Although it’s not to everyone’s taste, the slow-burn approach to horror is an effective way of creating suspense and instilling a sense of inescapable terror upon viewers.
As the term suggests, slow-burn films really take their time in laying out their foundations before gradually escalating the sense of threat and winding the tension. Rather than gore or jump scares, these films rely more on their atmosphere to envelope viewers within the horror. It's only when the atmosphere and tension have simmered to the boil when the flick explodes into an intense climax that audiences won't forget.
For the perfect examples of how to execute a slow-burn horror, look no further than the likes of The Wicker Man, The Witch, Midsommar, and Hereditary (or most of A24's recent horror outings)
A large part of what makes this sub-genre work is the pay-off in the final act after all of the careful build-up. However, sometimes the climax isn’t worth the wait. While the film itself may not necessarily be bad, their unsatisfying endings nevertheless left us on a disappointingly sour note.
It goes without saying that there are going to be massive spoilers ahead.
10. You Are Not My Mother (2021)
When Angela (Carolyn Bracken) suddenly reappears after being missing for a few days she acts like a completely different person on her return. Instead of being bedridden with depression, she’s cheery and active. Her behaviour is so different that her teenage daughter Char (Hazel Doupe) suspects that this isn’t her mother.
After witnessing some freakish behaviour from Angela, we learn that Char was right all along. This Angela is a changeling, and the only way to get her real mother back is to expose the imposter to fire. It’s during the final confrontation between Char and the creature where the teenager sets it alight.
Whether Angela is taken by a monster or changed by mental illness, You Are Not My Mother is about a girl who just wants her mother back. It’s disappointing, then, that the finale fails to fully address this.
Not only does Char not get to express herself emotionally in this far-too-brief climax, but the script likewise forgets all about its mental health metaphor.
After the monster is bested the real Angela returns with her depression alleviated. This suggests that mental illness can easily be overcome, consequently trivialising the pair's emotional arc.