With the premiere of 'The Hunger Games' teaser trailer at the MTV VMA's, the Young Adult book phenomenon is now officially pushing over to mainstream movie audiences as the hype for the film's March 2012 release kicks into gear.
But why should horror fans care?
Plenty of observers to this latest pop culture phenom, including a good number of horror fans, have been pretty dismissive and resistant to drinking The Hunger Games Kool-Aid for plenty of reasons. Some say it's too mainstream and not cult enough to be worthy of attention. Others point to the fact that they're Young Adult books so they can't be horrific enough to please. But perhaps the most potent turn-off is the perception that the trilogy seems way too similar to the ooey gooey Twilight books/movies.
We here at FEARnet have read the trilogy and monitored the subsequent casting and summer long shooting of the Gary Ross directed film starring Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class) as heroine Katniss Everdeen. While we know the PG-13 movie isn't getting the R-rated adaptation that would make it a more literal translation from book-to-screen, we still think it is going to be worth horror aficionado's time and attention come next March and we've got five specific reasons why. [minor spoilers for the book and film ahead]
The Games Are Children Killing Children; That's Dark
In case you don't know, The Hunger Games book sets up a future North America, now named Panem, where the country is broken up into Districts numbered one through 12. The omnipotent Capitol rules over the Districts with an iron will and maintains their submission through an annual event called The Hunger Games. Each year, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are randomly selected to fight one another inside a constructed arena on television (like a reality show) to the death with only one winner. The games serve as punishment for a quarter century ago uprising and keeps the citizens of Panem forever in line.
Yes, it's a concept similar to the manga Battle Royale mixed with shades of Stephen King's The Running Man, but it's not as nihilistic as the former nor as snarky as the later. Novelist Suzanne Collins creates a very distinct take on what could have been a derivative rehash. But even more surprising, and attractive to horror fans, is that Collins doesn't shy away from the descriptive, and at times, wickedly creative brutality of kids whacking one another to death.
The books feature some serious gore, exacerbated by the fact that it's children on the giving and receiving end of the violence. The good news is that Collins adapted her own book to screenplay (after an initial pass by writer Billy Ray) so even if the movie can't show the detail of a kill described in the book, she's going to be creative in keeping those deaths intact because that violence is core to her thematic exploration of the decimation of war on the body and the psyche. And as we all know, sometimes having to be more creative means the outcome can be more horrific than witnessing the act itself.
Every great story needs the right environment and The Hunger Games has that in spades with the Arena. Created by the Game Makers of the Capitol, each annual game has a unique Arena crafted to enclose the participants, or Tributes, in a landscape that provides few comforts, sparse resources and a plethora of diabolical booby traps including fire, horrible creatures and insects, poison, etc… Basically, if you're fellow Tributes don't get you, then the Arena's been rigged to shorten your odds of survival even more. It's like the ultimate evil haunted house with something horrible for certain around every corner so the tension is always ratcheting up around 11. Every second in the Arena for Katniss and her District 12 partner, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is about life or death as they battle a myriad of rivals, external surprises and unexpected bloodshed. It takes up a large section of the story (and the screenplay) creating a massive knuckle-biting, edge-of-your-seat experience which is exactly what you want from a great horror film.
Tribute Deaths Are Brutal
As mentioned, Collins doesn't shy away from descriptive kills or crafting intricate scenarios to highlight them. In the Arena, each of the Tributes meets a nasty, nasty death including (but not limited to) arrows to the jugular, evisceration, neck snapping, explosions, and even an orgy of hand-to-hand combat with sharp things. Does this sound like a tame, tween story? Hell, no! It's awful and it's going to be portrayed that way because even though some of the actors are aged up from the book's characters, this kind of violence is played for lasting impact that has repercussions through all three stories. Throwaway, mindless death that's full of empty calories seen in a lot of films isn't the goal in The Hunger Games. A lot more is at stake in this story so showcasing some specific kills will be key to the narrative and that's going to be inherently interesting to see how they're staged, executed and the impact they'll have on the audience.
All great horror stories create iconic weapons that remain indelible in the cerebral cortexes of those that read or witness them long after the story has come to an end. Without spoiling, The Hunger Games introduces in the Arena an evil little creation called Tracker Jackers. A hideous creation of the Capitol and their insidious bio-tinkering, these menaces are unleashed upon the Tributes and inflict an awful venom that messes with the recipient's mind on an apocalyptic level. Seeing how that plays out for the recipients in the film has the potential to be trippy, transformative and creatively awesome.
Donald Sutherland as President Snow
No horror film, or story for that matter, can work without an epic rival. Leatherface, Pinhead, Freddy – the adversary needs to be potent and malevolent so the protagonists and the audience are pissing their proverbial pants. In the books, the face of the Capitol's brutal regime is President Snow. Clad in white and wearing a rose in his lapel, Snow is a chilling representation of evil. Who better to bring him to life than Donald Sutherland? With his leonine face and smoky voice, Sutherland is going to make that evil bastard live large on the screen. We can't wait to see Sutherland reveal Snow's nature more and more as the film series progresses through its sequels.
What do you think? Are you a fan of The Hunger Games and think it will appeal to horror fans too? Did we miss anything that should sell the books and movie to those still on the fence? Will you give it a try now? Let us know in the comments.