Last year, I posted a rather negative takedown of Blumhouse Productions, in which I bemoaned their lack of ingenuity in the name of box office riches and likened this formula to that of modern-day superhero movies, specifically those of Marvel Studios.
Monotony was my main sticking point: their products (a deliberately-corporate descriptive word) seemed to be stuck in a perpetual rut of visually stylish directors teamed with uniformly talented (and often criminally forgotten) performers far overmatched for the increasingly derivative supernatural tales overly reliant on cheap jump scares forced upon them. In the piece, I suggested Blumhouse change up their formula by retaining the top-notch casts and visionary directors, while actually granting the latter free reign to express their voices unrestrained by the restrictive shackles of the same basic storylines. In short: keep the profitable micro-budget commercial formula, but mix up the artistic formula by, you know, trusting the artists.
Well, I now owe Blumhouse an apology because they listened (except not really, because obviously these movies were green-lit well before my piece, and OBVIOUSLY the studio doesn’t read my writing…but a boy can dream). This year, Blumhouse has almost exclusively churned out movies that not only featured, but in fact revolved around wholly original ideas from outside-the-Hollywood-box screenwriters. While they all adhere to Blumhouse’s commercial formula of signature frugal budgets (which in no way seemed to compromise the scope of their projects at all), their artistic formulas are so altered that none can be considered traditional horror.
M. Night Shyamalan’s’ Split and Jordan Peele’s Get Out presented their unadulterated and thus unconventional visions. James Gunn may not have directed The Belko Experiment – probably because he was too busy in, coincidentally enough, the Marvel Universe thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – but his distinct imprint is all over this Saw-meets-Lord-of-the-Flies redux. And with Sleight, Blumhouse provided a platform for J.D. Dillard, an up-and-coming young writer/director who heightened a typical coming-of-age tale with inventive uses of magical horror (I admittedly did not see Blumhouse’s non-horror offerings in 2017, which include The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, Lowriders, and Birth of a Dragon).
In addition to how vividly the individual, highly differentiated voices of these writers comes through in each of the movies, they share perhaps an even more important attribute: they all made money. The Belko Experiment and Sleight both grossed more than their budgets, while Split and Get Out are two of the most profitable cinematic ventures of the year. Perhaps I’m naive, but I don’t think these two similarities that connect the four flicks are unrelated. It may not be a casual relationship, but novelty has been proven to sell on many occasions (usually if it’s packaged correctly. And to Blumhouse’s credit, the company knows how to market and advertise). Audiences will always want something new, even if they’ll pay for old-hat again and again.
Unfortunately, it looks like Blumhouse will be donning an old hat again in 2018, with “new” entries in the Purge, Insidious, and Halloween franchises on the docket. I never write-off movies out of hand, but I think I’m allowed to feel a little disappointment that Blumhouse doesn’t seem to be continuing their brand of 2017 success.
So I guess this is a kind of apology; my first Blumhouse piece may not have foreseen their brilliance this year, but it might become relevant again in just a few months.
Here’s to hoping Blumhouse will prove me wrong yet again, and that I’ll need to post a full-throated apology in the very near future…