After the excitement around the film’s ominous trailer, speculation is rife over just what form The Batman might take on the big screen. From the footage released so far, it’s clear that the upcoming movie will revel in a much darker tone than many previous DCEU outings. However, beyond dingey lighting and sinister characters, the film represents a real opportunity to create the first fully-fledged Batman horror feature. Despite the risks involved with committing to the horror genre, the rewards could be seriously spectacular, both for the movie itself and the wider DCEU moving forwards.
It’s clear from the little concrete information that we have about The Batman that the film will revel in Gotham’s dark underbelly. The trailer, for instance, opens with a haunting image of Paul Dano’s Riddler gaffa taping an incapacitated body on the floor – echoing terrifying crime thriller films of the past such as David Fincher’s Se7en. This sets the tone for footage that features murder, graphic violence, and several disquietening images of the movie’s antagonists – including Catwoman, Penguin, and The Riddler himself.
All of these components indicate that the end result will be about as far removed from Adam West’s campy, tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the Caped Crusader as it’s possible to get. However, they also hint at an opportunity to take both the character and the entire DCEU into a scary new direction. Considering the legacy of what’s gone before in previous films, The Batman may just be the perfect way to fix the DCEU’s well-documented issues with tone while also giving audiences a genuinely terrifying onscreen interpretation of arguably comic books’ most iconic character. Here’s why Robert Pattinson’s The Batman needs to be the Dark Knight’s first horror movie.
There have been several iterations of Batman on the big screen over the years, with some interpretations more effective than others. However, what all the most successful versions do, without fail, is embrace the horrifying reality of fighting Gotham’s most dangerous criminals. Whether it’s Tim Burton’s popular 1989 movie, or Christopher Nolan’s more contemporary Dark Knight trilogy, invariably the most acclaimed Batman movies celebrate the darkness at the center of the character and show flashes of horror throughout.
A great example of this is 2005’s Batman Begins. One of the film’s key plot points is the weaponization of a panic-inducing toxin, derived from a rare plant that grows near the League of Shadows headquarters. Throughout the film, this toxin induces terrifying hallucinations and is effectively utilized by deranged psychiatrist Jonathan Crane – also known as Scarecrow. While the film itself is not a full-blown horror movie by any stretch, the presence of horror tropes is undeniable and also serves to make it a more effective viewing experience.
There are numerous other examples of Batman movies borrowing horror movie tropes. For instance, Penguin’s depraved and controversial plot to murder every first-born son in Gotham in Batman Returns wouldn’t seem out of place in a movie like It, while the remorseless violence of characters like The Joker and Two-Face in The Dark Knight echoes some of the most iconic killers in 80s slasher movies. So far, none of these films have set out to be considered horror movies first and foremost. However, it’s clear from the way that the best Batman movies successfully incorporate horrific elements that the long-running series already has horror embedded in its DNA. It would, therefore, make total sense for The Batman to go one step further and totally embrace this dark heart.
One of the main criticisms of DCEU movies thus far has been the franchise’s perceived self-serious tone. This not only caused problems for the negative reception of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, but was also the motivating factor behind extensive rewrites to the equally poorly received Justice League movie in 2017. To date, the DCEU has struggled to imbue many of its films with the dramatic heft that such a brooding tone requires. However, with horror, the Universe has an opportunity to fix its most obvious flaw.
Horror films are, by their nature, often necessarily earnest in order to inflict maximum terror. Although the line between horror and comedy is often blurred, to really make an impact on an audience a film has to commit and take its scares seriously. This makes the genre a natural fit for the already weighty and consequential tone of much of the wider DCEU. By not backing down and attempting to change what’s been so central to other films in the wider franchise, a Batman horror film can actually justify its seriousness. Ultimately, this could help give it a greater dramatic punch and shield it from the criticisms of humourlessness and portentousness that have dogged other recent DCEU films.
Conversely, the thin line between horror and comedy could – perhaps counter-intuitively – also help lighten the feel of the entire film, without robbing it of genuine impact. In straightforward action movies, such as BvS and Justice League, it’s much harder to inject any humor without losing the ominous tone that has been the DCEU’s hallmark to date. This explains why BvS looks so inescapably gloomy and Justice League feels like such a mess. By making The Batman a horror movie, the filmmakers can simultaneously repudiate one of DC’s most oft-repeated criticisms and maintain the look, feel, and overall tone that the franchise has so clearly been striving for. Either way, horror as a genre represents a real chance to rectify past mistakes.
Although previous Batman films have borrowed heavily from horror, audiences are yet to see a big screen, no-holds-barred Dark Knight scare story. Given the character’s origins, the wealth of terrifying source material, and even other audiovisual representations of the character, Batman is clearly overdue a genuinely scary cinematic outing.
One of the most compelling arguments in favor of a Batman horror movie is the key role that fear plays for the character himself. Both Batman and Bruce Wayne are motivated by mastering their fear and using fear as an effective tool in their arsenal. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne explains to Alfred that his motivation in adopting the bat methodology is because “bats frighten me… It’s time my enemies shared my dread.” This evocation of fear shows how central the emotion is to the entire Batman mythos and highlights why the character would be such a natural fit in a horror film.
There are numerous other examples of horror playing a key role in previous Batman material. For instance, the popular game Batman: Arkham Asylum featured one of the most haunting scenes in console history, as the player explores a terrifying morgue while being taunted by The Joker. The comics, too, frequently rely on horror tropes. For example, the 2012 series Death of the Family features a version of The Joker who surgically removes his own face – echoing the antics of horror icon Hannibal Lecter. With such a rich legacy of terror to draw upon, it’s almost surprising that there hasn’t yet been a bonafide Batman horror movie. If the DCEU is prepared to take some risks, The Batman may just change that.