By Arturo Sanchez
It’s been no question that Hollywood has always commented on social issues, in subtle and not so subtle ways. Films have given us the opportunity to talk about what makes us uncomfortable and gives us the space to expand those ideas into society. Class conflict and wealth have always been a problem, but the tension has risen with the current times and politics after America voted one of the country’s richest businessmen into its highest leading position.
Horror films have had these issues on lock from the very get-go, but the spur on recent films and, even a recent Best Picture Academy Award winner (Parasite), have not shied away on commentary on class warfare of taking down the 1%. Many stories have an “eat the rich” themed message, a popular saying originated by Genevan writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau that has carried its symbolism hundreds of years into the digital age, where class struggle is being emphasized more than ever.
Many horror films of the past decade and of recent have shown us the class struggles characters endure and how they affect them. Ready or Not, Us, You’re Next, and The Purge franchise have done their part in emphasizing the rich’s villainy and exemplified why they’re some of horror’s best monsters.
Ready or Not
A wild and entertaining horror-comedy of 2019 directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett not only capitalized on making the rich villains in 2019 but portrayed them as a demon-worshipping cult. The film is the story of a newly bride Grace (Samara Weaving), who has just married her husband Alex, while also marrying into the rich Le Domas family. Their wealth has been attributed to a great family member who made a deal with a certain salesman, Mr. Le Bail, centuries ago (a demon or devil) that allowed them to gain the legacy of having a game industry.
From their history, the Le Domas family has a tradition that every time a family member gets married, the newlyweds must play a game as a part of the deal originally made. It’s mentioned that some games are harmless, but unfortunately Grace does not get that from the deciding game box. Her game chosen for her is hide-n-seek.
The Le Domas family must kill her to continue living and keep their wealth if not, they die. The film pursues Grace playing the cat-and-mouse game during the night in this mansion as she tries to survive from the crazed clan. The film likes to play with the idea that the Le Domases are truly insane, or if they’re telling the complete truth. The audience gets its confirmation in the conclusion and climax of the story.
This film does right by portraying its rich family, one that enjoys their gluttony. They never feel like characters that are overdrawn or unrealistic but are understandably eaten up by their wealth. The father of the family keeps its family in order, which is led like many very rich American families. These family members endure their privilege in society going after to protect their money without any costs.
Their benefits are too much too worth losing, even for Alex Le Domas, Grace’s newlywed, who decides to turn on his wife, whom he got in this mess to begin with. The family follows this idea of the pact without even knowing if it’s completely true. They buy into the idea that a devil exists without proof to maintain power. When privilege is threatened, the 1% do anything to protect it. It makes these ideas mirror the concept many believe of the 1% following self-interests, while stepping on those who are the crossfire. Grace is that crossfire, yet she ultimately wins.
It’s really a class collusion between the Le Domases and Grace who even echoes something as she is terrorized in one scene of the film, “F****** Rich People.” It feels like a representation of those who are underprivileged and have been taken advantage of.
You’re Next comes from director Adam Winward, and in the same case along Ready or Not deals with terrible boyfriends and their horrible rich families. Our protagonist, Erin (Sharni Vinson), is coming home to a reunion with her boyfriend Crispian at their vacation home. As soon as dinner arrives, a group of assailants with animal masks begin picking off the family one-by-one in no so fun and gruesome ways.
As the night begins to unfold, family drama and secrets are revealed. Unbeknownst, Erin has trained as a survivalist, killing each assailant as they play their own game of cat-and-mouse. The assailants revealed to be hired by one of the family’s younger brothers Felix and his wife Zee to gain entrance to the entire family’s inheritance. Unsurprisingly, Crispian has also been in on the whole idea the entire time, willing to kill his girlfriend. Thus, another tale of wealth being the only thing at stake here.
You’re Next is a well-crafted mix of a slasher and home-invasion film wrapped in a pretty tale of privilege. It’s not only a homage to the genre, but it cleverly knows how to make great surprises with some bloody twists. Although, instead of the whole family being in on it for money, it seems two greedy brothers try to take prey upon what they already have. Although, the audience can denote that most of the family enjoys their wealth based on their mannerisms and pride as each arrives at the mansion. It seems like something that resembles real-life murder case with Menendez brothers, who murdered rich mom and dad for the same reason.
In this 1% tale, Erin is envisioned as an outsider, who was left to fend for herself, who’s also caught on the crossfire. Erin is our eyes and ears to the audience and is left as confused to see the result that wealth has caught up to the family. The film is extremely straightforward as it not only builds tension but is effective in the gory kills. The most satisfying part for the audience is seeing morals win over greed in this film. We not only see Erin survive the night’s ordeal, killing every attacker, but in disgust gets revenge on her boyfriend’s plans as well.
Us by new horror auteur Jordan Peele is one horror film that not only dismantles ideas of American greed, but its overall main point outlines that the U.S. is its own enemy. Us follows a family of four on a trip to Santa Cruz, where they soon meet some unusual counterparts as the night begins to ensue. This social/political horror film begins in 1986 and shows us following young Adelaide, where she encounters a doppelgänger of herself at a funhouse in Santa Cruz. As we move forward to present-day Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), and her husband Gabe, daughter Zora, and son Jason all have decided to go back to Adelaide’s childhood home.
They soon learn they each have their own doppelgängers waiting for them to not only inhibit and take back what’s there, but to physically be them. It’s learned that every American has a “tethered” that has been planning with Adelaide’s doppelgänger, Red. The government created their counterparts as an experiment to control everyone from the sewers but were forgotten. It’s also not a Jordan Peele film without a twist. The current Adelaide was actually the original doppelgänger and took the original Adelaide’s place confirming the tethered has been living the real Adelaide’s life.
The tethered killing and fighting with the original humans show us who our real enemies are, it’s us. American greed and privilege are part of that concept. The Wilson’s family friends, the Tylers, give us perspective to their infatuation with competing over material things. Peele understands the competition between Americans and their willingness to step on each other, that means killing each other to get what we want. Peele’s usage of symbolism isn’t too far off considering that during this pandemic multiple people have willingly bought clean supplies and toilet paper leaving very little for the less fortunate.
Us reveals the power of the 1% holds on America, while we continually battle with others. In comparison to Peele’s other films, Us’ message isn’t as easily bolded. It feels more a thought-provoker in its own twisted way. There’s an eeriness when one of the characters asks the tethered who they are, in response they say, “We’re Americans.” The message is unclear, but with some digging spot on. Our turmoil is provided by ourselves. Our interests disregard our country’s poverty and housing problems. The idea of reaching 1% is great and everyone wants to, but how far does one have to go to get there. There’s a difference between obtaining wealth and giving back and reaching greed to the point of no return. Peele masterfully knows how to subtly give that theme throughout this film.
The Purge (franchise)
It’s hard to not talk about the rich being villains in horror films without mentioning the Purge franchise. The Purge franchise as a whole have always found a way for us to be scared of the 1%, and in a pretty sadistic way. The Purge follows a dystopian and more frightening society than the current version of the United States that has an annual night called “The Purge.”
This annual and national holiday was created after the “New Founding Fathers” decided they wanted to help reset the country after an economic collapse, which allowed them to pass and sanction a law that allows any type of crime for 12 hours. The attribution that this would help with the country being crime-free and unemployment rates would drop. Most of the franchise follows families affected by the horrors taken place during the night and how they deal with it.
The film’s fourth film “The First Purge” explained its origins, saying it was created to get rid of the poor to better the government spending. These films see the rich as the main villain without any question. The Purge is created to misappropriate the poor, giving the ability for the rich to prey on the weak.
It’s not hard to denote the disproportionately, due to the poor not being able to afford the many advantages the rich have, that the poor and minorities do not have.
Such examples include having insurance premiums spiking before the terror ensues or having expensive security systems the middle class or poor cannot afford. These films aren’t as subtle as the other films, but do their part in commenting on the government, economy and violent crime that we have in America in an exaggerated way.
Race disparity and poverty also go hand and hand, and the government in this film goes out of their way to purposefully take minorities down. These films do a great job of showing the difference between those that are out “purging,” while showing those that are being preyed on. The white, rich Americans don’t have to worry about being in danger throughout these films because they have their security and privilege without risking their livelihood. In the first film, wealthy, white Americans hunt a black man hiding out at an upper-middle class white family home. In the second film, racial minorities are auctioned off as prey to rich, white Americans. The series is very hit-or-miss in the narrative and storytelling, but it’s commentary on our society is there. It’s not very hard to compare the film’s government and the challenges that our current government creates for lower class and poor Americans.
These are only a few from a long list of films that show that horror loves making the 1% evil onscreen and I’m pretty sure audiences love to see it.