Mumblegore is a relatively new term that has blossomed with the low budget, yet character-driven, indie horror films that have been released in the past decade. It was born out of the Mumblecore genre, introduced in 2002 with films such as Funny HA HA (2002) by Andrew Bujalski and Puffy Chair (2005) by the Duplass Brothers.
Mumblegore takes that genre into the realm of horror, with films such as Creep (2014), The Sacrament (2013), and V/H/S (2012) as prime examples. Due to lower budgets and almost no studio pressure, these films are much more experimental. A few directors and writers have been credited with the birth and rise of this strange subgenre. Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S), Joe Swanberg (V/H/S), and Ti West (House of the Devil, The Sacrament) are just a few of the people working to create strange yet terrifying stories that push the boundaries of horror.
I want to expand the definition, which is my goal with this column. I will try to venture outside of those well-known directors and scour the corners of the Internet to expand the idea of mumblegore.
In the first installment of this column, I wrote about the mumblegore classic, Creep (2014), and how its low-budget aesthetic and rather simple premise makes it such an emblematic film of the subgenre. This month, I wanted to tackle a film that’s a little more experimental and way more supernatural: Harrison Atkin’s feature film debut, Lace Crater (2015). Despite it being his debut, he had the support of mumblegore darling Joe Swanberg (You’re Next), who is one of the film’s producers.
But first, to address the elephant in the room: what is a lace crater exactly? Sure it could be very obviously a vaginal reference. But in a New York Times article, Atkins explains:
“Lace is this word associated with traditional femininity that has to do with sexual shame. Crater is this word that evokes an impact or an absence left after an impact. I think of the lace crater as this void that’s left in the world after Ruth disappears in it.”
So yes, you could still interpret the title as explicitly sexual. Or you can dive a little deeper to see the title as a bigger reference to the emptiness felt after heartbreak or death.
Lace Crater is a cautionary tale about sex, but not just any sex. Specifically, it warns against sex with ghosts. The film begins with protagonist Ruth (Lindsay Burdge, The Invitation) going on vacation with her friends after a breakup. She’s still rattled and emotionally fragile, but figures a weekend of drinking, doing drugs, and being with friends will at least put a bandaid over the fresh wound. However, she just continues to feel lonely as her friends drunkenly hookup right next to her. She flees to the supposedly haunted guest house where she’s sleeping, only to find out it is really haunted by a ghost named Michael (Peter Vack, The Bold Type). One thing leads to another and they have sex (surprisingly intimate sex if I do say so myself). But there’s a consequence to this sex: Ruth contracts an STD that defies any medical explanation.
The fear of sex is something that has been addressed in horror since the beginning of the genre. Premarital sex is often punished by disease, horrific bodily transformation, and death, which is seen in films such as Contracted (2013), Teeth (2007), It Follows (2014), the list goes on. However, Lace Crater is not condemning sex. Rather, it is a meditation on loneliness and the desperation with which someone looks for love. This is not about copious amounts of body horror or grisly deaths. This is about a woman and a ghost who are so painfully alone. Lace Crater’s meditation on these subjects is what makes it mumblegore. Atkins said to the New York Times, “I feel like the movie is somehow reverberative in this texture of sexual shame and mystery that reflects a changing world.” It is a story that is primarily focused on the emotional and mental state of its protagonist, Ruth, with the ghost STD as a secondary factor. It is about finding some kind of connection is our rapidly-evolving world.
The ghost, Michael, while only in a few scenes, also showcases the genre’s qualities of character-focused narratives and low budget designs. He is not the typical transparent ghost, covered in tattered clothing, and floating inches above the ground. Instead, he is just a man covered in burlap. He does look terrifying at first; he has a vague human shape but the rest is bulky material that resembles the male mask from The Strangers (2008). But despite his strange appearance, Michael is alone in death. He lingers in this guest house because it’s where he died. Everyone is scared of him, but all he wants is someone to talk to, even touch. He is a sympathetic ghost who willing gives his backstory, something we don’t usually see in ghost stories. Usually, it is a creepy tale told by others and the ghosts appear in a flash. But here, Michael is a more human version of a ghost, one with nuanced emotions, not just revenge, sadness, or anger. It takes a genre such as mumblegore to create a new and sympathetic ghost story.
It may be hard to feel sympathy for Michael as Ruth’s body begins to breakdown from this strange ghostly STD. But, he had no idea, because really, how often is he having sex with humans? How often is anyone having sex with ghosts to rule out what kind of STDs you can contract? Ruth begins oozing ectoplasm and throwing up thick black ooze. She becomes sensitive to the sun. She is slowly dying and becoming like Michael. This is body horror, mumblegore style. There is nothing excessively bloody or moments bursting with practical effects. It is instead rather straightforward and just involves a lot of goo. It is simple yet effective in illustrating Ruth’s slow bodily breakdown as she becomes a ghost.
Despite this look at loneliness and body horror, Lace Crater has its comedic moments. The whole premise is that she has sex with a ghost, so this is a film that operates in the outlandish and ridiculous. But Atkins’ ability to balance the comedy with the melancholy to create a thoughtful piece of horror is a testament to his filmmaking abilities. It is a film about searching for some kind of intimacy in your lonely late 20s and what a new kind of intimacy could look like. Lace Crater is a strange film that speaks to anyone who has suffered from a broken heart.
Lace Crater is currently available to stream on Shudder. Have you seen Lace Crater? What did you think? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!