In Azure’s update to 10 Modernist Houses in Scary Movies, we look at another 10 films and streamable shows whose settings are designed to evoke suspense – or terror. Beware: this list contains a few significant spoilers.
1 The Haunting of Hill House
Though it’s named after Shirley Jackson’s legendary terror novel about a group of supposedly telepathic strangers who spend a summer in a creepy old manor to ascertain if it is indeed haunted, this Netflix series is a very loose – if a very imaginative, emotional and time-warping – adaptation. The occupants of Hill House in this case are a young couple and their five precocious kids. Mom and Dad want to flip the old house for a tidy fortune – the matriarch, played by Carla Gugino, sets about sketching and modelling her modern “forever house” – while the kids are hearing and seeing Hill House come alive every night with frightful sounds and sights. And no one can find the key to that archetypical red room.
2 We Have Always Lived in the Castle
We’re not entirely sure if this film is going to enjoy wide release, but it seems to be a faithful adaptation of another of Shirley Jackson’s books, by the same name. The home in this novella is refuge for the survivors of some spooky tragedy that dispatched with half the family. Sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood don’t stray far from home – lest they be subjected to taunts by neighbourhood kids suggesting that they are the culprits of their family’s demise – and the walls of their castle slowly come down around them until they are eventually left with only the kitchen in which to eat and sleep.
3 Bad Times at the El Royale
Though director Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale has been widely labelled as a pulpy neo-noir, it does have elements of horror – and its setting, at a once-glamorous hotel on the Nevada-California border, is one of them. Like his previous hit, 2012’s Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times isolates a crew – that includes Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson and Jon Hamm – in one setting, where things begin to go awry. Set in the 1960s, the campy, neon-illuminated hotel (and its folded-plate roof) looms large: narratively, it represents a purgatory-like zone in two literal states, but it’s also an environment that was created to balance voyeurism and concealment. It’s a character, Goddard suggested, that rivals any of the film’s actors.
4 Black Mirror, “Crocodile”
“Crocodile,” an episode in the fourth season of Black Mirror, centres around Mia, an architect who, years earlier, was implicated in a hit-and-run that killed a cyclist. In the episode’s present, however, there exists mind-reading technology that renders lying obsolete. After being pulled over for a minor accident, an insurance investigator uses that tech – the device is named a Recaller – to view her memories, leading to even deeper complications. Likewise, production designer Morgan Kennedy also peers into Mia’s messy office and meticulous home – a modern wood-and-glass house with views onto the icy landscape of Grænavatn, Iceland, befitting a classic film villain – to give the viewer a sense of the well-curated life Mia has to lose. Sharp eyes will notice that she conducts a lecture in Henning Larsen’s iconic Harpa Concert Hall.
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of 1977 horror classic Suspiria has been hotly anticipated – and for good reason. Starring Dakota Johson and Tilda Swinton, the film follows a young American’s encounters with a witchy dance troupe in 1970s Germany. Suspiria‘s highly stylized settings emerge as a priority for Guadagnino: the director actually converted an abandoned Art Nouveau building in northern Italy, using it as the film’s dance studio-turned-coven. The attention to detail, as outlined in The New York Times, is astounding, including the film’s Frankfurt kitchens, Bauhaus-inspired custom rugs and era-accurate typewriters and phones. Dance studios rarely look this beautiful – or menacing.
Pennywise the clown, in both the original 1986 version of It and the 2017 remake, has been the source of anxiety for countless coulrophobics. Yet the monster’s home, a shapeshifting suburban funhouse, is just as – if not more – frightening than Pennywise himself. The remake, starring Bill Skarsgard, recreated the clown’s den in two Toronto-area settings: its exteriors on a set in Oshawa, Ontario, its interiors in Cranfield House, a heritage home in Toronto’s east end. The residence’s carefully preserved interiors, which harken back to 1901, have been cast in many other productions, too, including the sci-fi thrillers Orphan Black and The Strain.
7 Ex Machina
The critically lauded Ex Machina, starring Alicia Vikander as lifelike android Ava, is a technological thriller that examines the boundaries – and the depravities – of artificial intelligence. And the questions the film poses surrounding humanity, nature and man-made artifice are captured brilliantly it its settings: a pristine, modernist home that’s occasionally sprinkled with frat-boy flourishes. That house, it turns out, is very real: it’s the Juvet Landscape Hotel, a project designed by Jensen & Skovdin Architects in northern Norway. Here, floor-to-ceiling glazing is used to simultaneously recall and distinguish from the natural world, while the mid-century modern furniture, built-in wooden bookshelves and orderly wooden façade suggest a man-made order imposed on nature. In other words, it’s a perfect setting for speculative sci-fi.
8 The Nun
Corin Hardy’s The Nun, a spinoff of paranormal horror pic The Conjuring 2, details the aftermath of a young Romanian nun’s suicide. The mysterious circumstances surrounding her death filter their way to Rome, which sends a team from the Vatican to investigate, eventually leading viewers down a path towards demons, possession and exorcisms. The film is set in 1952, and accordingly, its producers opted to employ sites that exuded a certain timelessness, the most notable being Bucharest’s Neoclassical Palace of the Parliament, which stands in for a haunted abbey.
9 The Girl In the Spider’s Web
Like his predecessor, David Fincher, director Fede Alvarez seems to adhere to the trope that evil-doers enjoy spartan homes. The first adaptation of the Lisbeth Salander series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, set the serial murderer’s lair in a glass-wrapped home in Sweden. In this new film, slated for a November 9 release – and starring The Crown‘s Claire Foy in the lead role made famous by Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara – Salander continues her avenging-angel ways by taking a villain to task in his concrete-walled residence complete with sleek, granite-clad kitchen counters and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Where the film diverges from the first instalment is in its action-packed storyline – think car chases, shootouts and Bond-like gadgetry.
10 The House That Jack Built
All Lars von Trier films ought to come with a caveat emptor warning – and The House That Jack Built is no exception. At the Cannes premiere, a hundred people reportedly walked out in disgust, which is par for the course when it comes to the Danish auteur’s fare. The film stars Matt Dillon as a serial killer, who is also – surprise, surprise – an architect and engineer. Von Trier’s producer contacted architect Bjarke Ingels in order to create the horrific visual gag that finishes off the film – an actual house built from frozen corpses. (It’s also part of BIG ART, an exhibit of BIG’s collaborations with artists over the years, currently on at Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg.) Ingels, a big fan of von Trier’s, was thrilled but also, it seems, disturbed: “It is the most morbid, macabre architecture I will ever work with,” he says.