I think the horror genre is as strong as ever. Audiences clearly relish being terrified, and filmmakers the world over are pushing the form. I think the best horror films present our world as it is. They thread in it a social commentary about what ails us or what terrifies us because I really believe that horror films are for people who are interested in the darkness inside themselves, who don’t want to directly confront it. Horror provides a really comfortable environment in which to escape, and audiences seem to love it because they know that they’re not going to find themselves in the scenarios which they see onscreen, whether they’re watching them at home or, hopefully, watching them in a room filled with strangers.
Scott Cooper has directed films including Crazy Heart, Black Mass and Hostiles. His latest film, Antlers, is Cooper’s first foray into horror—though he’s a longtime fan of the genre. Below are five films that influenced Cooper in the making of Antlers, and beyond.
Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which was adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s short story, is a masterpiece that’s a brilliant and disturbing look at a family defined by tragedy. Shared grief is a topic that courses through my films and Roeg’s psychological thriller influenced me greatly, whether it be on Antlers or other films. I think its use of the supernatural in a very grounded way is incredibly difficult to pull off, but in Don’t Look Now, one never questions it. I also think that his use of a decaying Venice, Italy, is yet another character and his remarkable, groundbreaking editing further cements this, in my opinion, as one of the great horror films of all time.
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which of course was based on a William Peter Blatty source novel, has also influenced me. Again, family is at the center of this particular classic film, and it too deals with the supernatural like Antlers. But for me, it’s not only a horror film; it’s a supernatural detective story that deals with the paranormal. I think Friedkin’s use of terrifying visual effects in the early 1970s is presented in a very grounded world, and masterfully so. But what really terrifies me as a parent is the fact that the film is portrayed so realistically. What makes it so disturbing is in dealing with a young girl and her mental health issues.
Many ask: Is this a horror film? For me, it’s a definitive yes. But it’s true that the film is so much more than simply horror. It’s a science-fiction film, it’s a monster movie, and it’s a deeply political look at class where, in the future, workers are even more disposable than they are now. It’s generally one of my favorite films, and I think its influence is felt far and wide, never more so than in Antlers. I think Ridley [Scott]’s very distinct use of darkness, his not revealing the monster until well in the film, and his incredibly strong heroine [Ellen] Ripley paved the way for everything that arises in my fictional setting of Cispus Falls, Oregon, only no one does it better than Ridley in this film.
[Stanley] Kubrick’s The Shining is another favorite of mine. Again, it’s a film that looks at family, and here, it’s a family’s descent into madness. I really loved that, at the beginning of the film, life seems perfect at the Overlook Hotel; everything that Jack Nicholson’s [character] Jack Torrance ever wanted. Here, he’s a caretaker. He’s afforded the time to write his novel. And he has his adoring, beautiful wife and this very unusual young son, Danny, who followed him up. It’s also a very stylish look at showing us that the hotel is haunted before we ever see any ghosts or spirits. Though the hotel appears to be empty, obviously it’s anything but. What I also love about the film is that, I’m sure when it came out, it was sold mostly as a terrifying story, but it isn’t really that frightening in terms of … jump cuts and lots of gore. Even Stephen King, the author of the source material that Kubrick adapted, didn’t find the film scary. For me, it’s the combination of that steady cam following Danny down the hallways, the elevator doors that open with that slow waterfall of blood and then, of course, the final reveal. It’s generational familial trauma, and that influences Antlers.
Something more recent would be Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games, which is a very provocative look into the agony of a bourgeois family that’s held captive at their vacation home. You have this unspeakable physical and psychological torture that’s playing out onscreen that makes it also terrifying. It’s terrifying because it’s so real and because of how Haneke interrupts the action to address the audience, highlighting how cinema kind of stokes our appetite for the heinous. In essence, we the viewers are implicated in these atrocities that are taking place onscreen. That’s more terrifying than anything, and he understood that.