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From “Signs” to Jordan Peele’s “Nope”: 20 Years of Horror & Spectacle
Panic Room , The Ring and Signs — what do they have in common? Most movie lovers will cite all of them as successful horror movies. Even if you haven’t watched them, they’re all classics — part of the pop culture fabric and the storied history of the horror genre. Another commonality? All three films came out in 2002.
Clearly, the early 2000s marked something of a horror renaissance. It’s not every year three genre classics hit the silver screen, after all. Now, 20 years later, we’re seeing another boom. More than ever, horror movies are blending mainstream appeal and artistic merit. We’re thinking of films like The Witch (2015), Get Out (2017), Hereditary (2018), Us (2019) and Midsommar (2019). And franchises, like The Conjuring cinematic universe and The Purge series, have also made distinct marks.
Jordan Peele’s latest film, Nope , is continuing this momentum . Banking $20 million on its first Friday in theaters, Nope will likely make around $45 million in the U.S. and Canada over its opening weekend. As Deadline points out, “That’s the best domestic debut for an original screenplay since Peele’s own Us ,” which garnered a whopping $71.1 million.
Clearly, we like the adrenaline rush and inventiveness that come along with horror movies — but is there a reason the early 2000s were such a successful time for the genre? And, perhaps more importantly, why are we seeing such a horror boom now?
What Was Different About Horror Movies in the Early 2000s?
For viewers whose idea of horror was limited to old black-and-white monster movies, the latest Stephen King adaptation , or a slasher from the ‘70s or ‘80s, the early 2000s expanded their view of the genre. For example, the plot of David Fincher’s Panic Room looks a lot like a thriller. Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart’s characters move into a new home — it’s massive, complete with a panic room, as the title suggests — and the mother-daughter duo find themselves the victims of a violent break-in.
Panic Room , at its core, is still pure horror, too. Sure, it trades monsters, demon possessions and pyrokinesis for some careless-yet-formidable intruders (played by Forest Whitaker and Jared Leto). But that’s what makes it so frightening, so tense. It’s something that could actually happen to you — it’s more likely than a poltergeist or a killer who shanks you in your dreams.
Much of the film’s tension derives from the cat-and-mouse of it all. Once Stewart and Foster’s characters are locked safely in the titular safe room, though, a new problem emerges. While Whitaker and Leto try to break into the supposedly impenetrable room (or lure our protagonists out), Foster needs to sneak out to secure her diabetic daughter’s insulin. The way this scenario is so possible is what makes it a modern classic of the genre.
Of course, Panic Room wasn’t the only movie to help shift things. As mentioned earlier, 2002 was also the year The Ring hit theaters; a remake of a Japanese horror film, it made the mundane — a haunted video tape that gets passed around — into the killer (sort of). Signs , meanwhile, took a more measured approach to an alien invasion than, say, War of the Worlds (1953), leaning more into horror tropes than sci-fi. In grounding this extraterrestrial takeover, it made the whole concept more terrifying, for sure.
And, a few years before all of these films, there was The Blair Witch Project (1999). The scripted, found-footage-style film marketed itself as a documentary at first, using the fledgling days of reality TV and the internet to its advantage.
The point? The early 2000s reframed horror, finding new ways to reflect the anxieties of the day and showing audiences that horrifying possibilities lurked in the periphery of their own lives.
How the Genre Helps Us Cope With Real-World Terrors
Recently, we covered the rise of multiverse narratives in Hollywood , and got to the root of why genre films are often better at illustrating our cultural anxieties than straight dramas. Horror, in particular, allows for some element of the unreal or the improbable to be taken as fact. In doing so, in suspending our disbelief, we can more clearly see the message. Metaphor helps us understand and empathize in ways that more literal narratives can’t.
When it comes to horror movies, the classic example is Night of the Living Dead (1968). Although the flesh-eating undead aren’t called “zombies” in the film, this zombie movie has been viewed as a critique of America’s involvement in, and actions during, the Vietnam War . It’s also an indictment of the media and government agencies, especially during times of crisis. In her book Film, Horror, and the Body Fantastic , Linda Badley, a film historian, notes that what really works about Night of the Living Dead is that the monsters aren’t creatures from outer-space or some supernatural space — “They’re us.”
Undeniably, the early 2000s in the United States were shaped by the September 11th attacks. It’s not surprising, then, that superhero movies took off as a response to the events of 9/11 . Super-powered heroes, after all, can protect us from the unexpected and save the day against the odds. But why did horror have such a moment?
Maybe it’s tied, somewhat, into that uncertainty. Going to work and school didn’t necessarily feel risk-free anymore; people were shaken to their cores. It was hard to feel safe. A lot of these horror films from the early 2000s touch on that sense of feeling unsafe, an underlying anxiety that so many people were feeling at the time, even if it wasn’t front of mind.
In The Ring , Signs and Panic Room , the characters aren’t playing with ouija boards, attending haunted summer camps or summoning demons. They’re living their lives — and the horrors sneak up on them. Something as innocuous as a VHS tape can hold terrors. You could have your birthday party — and then your whole life — upended by the sudden appearance of the unexpected. Even your home might not be safe. Horror movies offer us both a chance to see ourselves reflected and a chance to escape.
First, escapism. Sure, these films tap into the fears we have, but they’re also not illustrating the exact thing that’s scaring us. The feelings might be the same, but the circumstances are vastly different. That makes it easier to digest, to think about it.
Not to mention, there’s some sense of thrill that comes with watching what characters in a horror movie do, and then critiquing them for it. For example, we all know that horror movie characters should never investigate that strange noise in the basement. The tropes are familiar, comfortable even, because we know something’s going to go awry.
As for seeing ourselves reflected in horror? Well, we can judge the characters for the actions they take — and believe that, if confronted with the uncertain (or the scary) we’d do things differently. In films like Signs , the protagonists keep trying to find rational explanations for the crop circles and other strange goings ons. Eventually, though, they have to expect the truth; it really is the unexplainable, the thing they fear most.
Plus, on the whole, horror movies usually end with the protagonist overcoming both the uncertainty and the larger threat. We don’t always get that sense of closure or control in real life. But even just knowing that the characters will overcome the threats is comforting. And a bit cathartic.
Jordan Peele’s Nope and the Spectacle of Horror Movies
The opening shot of Jordan Peele’s Nope probably isn’t what you expect. We see empty rows of chairs in what should be a full studio audience. “Applause” signs blink overhead. Later, we learn about how this opening moment of a sitcom-turned-tragedy ties into one of the film’s central characters, Ricky “Jupe” Park ( Steven Yeun ).
Jupe is a former child star whose Wild West-themed amusement park neighbors the Haywood Hollywood Horse Ranch — the family home and business of our protagonists, siblings O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer). “What if I told you that today you’ll leave here different,” Jupe says to an audience of eager amusement park onlookers. “Right here, you are going to witness an absolute spectacle.”
And this UFO movie is all about spectacle — about trying to understand something you can’t quite explain by capturing it (on film). In a way, it’s all pretty meta. But that’s exactly what makes horror movies — and movies at large — resonate so much. They provide a spectacle that we can graft our feelings onto and that, in turn, can help us make sense of things or weather the real-world horrors we’re shouldering.
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Ghosts of cité soleil.
Dir. Asger Leth Denmark / USA 85 min Not Rated
Haitian / English / French
A devastating portrait of an impoverished society in the throes of chaos, Danish filmmaker Asger Leth’s GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL is documentary-making at its most eye-opening. Set against the 2004 Haitian coup d’état, the film follows two brothers, 2Pac and Bily, gang leaders with opposing views on the future of their country. As though day-to-day life in the world’s most dangerous slum isn’t dramatic enough, Leth also captures the personal tension that arises as both brothers fall for the same female relief worker. An engrossing, unsettling film, featuring original music by executive producer Wyclef Jean.
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Ghosts of Cité Soleil
Documents the violent lives of gang leaders in Haiti's worst slum, focusing on two brothers loyal to then-President Aristide. Documents the violent lives of gang leaders in Haiti's worst slum, focusing on two brothers loyal to then-President Aristide. Documents the violent lives of gang leaders in Haiti's worst slum, focusing on two brothers loyal to then-President Aristide.
- Milos Loncarevic
- Winson '2Pac' Jean
- Wyclef Jean
- James 'Bily' Petit Frère
- 19 User reviews
- 33 Critic reviews
- 64 Metascore
- See more at IMDbPro
- 2 wins & 4 nominations
- All cast & crew
- Production, box office & more at IMDbPro
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User reviews 19
- Jul 15, 2023
- Did Wyclef support the death squads that invaded Haiti in 2004?
- May 3, 2007 (Denmark)
- United States
- Official site
- Helvetet i paradiset
- Independent Pictures (II)
- Nordisk Film
- Sak Pasé Films
- See more company credits at IMDbPro
- Jul 1, 2007
- Runtime 1 hour 25 minutes
- Dolby Digital
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Currently you are able to watch "Ghosts of Cité Soleil" streaming on Netflix, Netflix basic with Ads. It is also possible to buy "Ghosts of Cité Soleil" on Apple TV, Google Play Movies, YouTubeas download or rent it on Apple TV, Google Play Movies, YouTubeonline.
In the slum of Cité Soleil, President Aristide's most loyal supporters were ruling as kings. The five major gang leaders were controlling heavily armed young men; the Chiméres. The Secret army of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "Ghosts of Cité Soleil" is a film about Billy and Haitian 2pac. Two brothers. Gang Leaders of the Chiméres.
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An epic portrait of a family and a culture torn apart by poverty and violence, GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL is a powerful and unsettling documentary that takes us inside the lives of the notorious gang leaders who dominate the Haitian slum of Cite Soleil, one of the most desperate communities in the Western hemisphere. Set to a score by Wyclef Jean, who also executive produced the film and serves as an inspiration to the young men of Haiti, the film follows two of the gang leaders, who happen to be brothers, and are also aspiring rappers. The foot soldiers of these gang leaders are known as chimeres ("ghosts") and it was those ghosts whom former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is said to have employed to silence his opponents. Filmed in the months leading up to Aristide's overthrow in 2004, the film captures the smoldering tensions between the two rival gang leaders, and their love for the same woman, set in a city the United Nations has declared the most dangerous place on Earth.
- Aspect Ratio : 1.85:1
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : Unrated (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches; 2.4 Ounces
- Director : Asger Leth
- Media Format : NTSC
- Run time : 1 hour and 25 minutes
- Release date : May 10, 2006
- Actors : Winson Jean, Wyclef Jean, James 'Bily' Petit Frere, Eleonore 'Lele' Senlis
- Subtitles: : English
- Language : Unqualified
- Studio : Image/Thinkfilms
- ASIN : B000TLMWNI
- Number of discs : 1
- #5,801 in Documentary (Movies & TV)
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Ghosts of Cité Soleil
2006, Documentary/Action, 1h 28m
What to know
Asger Leth risked his life to bring audiences this rare and gritty glimpse at Haitian gangs, poverty and politics. Read critic reviews
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This brutal and shocking documentary delves into the gang activity in Cité Soleil, an extremely impoverished and densely populated neighborhood in Haiti's Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. The film focuses on two brothers, 2Pac and Bily, leaders of rival gangs whose blood ties may not be enough to keep their relationship from degenerating into violence. The brothers' feelings towards each other are further complicated by their involvement with a French relief worker named Lele.
Genre: Documentary, Action, Drama
Original Language: English
Director: Asger Leth
Producer: Mikael Rieks , Tomas Radoor , Seth Kanegis
Writer: Asger Leth
Release Date (Theaters): Jun 27, 2007 original
Release Date (Streaming): Nov 3, 2019
Box Office (Gross USA): $48.8K
Runtime: 1h 28m
Production Co: Sunset Productions, Independent Pictures, Sak Pasé Films, Nordisk Film
Sound Mix: Dolby Digital
Cast & Crew
Winson "2Pac" Jean
James 'Bily' Petit Frère
Éleonore 'Lele' Senlis
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Critic Reviews for Ghosts of Cité Soleil
Audience reviews for ghosts of cité soleil.
Its funny how you can have all the power & somebody can come in out of nowhere & just take it from you
Extraordinary access to the documentary subjects allows a frightening world to come to life.
haunting, stunning, and as real as it gets. i had a spiritual expirience watching this film that cannot be described with words, one of the most impactful films i have ever seen. this is the sort of film that reminds people that the world is a horrible place for many who live in it. a film about fear, suffering, anxiety, and death, this is 85 of the most impactful minutes a person can expirience watching a movie. this film left me heartbroken.
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