Exploring 'Hoodie Horror'
and the class politics of Eden Lake
words by Eleanor Miller
“For some, the hoodie represents all that is wrong about Youth Culture in Britain today”
– David Cameron, 2006
During the late 2000s and early 2010s, British horror cinema experienced a rise in a sub-genre referred to as ‘hoodie horror’.
Typically set against the backdrop of low-income British housing estates, such films find their horror in an environment aligned with what film scholar Johnny Walker describes as the “new British ‘underclass’”, and habitually follows a secure middle-class family or couple as they are mercilessly attacked and intimidated by a group of hooded youths. Generally speaking, in terms of genre, hoodie horror is a broad collection of horror conventions taking inspiration from the thriller and supernatural whilst relying on typical subgenre tropes that belong to the survival, slasher, home invasion, and found-footage films. Yet, what is perhaps the most horrific element of these films is their depiction of working-class youths as violent, loathsome, and evil monsters who pose a threat to British higher-class life.
Many films found within the sub-genre were quickly criticised for reinforcing negative stereotypes of marginalised groups in society. Government and media campaigns against antisocial behaviour and Broken Britain indisputably assisted in the popular categorisation of a dangerous, rebellious, and violent youth as a cinematic trope, cultivating a type of moral panic that concluded with the 2011 England riots; those taking part being demonised in popular tabloid media.
Both tabloid and film consistently depicted mysterious young offenders, and the image of the hoodie became archetypal both on and off-screen. Through the exploitation of the media-invoked fear of a Broken Britain and the apparent ethical decline of Britain’s lower classes, certain audiences considered these films as realistic representations of the inherently ferocious and disorderly proletariat. Whether the image of a hoodie is politically dubious or guilelessly accurate, or, even a parody of a distorted media outlook, it appears as though British horror cinema created a new monster with the essences of the right-wing media’s portrayal of the ‘feral underclass’, and this monster takes on the form of a hooded teenager from the bottom of the British social hierarchy.
The symbolic power of a hood alongside its substantial historical and mythical connotations (the Ku Klux Klan, the Grim Reaper, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, etc.) goes some way to explaining why it became synonymous with violence and the presence of evil. The hood promotes mystery and anonymity, enabling othering through hiding the face of the wearer thus dehumanising them, even representing said wearer as some kind of subhuman creature. As a result of the possibilities offered by genre films, the feral nature of these hooded monsters is often taken in a literal sense – they are usually silent or speak in a language that is almost entirely incomprehensible, even sometimes expressing themselves solely through screeching, roaring or guttural grunting sounds.
Others remain as dark crouching figures that move quickly and slyly, jumping around like apes or even felines, often shot in the corner of the frame, in the background, and just out of focus – their humanity occasionally reinstated through close-ups of their hands gripping various weapons. Developing on the representation of youth’s as evil, devil-like being, some appear like Lucifer’s followers associated with his horns or hellfire. Hoodies are shot in close-up through the blaze caused by petrol bombs or some other form of violent attack. The flames reflect in their sunglasses as they laugh maniacally while burning victims they’ve locked-up in bins. Their own war wounds offering the impression that they can survive any similar attack, much like the devil himself.
The hoodies, being demonic or evil in their construction, can be considered as a partial cause of the general collapse of society in some form of teen-related apocalypse. Interconnecting violence and childhood, they offer a demystifying view of childhood innocence which is often increased by soundtracks featuring lullabies or popular children’s songs being hummed and mixed with other uncanny sounds. Overall, it is the feeling that adults have lost all control and authority over these troublesome youths that pervades such narratives. Early on in their lives, hoodies are usually depicted as creatures that are fueled by a killing instinct wherein they focus on the murder and harm of animals before progressing onto other human beings. They prey on strangers, but also on their neighbours and others of their own kind, especially the weak – the elderly, the children, the disabled, and women – roaming the streets on BMX bikes as they attack all manner of institutions such as schools and police departments.
James Watkins’ Eden Lake, released in late 2008, is a film most commonly associated with hoodie horror sub-genre. Taking inspiration from two of the main British cinematic traditions – social realism and horror – the film follows Jenny and Steve, a respectable, middle-class couple going away for a weekend break in the countryside. Despite the blatant warning signs that appear in the form of billboards announcing re-development plans, mothers with thick accents slapping their kids in public, and even the couple’s satnav directing them to turn around and go back at their “first opportunity”, the unsuspecting couple find themselves in a shocking nightmare. Shortly after their arrival at the scenic lake, they are attacked and terrorised by a group of violent teenagers with a vicious Rottweiler. Essentially acting as a study on the effects of lower-class parenting and results of circumstances, Eden Lake preys on middle-class fears about working class-youth, confirming them in a horrific fashion; the film (quite literally) biting into the social issue of lower-class youth representation within Britain.
Watkins claimed that the film wasn’t “an attack on a particular social group”, but adds “if you had a bunch of public school kids in blazers, it just wouldn’t be scary” (Watkins in Graham 2009). The hooded youth perpetrators of Eden Lake are unambiguously depicted as ‘lower class’ citizens through the adoption of common stereotypes such as bad manners and heavy use of slang, branded tracksuits, trainers, and, of course, the hooded clothing. Whether or not Watkins’ statement can be justified as not being an attack on a specific group, it seems safe to suggest that the hoodie horror genre utilises the already established stereotypes of the working class in order to amplify the genre-specific effects.
Whether realistic or not, violence and crime are inextricably linked to the working class in contemporary British media. Journalist Libby Brooks brought this discussion to light when writing about the film in The Guardian, claiming the film left a sour taste in her mouth because what British society has now become afraid of is no monster, or ghost but (mostly innocent) working-class children and their supposedly incompetent parents, explaining that “Eden Lake frightens audiences because feral youth (or knife crime, however you want to identify it) exist as much as truism as a trope” (Brooks, 2008). As she suggests, Eden Lake does not end at the point of Steve’s violent death but goes on to suggest that Jenny is killed – potentially even raped – by the hoodies’ parents, therefore allowing audiences to not only link the dangers of British society to violent hooded youths, but to a whole category of problem families, whose unethical and ‘incompetent’ exploits is passed through generations of uncontrollable reproduction.
Hoodie horror films did not only reflect the mass media hysteria during the time of their popularity, they put it into perspective in explicit and implicit ways.
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