A seemingly typical setup—five strangers, lost in the woods, a sinister presence surrounds them—gives way to something more subversive in Netflix’s Italian horror. For all A Classic Horror Story‘s flaws (including a title it can’t live up to), there’s plenty for horror fans to enjoy, writes Katie Parker.
When you give your film a name like A Classic Horror Story, you’re setting yourself a pretty daunting task—and, some might say, jinxing the thing before it’s even begun.
It’s a risk directors Roberto de Feo and Paolo Strippoli are willing to take with their presumptuously titled new Netflix Original, which follows a rag-tag group of strangers carpooling together in an old RV to Southern Italy.
Among them is Elisa (Matilda Lutz), a troubled young woman reluctantly travelling to undergo an abortion; Sofia (Yulia Sobol) and Mark (Will Merrick), a cute young tourist couple on their way to a destination wedding; Ricardo (Peppino Mazzotta), a subdued middle-aged doctor; And their driver, Fabrizio (Francesco Russo), an awkward but good-natured film buff.
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The group is well on their way when some late-night drunk driving sees the RV swerve off the road and into a tree. Waking the next morning, however, they find they are no longer anywhere near where they crashed—and the vehicle is now in the middle of a field, surrounded by creepy woods, parked worryingly close to a creepy abandoned shack. With cell phone reception down, the RV refusing to start, and ominous pagan paraphernalia popping up all over the place, the group begins to realise how sinister their circumstances are looking. As Fabrizio points out, it all adds up to the makings of “a classic horror”.
Given that this is also the film’s title, it’s hardly a spoiler that the textbook trappings of their predicament are not a coincidence. In fact, de Feo and Strippoli have something much bigger in mind than this simple setup suggests—culminating in a twist that seemingly indicts not only a voyeuristic audience, but the state of modern Italian cinema. It’s audacious; it’s irreverent; it’s also a bit of a mess—and, when things take a turn for the self-reflexive about two-thirds of the way in, the film dissolves into something more frustrating than frightening.
Which is not to say A Classic Horror Story fails entirely in its ambitions—as you would hope, de Feo and Strippoli have a strong grasp of the various components necessary for a good scary movie. From the blood-red lighting to the uber-creepy masks worn by the group’s assailants, to the excruciatingly visceral moments of extreme violence, aesthetically and atmospherically the effect is often impressive.
While many are comparing it to beloved 2018 folk-horror Midsommar (which it winkingly, and deliberately, invokes), A Classic Horror Story far more strongly resembles fellow meta-horrors like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods—skewering not just the unlucky protagonists but the genre itself. Unfortunately though, when de Feo and Strippoli try to turn their attention beneath the surface and attempt to articulate their critique, they unwittingly reveal a strong sense of style over substance—and as impassioned as their message seems to be, it is not particularly intelligible.
But for all its flaws, it’s unlikely that genre aficionados will consider A Classic Horror Story a waste of a watch. Enjoyably irreverent, gleefully gory and clocking in at a manageable 95 minutes, it’s an entirely serviceable, above-average attempt at something sort of interesting—but then, I suppose that wouldn’t have made a very good title.