If you had told me in 2014 that John Wick would spawn one of the most definitive action franchises, I probably would have laughed at you. I mean, a man slaughtering a crime syndicate for killing his dog. Really?! And yet here we are, in 2019 with the two successful sequels and a third in the works.
It goes without saying that I have sunk many hours in this film. Despite a plot which may appear shallow, John Wick is a layered, thematically rich film. Today, I want to throw the puppy amongst the gangsters (See what I did there), and suggest that it is also a horror movie! Wait, what?! Well, it has horror movie tropes.
It’s not surprising that a film about a boogeyman-hitman? Hoogeyman? BoogeyHitman? Ah, BABA YAGA, shares the tropes of the horror genre. I’ve picked out five of these beats:
The Forbidden Fruit.
Breaking the Seal.
Destruction of the unclean.
Hunting the beast
Sealing the beast.
These are key moments in any monster/supernatural horror, but where do they play out in John Wick? Let’s take a look:
The Forbidden Fruit
In your typical horror film, an unsuspecting victim will stumble onto something of interest, I’ve called it a forbidden fruit . It could be a videotape (The Ring), Ouija board (Ouija), or some Super 8mm (Sinister). This works as a motivation for the victims to tamper with the supernatural and awaken its evil akin to the story of Adam and Eve. In John Wick the forbidden treasure is his Vintage 1969 Mustang Mach 1. It’s Iosef’s childish need for the car that ultimately leads him on the collision course with The Boogeyman.
Breaking the seal.
Most movie monsters are sealed away by powerful magic and incantations. In the Ring, breaking the seal would be watching the videotape, which would ultimately trigger the “7 Days” phone call. In John Wick, the seal is his lovely dog, Daisy. She is the only thing that is helping John grieve his wife. But when Iosef and his gang murder the poor pup, the unleash John’s dark side. In the words of Viggo Tarasov, “John will come for you, and I will do nothing because you can do nothing.”
Destruction of the unclean.
This is the most common horror movie trope, the monster will slaughter all of the unclean, except for a virginal woman who will seal the evil once more. Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Mike Myers all kill those that appear “unclean” or have some apparent sin. John Wick is no different, he washes over every single Russian hitman with the force of a Biblical flood. John’s hunger is to purge the world of Iosef, who has puppy blood on his hands, and his sin. It just so happens that he cuts through everything that stands in his path to vengeance.
Hunting the Beast
The denial of the supernatural or the unknown is a common thread within the horror genre. We don’t believe because it is impossible for the creature to exist, and that’s why there must be a character that functions as the Hunter or elder, a person who believes or witnessed this evil. This usually ends up getting the dude killed on his quest. There are two key Hunters in the film: Marcus, and Viggo, both witness to John’s incredible skill. Viggo serves as the primary, a desperate man trying to save his son from the inevitable doom. Marcus serves as the secondary, but as a man trying to save the beast. He understands that John was forced back into a world he had left, but ultimately pays the price for his actions.
Sealing the beast.
All horror movies end with the defeat of said monster, more often than not being sealed away for future franchises. This is often done by repeating the process that sealed them in the first place. John Wick does something similar, with John finding another pup to care for and resume his life as a normal man. The new pup serves to bury the Boogeyman in the final third. We know this doesn’t last, but it gives us the catharsis we need for the first film.
All of the above elements are enhanced by the fact that John quite literally returns to the Underworld. Even there, the denizens recognise and revere the monster that is Baba Yaga. What I love so much is how they use these elements to portray John to be this demon from the depths of hell, yet the audience will always see him as a man scorned. That and the fact that anyone who kills a sweet innocent puppy must be purged from the earth. These are the ways in which a film enhances itself to create a masterpiece
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