2018 has been a banner year for horror. Some amazing films have been released and enjoyed by many, horror has owned the box office at several different points throughout the year, and we are seeing an immense output of talent and creativity from new voices and established filmmakers alike. In short, we are living a new horror renaissance. And it rules.
At the same time, we are continually seeing reactions to some of these films decrying their status as genre cinema. It’s a phenomenon that began gathering steam in 2017 with Get Out and It, and really seemed to reach full gear this year with masterpieces such as Hereditary, A Quiet Place and even Suspiria.
And no, I’m not going to sit here and debate whether or not these films are horror films. They are. You’re here reading this, so I’m going to assume you feel the same. What I do plan to discuss is the different reasons why this trend seems to be snowballing.
The obvious reasons can be linked to simple snobbery. The assumption that if a film is well-made or contains deeper meanings or subtext, it can’t possibly be a horror movie. If it has those elements, it’s clearly something else. Hereditary is a dramatic family thriller. A Quiet Place is a psychological thriller. Get Out is a socio-political thriller. Thriller – you know, that thing that is almost horror, but not quite.
Then there is the thing that happens where a person assumes that a film can’t fall into a particular genre because it doesn’t fit the framework of how they have come to interact with that genre. “Well I hate horror, so IT can’t possibly be a horror film because I enjoyed it.” Or “The First Purge didn’t scare me. Therefore, it’s not a horror movie.”
Those reactions are certainly part of the problem, but there is something else going on in our society that might be affecting public perceptions as well. In case you weren’t aware, the past couple of years have been a colossal shit show. Hate and bigotry run rampant. Economical worries and fears about the climate and the future of our planet are very present in our minds. Every day, our leaders find another way to jab at the already crumbling framework of our society without a care as to who might be in the way when the debris falls. People are scared in ways they haven’t been before.
In his book, “The Monster Show”, David J. Skal discusses how genre cinema tends to see a rise in popularity when times are tough. In the Depression era, for example, the classic Universal horror films had huge financial success. Dracula, Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all cleaned up at the box office and provided audiences with an escape from the harsh struggles of everyday life in a country that was faltering.
We’re seeing that phenomenon reflected in the success of horror films today. The Nun grossed over $360 million worldwide and David Gordon Green’s Halloween destroyed the box office its opening weekend by pulling in over $76 million. This could be in part, tied to the current political climate. It’s possible that for the first time in a long time, the real world is far more frightening than anything we might seen onscreen when the lights dim and the film starts to roll.
So why the disconnect? Why are people so hesitant to label some of these films as “horror?” Maybe the effect that we’re seeing is that culturally, though we are enjoying and celebrating the aforementioned films, audiences aren’t embracing them as horror movies because we’re in a place where we need our horror to be more explicit. We need it to be clearly separate and “Other” from our daily lives. We need the fantastic. We need the supernatural and the otherworldly. That is what we’re recognizing as “horror.”
Maybe in the modern political hellscape, we want to believe that “horror” is further removed from the realities we are currently facing. Maybe we need it to reach beyond a family trying to survive in the wake of the collapse of civilization. Beyond a mother struggling to process her grief. Beyond a group of women reclaiming lost power in 1970s Berlin. We might be a little too bruised to call some of the year’s film slate “horror” because they tie too easily to the horrors that are at our door. We might enjoy them and appreciate their brilliance, but people might not be registering them as horror films because they strike a little too close to home.
Whatever the reason, 2018 has been a brilliant year for horror, bringing us more new stories, ideas and visionaries and giving us even more nightmares. Though the mainstream might be hesitant to see it for what it is, horror fans celebrate it regardless, and we raise our glasses to Hereditary, Suspiria, A Quiet Place, Halloween, The Nun, The Haunting of Hill House, and every other film that made us fear whatever might be laying in wait – in the darkness and in the light.