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Prestige as Trash: Art Horror’s Identity Crisis

June 16, 2017

Prestige horror films are more acclaimed than ever, so why aren’t audiences responding?

Thanks to films such as It Follows, The Babadook, and The Witch, prestige horror (also known as art-horror) are experiencing a critical and cultural resurgence. Often maligned as a genre reserved for cheap thrills and trashy fun, horror films are now being included in prestigious film festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, and Tribeca and are being included on several top critics’ year-end lists. It’s safe to say horror is having a moment in pop culture. So why aren’t mainstream audiences responding the same way film buffs and critics are? Vulture thinks the answer is simple: it has to do with their marketing.

Take a look at the trailer for The Babadook. The trailer presents the film as an unrelenting thrill ride with non-stop scares, when in reality it’s a slow burn meditation on grief and childhood mental illness. While the film was moderately successful at the box office, and is still very much a part of the public conscious, audiences still felt miffed by the misleading marketing. It Follows, The Witch, and the recent horror release It Comes At Night all suffered from similar audience backlash: viewers were simply expecting something different than what they got.

It’s easy to understand why studios and distributors want to present their art-horror films this way: audiences are more likely to respond. However, since the genre’s boom in 2014 it’s becoming more and more apparent that mainstream audiences are seeing through the gambit (It Comes At Night just debuted at number 6 with a D CinemaScore at the box office despite a wide release and critical praise). Brands should take note: don’t oversell your product in a brazen attempt to reach a wider audience. Each of the above films are (in my opinion) fantastic, just not in the way that their studios and distributors want to pass them off as. Vulture mentions recent prestige horror success stories Split and Get Out as examples of marketing done right: they accurately represent what the viewing experience is like for the audience. When marketing a product, brands need to follow suit: be honest about the product and audiences will respond. If a product is good, it’ll sell itself on its merits. No need to build it up to something that it’s not.

Jack Nester is a Social Media Coordinator at Bond Moroch and watches entirely too many movies.