NICHOLAS CHANG | REPEAT OFFENDERS
For a Netflix Original film trying so hard to be a modern horror classic, you’d think the directors would have come up with a better title.
Pause for a moment so you can think about the titles of every great horror film you can think of: The Evil Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Shining, Cabin in the Woods, Midsommar, etc. These titles are ingenious and memorable because they immediately evoke the tone of their film and set you up for a terrifying experience. But when you think about A Classic Horror Story, what does that remind you of? What is this ‘classic horror story’ the title is trying to remind you of, especially if there’s many of them? What does the title set up, and why did the filmmakers think it would be a good idea?
A Classic Horror Story consistently wears its horror film influences on its sleeve and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all evident in the premise: five friends are travelling in southern Italy, until an incident at night causes their RV to crash into a tree. Stranded in the middle of the woods, everyone tries to find help. Unfortunately, horror film buff Fabrizio (Francesco Russo) begins to spot all the horror clichés in this situation, and Elisa (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) realises something is truly wrong.
At this point, A Classic Horror Story is brave and proud to show off its influences and where they came from. A group of friends in an RV that gets stranded, much like what happens to the characters of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Check. Lost in the woods like in The Blair Witch Project? Check. A mysterious cabin looking like those from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods and even Osgood Perkins’s Gretel & Hansel? Check. That siren from Silent Hill? Check. A manipulative cult with horrific goals, akin to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man? Check. And in that cult are members shut off from the rest of the world, like in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village? Check. Festivities taking place, with visual compositions directly inspired by Ari Aster’s Midsommar? Check, check, check! A Classic Horror Story acknowledges its complete lack of originality, and its self-awareness is refreshing. However, it can only go so far until it relies too much on its influences, and ends up failing to form its own core identity in the process.
Fortunately, directors Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli offer enough entertaining material in the first half to make A Classic Horror Story engaging. Although the characters are meant to resemble familiar archetypes and common victims in horror films, the co-directors also happen to be behind the script and attempt to build character. This works for a few good moments, for the material lets audiences latch onto some distinct character personalities. But an eventual problem that arises with the weak characterisation is that most of the characters are easy to forget about when the end credits roll. Not a good sign if a film struggles to make you remember its characters. The performances among the core cast are competent. They get their jobs done, and Matilda Lutz is a solid final girl, but nothing about the acting will blow you away.
Emanuele Pasquet’s cinematography takes a few too many visual cues from the more modern horror films, but it’s nevertheless visually stunning and colourful. The blooming colour of red accompanies a few terrifying scenes and gruesome kills, intended to build an unsettling atmosphere rather than settle for cheap scares. With some of the gorier moments appropriately left to the audience’s imagination, A Classic Horror Story seems to have a confident destination in mind, taking advantage of Massimiliano Mechelli’s evocative musical score and gnarly, albeit derivative, visuals.
The first hour of A Classic Horror Story is well-directed enough to show flashes of genuine inspiration and authentic love towards the horror genre… Until that final act.
I can’t recall a third act that left me feeling cheated and angry. A dramatic plot twist reveals A Classic Horror Story’s true – and rotten – colours. Without giving away too much, it goes overboard with the meta elements and attempts to provide ironic, postmodern social commentary about originality, the state of horror filmmaking and how audiences react to the genre, but without doing anything profound about it. The satirical approach towards the horror genre never feels as loving as it should be, the villain’s motivations are undercooked, and when you try to see how the twist fits into the cult narrative, all the storytelling elements never come together as they should. This revelation leads to such a drastic shift in narrative and tone that A Classic Horror Story ends up losing its well-constructed atmosphere to make way for an anticlimactic resolution. And how audacious of that mid-credits scene to mock viewers for not liking the film. Someone needs to remind the directors and writers that all audiences have varying, subjective tastes in cinema. It is possible for an audience to simultaneously dislike a film and understand the point of it. An audience disliking a film is not exclusively because they didn’t get the point or found it unoriginal. More than anything, it’ll be something else. If you deliberately insult the viewer and make them feel like they wasted their time, then your heart hasn’t been in the right place when you made your film.
Overall, A Classic Horror Story’s self-awareness and influences fail to disguise its blatant lack of identity, and all it resembles is a mediocre Netflix production pretending to be a modern horror classic or satire that’s greater than it is. It’s a pretentious wad of meta-horror filmmaking that mistakenly believes pointing out its clichés and pandering to the audience of CinemaSins makes it smarter. All it does is inflate its own ego, and in the process, its tribute to the horror genre never feels sincere. Creativity, originality, and realism are not dead, and they won’t be if horror filmmakers know how to use them effectively. But A Classic Horror Story thinks the opposite way because I guess ignorance is bliss in the eyes of the writers themselves, huh?
A Classic Horror Story is currently streaming on Netflix.