I want to make something clear: “Horror,” as a genre, does not necessitate joylessness. Directors who don’t discern this tend to produce movies that some critics have labeled “torture porn,” the type of films that mistake suffering for character development. Still, I admit to being intrigued when I first heard about a movie from C.A. Cooper called The Snare: Three people find themselves trapped on the top floor of an empty, off-season vacation retreat, subject to the whims of a malevolent spirit, à la The Shining. Cooper shot the film in sequential order, forcing his actors to live in the apartment and method act their way to starvation and desperation. He essentially documented their physical and mental decay, while they acted out the story. I wondered, “Is it possible for a movie made this way to be anything other than a punishing, unedifying watch?” Based on this evidence: No, it’s probably not.
In the opening scene, Alice (Eaoifa Forward) hurriedly covers her naked body with a towel when her crotchety father (Stuart Nurse) barges in to question her about the road trip she’s planned with friends. His comfortable nature around his adult daughter’s nudity, and the silent anguish on her face, were all I needed to know that, yet again, the heroine of a horror film is recovering from sexual trauma, this time perpetrated by her creepy dad. Even after this plot contrivance is clear to the audience, Cooper unnecessarily drives it home, with the father saying she looks too much like her dead mother.
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Then Alice joins her friend Lizzy (Rachel Warren) and Lizzy’s boyfriend, Carl (Dan Paton), to drive up to a secluded oceanside resort for a party. Carl’s quickly playing juvenile “would you rather” games, where one of the options is fellating one’s father. Alice, of course, looks stunned and horrified. This marks the second instance in the first 10 minutes of the film in which the director winks at incest; he underestimates how quickly an audience can pick up on these sexual-violence storylines, especially considering they’ve already been done to death.
Alice is a jittery outcast. At the resort, she endures Carl’s lewd remarks and stares at the couple as they kiss. When the elevator goes out, the trio is stuck on one of the top floors with no way down. As hours become days and then weeks, they begin turning on one another when it seems a malevolent spirit might be dooming them by infesting their food with maggots and cutting off their water source. Alice then has a series of terrible, nonsensical visions, such as a bunch of children in the woods and an ugly old woman — male directors often seem to find a particular horror in the bodies of aging women.
Eventually, after a flashback of Alice’s earlier sexual assault, both she and Lizzy are raped. And Cooper misguidedly attempts a hyper-realistic depiction of all this suffering. Simply put, these scenes signal the director’s misunderstanding of the psychology of horror films. Back in 1994, a trio of scientists — Haidt, McCauley and Rozin — discovered that people like horror films more when they know and feel that the movies are not real. Watching two women get brutally raped isn’t enjoyable for a horror fan. It does lead me to believe Cooper may be working in a separate genre altogether, one that diminishes the art and magic of horror.