When it comes to horror movies, you either love them or hate them. Although it embarrasses me to admit it, I fall into the latter, ‘less-cool’ category. It truly astounds me that some people enjoy the feeling of being afraid… I can’t stand it! After watching The Woman in Black (which I was told multiple times “is not scary” – it is) and the trailer of Annabelle, I was put off for life. Nonetheless, I like to believe that my hyperactive sense of fear is somewhat useful, in that it helps me identify the horror in movies that don’t fall into the genre.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2015 film The Lobster is a particularly fitting example of this. It is classed as a black comedy, romance, drama, thriller and sci-fi; essentially a medley of opposing genres. It is set in a definitively dystopian context, featuring ominous place names like ‘The City’, ‘The Hotel’ and ‘The Woods’ yet the concept of the plot is surprisingly funny. In the film, being single is a crime and anyone who is gets arrested and sent to ‘The Hotel’ (quite a paradox, considering this is usually the location for some quality rest and relaxation). They then need to find a partner with a matching characteristic (however trivial) within 45 days or else they are turned into animals. Fundamentally, the characters live in a totalitarian state where the ideology is a regimented and twisted version of partnership. As nonsensical as it sounds, there are alarming parallels between this fictional world and our own. Many of us suffer the social pressures of being in a relationship with someone who is approved not only by us but our family and friends too. Likewise, the idea of us having the same traits as our partners is a prevalent part of the algorithms utilised in online dating.
“There is no medium ground or safe-haven in The Lobster and it seems that freedom is impossible”
The horror behind The Lobster lies mainly in its use of ‘the absurd’, harnessing the fear of the unfamiliar. The film is unpredictable, constantly subverting the viewers’ expectations and sustaining the tension. By rapidly flitting between genres, Lanthimos ensures that we never really feel comfortable or secure. On top of this, there is an abundance of your typical horror movie tropes like gore and violence; torture, mutilation, suicide attempts and murder are consistently featured. Perhaps most disturbing of all, though, are the incidences of self-harm to fit into the uncompromising world (including forced nosebleeds and self-inflicted blindness).
Another chilling element is the false sense of hope, where the few moments of optimism are swiftly destroyed. For example, the deadline to find a partner can be extended by hunting the wood-dwelling single people known as the ‘loners’; however, this is just a way of turning people against one another and encouraging selfishness, betrayal and societal division to sustain the warped social construct. Even when the protagonist manages to escape ‘The Hotel’ and join the ‘loner’ rebel faction, he soon realises it is simply the same tyrannical regime but reversed. No relationships are allowed at all, or the culprits are physically punished (ironically, this is when the main character meets his romantic interest). There is no medium ground or safe-haven in The Lobster and it seems that freedom is impossible. In this sense, the message is perhaps more harrowing than any real horror movie, that is: conform or die.