and nearing deathly pale, even the city haunts Rosemary. Every part of the eponymous character is invaded, be it her body, brain or her home. And with New York itself being no escape for Rosemary, the constant sense of enclosure makes this psychological thriller’s last lines all the more horrifying. As Ed Park writes, upon seeing her baby (which Polanski doesn’t show the audience), Rosemary screams “what have you done to its eyes?”, but “it’s her eyes that have been changed, somewhere along the way—hers and ours.”
2. The Exterminating Angel (1962)
Not really a horror film but a representation of horrific events, Luis Buñuel‘s surrealist 1962 film largely influenced Mother!. For unexplainable reasons, guests are unable to leave Edmundo Nóbile’s (Enrique Rambal) mansion after his dinner party finishes. Guests quickly become hysterical and are only able to free themselves when they stop focusing on their physical entrapment and look internally.
3. It Follows (2014)
It Follows is not a film that’s designed to make viewers jump out of their seats. Instead, Robert Mitchell’s “sexual dread” horror story is a controlled, thoughtful thriller that’ll creep into your dreams (or nightmares). The film opens with a character being followed by an unseen monster. As Mitchell introduces protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe), the film shows viewers that the unseen presence’s haunting is transmitted through sex.
The most obvious interpretation is that this horror story is a metaphor for STIs. However, it’s not where the monster comes from that the film’s concerned with, nor whom it’s going to attack next, but how Jay and her Scooby-Doo-like gang of friends are going to stop it. The home is the body in this film, and the stalking supernatural beings are going to do everything they can to take it away from you.
4. Wait Until Dark (1967)
Starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman, Wait Until Dark is a classic, horrifying home invasion movie. Whilst the film adheres to Roger Ebert’s “idiot plot,” the critic says, for this film, the idiot plot creeps into it. Ebert sums up the feeling of the film in saying, “Miss Hepburn is perhaps too simple and trusting, and Alan Arkin (as a sadistic killer) is not particularly convincing in an exaggerated performance. But there are some nice, juicy passages of terror.”
5. Dracula (1958)
Terence Fisher’s Dracula is a complex adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel in that the director both wants to pay service to the book as well as (unknowingly or not) use the film to reflect the cusp of the 60s era. The relationship between avid diarist Abraham Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and blood-obsessed Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) is certainly one of the most interesting aspects about the film’s sense of enclosure, with many interpreting Stoker’s novel and Helsing and Dracula’s relationship as a metaphor for homosexuality.
However, it’s the trapped women – Lucy and Mina – and the rejection of their structured lives that proves most interesting. Both enclosed by the societal and gendered roles that pervaded the 19th century as well as the late 50s, Lucy and Mina both in a sense turn to Dracula as a form of escape. Yet, somewhat expectedly, Fisher frames the women’s rejection of societal values not as rejection at all, but as them being lured in by Dracula’s evil sexual allure (because sex outside of marriage is bad people!!).
This tension is best explored when Dracula returns to Mina’s bedroom. Filmed in one long uncut take, Fisher builds the tension until viewers see, with Mina, the Dracula ascending the staircase with his ominous leitmotif playing in the background. Dracula’s often framed from a low angle and Mina a high, Fisher using these stylised shots to emphasize Mina’s seduction. Yet this implies Mina and Lucy have no choice. When the Dracula “visits” Lucy, it is just that, a visit. With Lucy opening her patio doors, hiding her cross necklace, and waiting excitedly in bed, it’d be hard to argue that Dracula is invading the homes of these women. Instead, Fisher seems to be arguing for the case against the horrors of a woman’s free sexual pleasure.
6. The Babadook (2014)
The “the finest and most genuinely provocative horror movie to emerge in this still very-new century,” Jennifer Kent’s urgent directorial skills make The Babadook the classic horror it is quickly becoming. A film about monsters both imaginary and real, The Babadook blends the psychosis of adulthood with the imagination of childhood in order to convey its many messages, the one residing metaphor being that one must accommodate the horrors of life rather than suppress or ignore them. Whilst it is protagonist Amelia (Essie Davis) who is initially enclosed in her own home and mind by the Babadook, she finally takes back control after forced to relive the events that result in her title as “widow”.
7. Get Out (2017)
Whilst Jordan Peele’s impressive directorial debut Get Out follows a number of home horror conventions, the director subverts expectations with his smart, timely portrayal of white Americans’ role in repressing black Americans. Providing just enough red herrings and foreshadowing, the ending of Peele’s film always stays on the right side of shocking.
One of the film’s most impressive scenes is when Catherine Keener’s character hypnotizes protagonist Chris (played by the great Black Mirror alumni Daniel Kaluuya) into a repressed nightmare-scape. Trapped and unable to talk, move or even scream, all Chris is left to do is watch as this white self-proclaimed Obama-voting family takes all the control. Yet, in an impressively refreshing twist, Chris does gain control, able to escape the confines of this rural, gold-lit landscape that’s tainted with the very real blood of the antagonists.
The most horrifying part of Get Out comes after the revelation (“I have the keys”), blood, and even the credits. Allison Williams’s Rose and her father Dean (Bradley Whitford) invade Kaluuya’s life and safety, whilst Chris unknowingly invades the hellish landscape that is their home. However, Peele makes sure his audience question whether this is even an invaded home horror. With the arrival of the police car, many expect Chris’ nightmare to continue. And even though it turns out to be Chris’ friend, Peele’s message is there: the Armitage’s aren’t the only family like this.
8. Le Corbeau (1943)
Henri Georges-Clouzot’s Le Corbeau is not a particularly frightening film. If the viewer is looking for a genuinely thrilling and horrifying experience, they’d be better to turn to Clouzot’s other great masterpiece, Les Diaboliques (1955). However, Le Corbeau still holds up to the horror genre, albeit taking a more understated route.
Following outsider doctor Rémy Germain (Pierre Fresnay) in a secluded French town identified as “anywhere,” mysterious letters start circulating and eventually accuse Germain of having an affair and providing illegal abortions. Signed with the elusive signature “Le Corbeau”, these letters illustrate the disadvantages of living in a small town. Neighbours begin accusing neighbors, and everyone becomes suspicious of each other. The film is a noir-ish exploration of the merging between the truth and the lie, and it exemplifies both the power of the written word, as well as the – often debilitating – power of paranoia and cult.
9. Repulsion (1965)
Not the only Roman Polanski film to make it on this list, 1965’s Repulsion takes “the everyday world and distorts it,” as the dramatic English voice narrates in the film’s trailer. Full of sleepwalking, hallucinating Catherine Deneuve, the film distorts what viewers know of as life’s pleasures and turns them into the most repulsive, difficult to watch moments. Left alone in her London apartment the film explores the fear of being solitary with one’s thoughts, and what can intrude on our mind when we’re in this situation. As the people at Criterion describe, Deneuve is haunted by “specters real and imagined, and her insanity grows to a violent, hysterical pitch.” Filmed with Deneuve’s perspective always in mind, Repulsion is a journey into the world of personal horror, showing what happens when loneliness invades the mind and the mind invades the home.
10. Antichrist (2009)
Written and directed by Lars von Trier, Antichrist garnered controversy upon its Cannes debut. Critics were divided between the film’s artistic accomplishments against the story (and often grotesque scenes) itself, with one writer asking if the film’s “a work of genius or the sickest film in the history of cinema?”
Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, in her Cannes-winning role, deal with the crippling grief of losing their baby son. To treat his wife’s depression, Dafoe’s character takes Gainsbourg’s “She” to a cabin in the middle of a forest. The film is split into four chapters and an epilogue, and, like Aronofsky’s Mother!, the central characters are provided with names aimed to represent all of man and womankind.
Antichrist‘s home invasion is complex. “She’s” grief leaves her empty, yet it’s this emotion, which morphs into depression, which invades her body. And it’s then the central characters themselves (it’s hard to call them protagonists) who become the invaders, enclosing in on “Eden”, the woods they escape to.
Gainsbourg’s character’s forthright humiliation and violence continue director Lars von Trier’s shocking and often misogynistic portrayal of women. In Adam Nayman’s terrific The Ringer essay, the writer addresses von Trier’s “abject misogyny.” Nayman writers, “This has always been the question with von Trier: If his brilliantly engineered films’ seeming, abject misogyny is an expression of artistic cruelty or an attempt at empathy.” Whilst similar, however, there’s a clear difference between von Trier’s film and Aronofsky’s Mother!: “Where the ostensible critique of male vanity in Mother! hinges on Lawrence’s character being reduced, in the final equation, to a helpless, bruised muse—a vessel fated to be re-created, over and over again, with no say in the matter—Antichrist lets “She” dominate the action.”