Stephen King, the contemporary father of horror and science fiction, has an interesting theory about why we enjoy watching horror movies: “I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside of the asylums only hide it a little better.” Psychologists and social scientists have analyzed and theorized endlessly about the pleasure we get from watching something completely unpleasant. Their answers vary widely, but almost all are in agreement that it’s not logic which draws us in, it’s emotion.
“Horror movies are often frowned upon and disregarded as out of hand,” filmmaker Erlingur Thoroddsen says. Erlingur’s debut feature film ‘Child Eater’ premiered late last year at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, before a theatrical run here at Bíó Paradís. “When I was talking about ‘Child Eater’ last fall, I would say that 85% of the press I talked to gave me a variation of ‘this sounds super cool, but I’m not going to see it because I don’t like horror films,’” Erlingur says. “I guess that’s also an inescapable part of its charm—the horror film shouldn’t be for everyone, it should rattle people and push their buttons.”
Laugh, Scream, Repeat
On February 4, only one season after ‘Child Eater,’ Erlingur’s second feature-length film, ‘Rökkur’ (“Rift”), makes its world premier at the Göteborg International Film Festival. ‘Rökkur’ departs from the roller-coaster ride of ‘Child Eater:’ scream, laugh, tense. It’s the story of two men—Gunnar and Einar—broken up, reflecting on a dead relationship in a secluded cabin. It’s more psychological thriller than classical horror, centered on themes like relationships, memory, and “the feeling of letting go and then regretting it, even if it was the right thing to do,” Erlingur explains, hinting at a personal rift he was experiencing during the time of writing.
“When I was writing the film, I kind of never really thought it was going to happen. That allowed me to take a lot more risks and do some weird stuff in the script, because in the back of my head I was like, ‘This is never going to be filmed anyways,’” Erlingur says. It happened. The first draft of ‘Rökkur’ was finished in December 2015 and they were shooting by March the following year. The film was shot in fifteen days.
Some risks are more blatant than others. “I am very conscious of the fact that this is the first Icelandic film to seriously tackle a gay relationship between two adult men,” Erlingur says. “We haven’t seen a serious depiction of an adult gay relationship, which I find very interesting if only for the fact that Iceland considers itself a pioneer when it comes to LGBT rights issues.”
According to King’s theory, our emotions and fears form their own body which must be exercised. Erlingur’s films will work you out. “Sometimes it’s that roller-coaster ride feeling, sometimes it’s the pure awe of seeing what someone’s imagination can conjure, sometime’s it’s being forced to deal with disturbing aspects that have been dramatized and maybe fantasized, but still resonate on some basic level…” Erlingur says, on why he enjoys watching horror, and why he creates it himself: “The overall effect you want from any film is to have it move or touch you in some way. Anything but indifference.”