This is the last entry in a series about domestic thrillers.
Obsessed, as they are, with both the trappings and traps of the middle class, most domestic thrillers are invested in interior decoration to a degree that would make Nancy Meyers blush. Part of the joy of watching these films lies in decoding their object fetishes, which tend to come to a head in the final reel, as improvised weapons define each film’s understanding of the terms of domesticity at stake. Consider the menacing household objects that come into play in the films I’ve covered in this series: the shovel in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (fertility!), the nail gun in Pacific Heights (home improvement!), those perfectly straightened cans and towels in Sleeping with the Enemy (housework!). Which is why, on watching Obsessed, the 2009 film starring Idris Elba, Beyoncé Knowles, and Ali Larter, I was at first nonplussed by the aggressive blankness of its sets. What, if anything, is Obsessed obsessed with?
This is an important question, because the future of the domestic thriller is black (or at least nonwhite). While Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, both glossy, self-conscious literary adaptations about downward white mobility, did well, they’ve barely nudged Hollywood’s focus away from teenage-boy-friendly, big-budget action franchises. Meanwhile, Screen Gems, Sony’s small-budget genre subsidiary, has released a black-fronted thriller every September since 2014: No Good Deed, The Perfect Guy, and When the Bough Breaks. Critically reviled, these films nevertheless make healthy returns on their modest budgets while giving actors like Regina Hall, Morris Chestnut, Sanaa Lathan, and Taraji P. Henson something to do that doesn’t involve being a cop, a maid, or someone’s black best friend. Read More