Full disclosure… I’m a horror fanatic. I watch horrors alone, at night, and I rarely get crazy scared. It is not the scare factor that makes me love horror films, it is the unique little cosmos that most directors build around horror films and the film Rage, releasing on Showmax today, is no exception.
Rage, directed by Jaco Bouwer (from Dwaalster and Die Spreeus fame) together with a screenplay by Tertius Kapp (Griekwastad, Die Spreeus and Dis Ek, Anna), is a trippy, I would dare to say, “classic horror” set in South Africa. The official synopsis as follows:
“In the film Rage, Showmax’s first Original horror movie, a group of school-leavers descend on a tiny coastal town for a celebration of their freedom. Roxy, Sihle, Kyle, Leon, Tamsyn and Neo party on the beach and drink themselves silly every night. The townsfolk, Hermien and her son Albert, are welcoming – too welcoming. To make matters even weirder, the 70-something Hermien is highly pregnant. On a psychedelic trip on the beach, the friends witness a disturbing birth ritual, which could be a hallucination, or not. Soon fertility figurines start to appear at random places and what is supposed to be the best holiday of their lives turns to horror as the teenagers are picked off one by one…”
Why ‘classic horror’?
As most research on horror films will tell you, the genre is all about intimacy and the overwhelming feeling that escape is not an option. Older horror films rely heavily on jump scares and gore to keep audiences at the edge of their seats, while as of late these films have taken another direction.
Recent horror films such as Get Out and Hereditary opened up, quite controversially, the genre to a new direction called ‘elevated horror’; described as a horror film that offers more than a few jump scares. In a insightful Vanity Fair article, published in December 2019, the author argues that even though these films do seem like they are breaking new ground within the genre, they are still true to the basic make-up of a good horror film; “a collective release of alienating emotions like dread, anxiety, and rage”
Matt Donato, from atom, solidifies this idea by arguing that these films from the illogically named ‘elevated horror’ genre has somehow made it okay for movie-goers to say that they have watched a horror movie. While people in the early 2000s would have shied away from admitting that they watched films such as Paranormal Activity. He suggests rather sticking to classifications such as indie or art-house horror to describe the experimental horror films as of late.
So why am I mentioning this? Not just because I am kind of obsessed with the genre and have been actively researching its very substance for years, but because I think as of late the lines between genres have started to blur. As Darren Aronofsky stated, in a 2018 Vulture article, his brilliant film Mother!, which I would definitely classify as horror, would be sectioned as both thriller and horror. This is by no means a new concept, with filmmakers rather opting for classifications such as thriller or drama to avoid the “horror-adverse” masses; think Silence of the Lambs and Fatal Attraction.
Rage is advertised as Showmax’s first original horror film, and it is exactly that, and I think that is very bold for reasons stated above. The film has jump scares, intimacy, gore, that sense of claustrophobia, mythos and no means of escape. It is unapologetically horror, and even though my first reaction to the film was that it is a Get Out with white people, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it actually mimics The Hills Have Eyes more.
So, would I recommend it?
The mythology created in and around the film is nothing new – a harvest celebration found in several cultures across the globe requiring a sacrifice for the fertility of the crops and soil. The South African setting does make for a very interesting background and the “woke” characterisations work well within the context. I do question the use of white and Western concepts when it comes to the creation of the mythology, especially in a milieu where African and black traditions and concepts abound and where similar narratives can be found.
This does not mean that the film is not unique. I haven’t seen anything quite like it on the South African film scene and it was thrilling to watch. The film is also beautifully shot and the cinematography is gorgeous. If you are a horror fan, you’ll delight in the scares and well-known horror tropes. If you are not a horror fan, I think it might be difficult to watch.
I also have to commend the characterisation. Often in horror, the characters can seem like caricatures and because this is so unseen in the South African reality, and like I mentioned they are quite ‘woke’, it is interesting to watch and they do engage you. There are a few loose ties in the end, but I think it works in the context and is actually a cool South African homage to an established genre. And, of course, a sly little wink to the annual school-leavers’ Rage in coastal towns across the country.
Click here to watch now. Trailer below: