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There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007

Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2008) may not seek to challenge boundaries of genre, but expresses its tale in ways that elicit fright. Marked as a period drama, the film explores the life of Daniel Plainview and his adopted son as he grows his oil empire in early twentieth century California, making an enemy of local preacher Eli.

Genre not only concerns what a film is but the feelings it provokes; its essence may not adhere to tropes of horror but by instilling a sense of doom in other ways it may be defined by the term. There Will Be Blood does so affectively by incorporating familiar horror motifs, such as an ominous soundtrack and drawn out sequences, to introduce the drama-based plot. It is impressive in the fear it is capable of instilling, both in the daylight and in pitch black. Every sense is exhibited at extremes; both ceaseless sound and deadly silence induce terror, as do garishly light shots alongside absolute blackness and viscous oil fighting with fire. The thick ooze that covers Plainview in one sequence as a horrifying cloak is his fortune as well as his downfall. Sinister are his dreams of riches when seen from the backdrop of a desert ablaze.

Perhaps most frightening of all is the pure menace and violence of the American Dream brought to light; the failings of the ideology and to all exposed to greed disguised as freedom may not provoke a jump scare, but linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled. The lack of classic horror tropes is not felt in the twisted heretical behaviour in There Will Be Blood. Through this storyline also involving Eli’s climb up the clerical ladder, ideas of the supernatural permeate an already dangerous environment and further unhinge the community.

This area of dramatic horror is something that can be found in other films since its release, notably in the work of Ari Aster who, no matter his intentions for a film, ends up with a horror product. Perhaps indicative of the era we live in, no longer are unknown killers and otherworldly monsters the subject of terror. Instead it is familiar villains who truly threaten our sense of equilibrium daily. The lack of respite from dread in There Will Be Blood accumulates without release, ensuring a stressful and therefore immersive experience. With the “monsters” of this tale also being terrorised there is little room for escape or sympathy, freezing any chance of emotional connection, further alienating the audience and supporting the gruesome imagery that taints the beautiful landscape. In this way the film feels orchestral, and truly a modern nightmare.


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