Venom might have come out as the number one box-office movie over the weekend, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great film. Norbit, The Last Airbender, and Fifty Shades (of) Grey/Darker/Freed all earned big bucks but are hardly considered shining examples of cinematic excellence. Ruben Fleischer’s movie currently holds a 31% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a kind percentage, though I reckon the critical reception and the box office could have been higher if they had gone down the horror route for this comic book adaptation.
Venom is one of the scariest kinds of villains Marvel Comics has ever come up with; its very nature is something out of a B-horror movie. The Thing, Dreamcatcher, and The Faculty are all great examples of parasitic horror, and Venom had the hallmarks to do the same. The Symbiote is an entity that infects its host until it has used up its strength and energy and eats it alive from the inside, before moving onto its next victim. We see this in the movie through Riot and Venom’s possession of Eddie Brock, Carlton Drake, and several victims on the way from Malaysia to San Francisco, but not once do they really hit home the terrifying nature of this kind of body snatching. Though it’s not the only horror movie trope it could have leaned into.
The Eddie Brock-Venom dichotomy shares more than a few similarities with Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous gothic horror characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hyde has no qualms trampling young girls or beating to death Jekyll’s clients, just as Venom doesn’t mind corrupting Eddie into following his own warped moral code. And, like Jekyll, Brock was a well-meaning, upstanding citizen who wants to do his best for the community, but there is a darkness inside that is manipulated to evil effect.
The comic books aptly showed this struggle by having the Symbiote attach itself to the journalist, who is feeling particularly vindictive after being fired from the Daily Globe -- a situation he blames on Spider-Man. The Symbiote perpetuates these feelings of resentment and anger, coercing Eddie to go after the webslinger as well as act in an unethical way in order to achieve its purpose, meaning he’ll kill and eat people to survive or just because he wants to.
The film doesn’t go far enough in showing this split personality, with the script having Hardy playing more for laughs than scares as the villainous antihero. Not to say there can’t be laughs in a horror movie — Leigh Whannel’s Upgrade had just the right balance of wit and terrifying violence — but Hardy is the type of actor who could have easily brought the Jekyll & Hyde creepy tension to the proceedings had Sony pushed Venom into horror movie territory.
This scary approach could have made Venom stand out as Logan and Deadpool do in the Marvel cinematic genre, but even more so if they had opted to shoot it as if it were found footage. The Blair Witch Project changed the horror movie game with its shaky camera aesthetic and spawned some brilliant additions to the subgenre with My Little Eye, The Sacrament, and The Visit, as well as sci-fi thrillers Cloverfield and Chronicle. And considering how saturated the comic book movie genre is right now, a found-footage iteration of the Venom story could have made for a unique retelling that would make sense for the character.
Eddie is now a video journalist who tells stories in front of a camera, so it wouldn’t be a push to have him carrying one the whole of his Venom journey or recording video diaries to follow his alien transition. Carlton Drake too is a technologically advanced villain who no doubt has the Life Foundation, and his experiments, under constant surveillance, so we could have seen the inner workings of his corrupt organization, as well as the horrific things that go on there with the added tension of it all by looking so much more real. That’s the most terrifying thing about found-footage horror, the idea that nothing is safe and what is happening to these people could happen to you.
It certainly feels like Venom is a missed opportunity to create a Marvel movie that offers fan service to those who loved the original character but also a unique, horror approach that hasn’t been seen before in the genre. Sadly, this PG-13 approach — reportedly to allow for a potential Spider-Man crossover in the future — has only served to do the character a disservice.
If, however, Sony had greenlit an R-rated version of this movie, Fleischer might have delivered a more bone-chilling installment that did Brock, Venom, and Hardy justice. It might have been more of a risk to the studio, but at least it would have shown a willingness to reinvigorate the genre rather than just produce the same “stopping-the-end-of-the-world” story we’ve seen several times before.
I think Tom Hardy would have relished that approach and done a better job with Venom than this movie allowed him to. Instead, we’ve ended up with a mediocre box-office hit that likely won’t stand the test of time or rate highly in the grand scheme of Marvel film adaptations.
Hey, but at least we’ll get that Venom-Spidey crossover, right, guys?