Not Quite Horror: “Super” (2010)


Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Super (2010)

The Monster: The Crimson Bolt, aka Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) and his trusty sidekick Boltie, aka Libby (Ellen Page).

Frank is an average guy with a big heart, but when his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) gets back into drugs with local criminal Jacques (Kevin Bacon), he can’t stand the unfairness of life any longer. Encouraged by a vision from God, he grabs a costume and a wrench and heads out to smash away until the world is fair.

Along the way, he meets Libby. Libby seems average, too. But when she puts on a costume and has a reason to release her rage, she cannot be contained.

The Horror: Writer/director James Gunn is a veteran of low-budget Troma films, and he uses their grit and awkwardness to keep Super from becoming glossy. When wrenches smash foreheads, there is no ballet of athletic violence. There is only brute force and bloody results.

By the end of the film, Super infuses heroism with horror and tragedy in a way that Kick-Ass never really achieved. Put another way, it reminds viewers you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Then it coats in the screen in yolk and shells.

The Shared Fate: Superheroes, like vampires, get to fulfill fantasies without consequence. Or at least they have until recently, when films like Super are able to bring a horrible gravity to the actions of people in tights.

Watch this movie with your brain on, and you’ll realize vigilantism leads to massacres and guilty consciences. Frank finds a way to hold himself together, but how many others could?

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen