Thursday, March 22, 2012

What is Bro Horror?

In the Devil Inside review previously posted I used the term "Bro-horror", which I realize doesn't actually exist.  But I think it should, so I should attempt to define it and explain why it's relevant to the discussion.  ...bro.

There's an interesting parallel to literature where there's a genre often referred to as "Fratire" which is defined by the use of "Frat-boy" humor and focus on binge drinking and crude sexual humor.  If you're interested go check out Tucker Max's book I hope they serve beer in hell or the film adaptation.  Tucker Max is a deplorable human being, but I'll be damned if he's not worth a laugh.

Anyway, I'm not saying that these are movies that are for bros.  This is is not defining a genre by the preconceived notions we might have about the audience.  This is applying the stereotype to the material directly.

The stereotype I'm working with here is the college guy who calls all his friends "Bro".  He loves his sports, wears polo shirts with popped collars and sandals.  The guys with hopelessly superficial adherence to 80's macho attitudes, just mixed with the surfer stereotype's laid back but stubborn refusal to let anything get them down.  This is the stereotype the internet loves to make fun of when we imagine people saying "Dude, that was a brotastrophy, bro" or "Broseidon, king of the Brocean".  An absolute caricature.
Meet Chet and JR*

 How does that apply to horror movies?

The core engagement of a horror movie is to be scared, to be made uncomfortable by something.  A good horror movie has to offer you something to identify with and emotionally invest in so that you can experience fear of something.  There a lot of ways a movie can do that, but they all depend on you being involved in the story so that you're emotionally open and can feel the fear.

Paranomal Activity 1 & 3 are great at this.  They create characters you can identify with, and place them in a situation where they're helpless and don't understand what's happening to them.  The handheld camera style helps you buy into the realism of the story and suspend your disbelief so that you can share those feelings with the characters.  Other movies like Insidious unsettle you: They create situations and scenes in which what you are seeing does not make sense.  They're familiar, but not right at the same time, and then they give you a payoff by throwing something in your face and startling you, but not every time.

All this only works if you're invested.  In the case of Paranormal Activity if you don't care about what's happening you're bored, and in Insidious you're annoyed.

Now, what about this bro-horror thing?

Part of the stereotype we're working with is a superficially macho refusal to expose "tender" emotions, like fear.  Simply put: Bro, you can't be scared, that's just a movie, bro.

Bro-horror is a horror movie that at some level is mocking the idea of being scared of a movie.  When I first said bro-horror in the other review I was talking about Stay Alive, which I admitted was a movie I really liked.  However, the movie itself didn't think anyone watching it should be afraid of what it was showing us.  It felt more like the movie was making fun of the idea that a video game could be killing people, and that it would be ludicrous for someone to be afraid of that.

Another aspect of bro-horror is schadenfreude, a German word meaning pleasure derived from another's misfortune.  Slashers have always had an element of moral judgment, where the killer tends to first go after characters that display "immoral" behavior, but in the modern crop of these movies that's the entire point.  You don't want to see anyone live because they're all terrible people. In I Know What You Did Last Summer, they got drunk and ran over a guy who then just got revenge killings.  This creates an effect where instead of feeling horror at the death of other people, you watch the movie in order to see them die.  When they die, instead of feeling the death had an impact you turn to friend and say "Aaaawww, DUUUDE!  Look at that, bro!".

Often the kills are so over-the-top they're funny.  They've taken the most superficial trappings of horror movies and draped them over top of usually a pretty dull premise, just for the purpose of doing a movie where you find creative ways to kill off the cast and have the audience enjoy it in a really similar way to watching stuff explode in action movies.

Quit harshing my buzz, bro.

I just wanted to define an interesting phenomenon, not say these movies are bad.  A bad bro-horror movie is that because it's a bad movie.  There are movies I would say are bro-horror that I really enjoy, they've succeeded as movies.  They're not scary or unsettling, so they're not really horror, but they are entertaining.  I liked Stay Alive, Cabin Fever (even though it's really strange), Jason X, The Final Destination series, and other things along these lines.  I even somewhat enjoyed the Friday the 13th remake.

Some of these are good movies, but they're not horror.  They don't quite fit anywhere else, but they should have their own distinction.


* image taken out of context from: Please don't sue me, Scott.