Section: Opinion

Horror movies can help us cope with our own scary reality

Horror has a way of naturalizing itself, of softening and blending into its surroundings until it is no longer horror, but the way things are. As COVID-19 has shown us, humans have a knack for adapting. Isolation isn’t as unbearable after two weeks of quarantining in my dorm room. Grabbing a mask before walking out of the door has become second nature, no different than taking my phone or keys. But the other day, as I was waiting for class to begin and doom-scrolling through my newsfeed, I looked around at all my peers spread out and quietly hunched over in masks, and I realized that maybe this “adaptation” is really just self preservation-turned-delusion. In response to this familiar sense of unease, I did the only thing that has effectively alleviated my anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic: watched a horror movie. 

This may seem counterintuitive. Horror heightens anxiety, uncovers fears you didn’t realize you had and, most of the time, fills you with paranoia. But it’s a kind of decipherable paranoia, one that has a beginning and an end. It’s about getting ahead of your worst fears, catching them and then holding them very, very closely. 

I have subjected too many of my friends to horror movies to know that this form of therapy is not for everyone. After a series of frantic 2 a.m. texts saying things like, “I swear I just saw the ‘Hereditary’ woman floating in the corner of my room,” I have learned from my mistakes to never pressure anyone into watching an exorcism, a girl eat her sister’s finger or ants pour out of a man’s eyes. Everyone has a different threshold for fear and disgust, just like everyone has a different way of coping with their anxiety.

Maybe it’s just that my attention span can no longer hold on to anything unless it engrosses me so that I cannot look away. But more than that, horror is one of the only forms of media that feels honest and real to me. That goes a long way in a world where everything feels like a cover-up for something: one in which “how are you?” always ends in “fine,” or, even worse, memes about depression take the place of actually sharing real emotions, because getting “too real” is not in our vocabulary. We live in a world in which idyllic suburbs only exist because someone else doesn’t have a home, in which we can buy cheap clothes because someone else across the globe is working for two cents an hour. We are currently huddled in this beautiful rural town in a country where over 500,000 people died in the past year from a deadly disease. That is true horror. And what is just as scary is how we ignore all of the overflowing terror happening all around us every single second. I don’t have words to convey this horror, but we do have horror movies, and horror movies confront this fear.  

Unlike many blockbusters or recent Netflix originals, the best horror movies do not construct a neat apolitical world of simplistic characters who have a few cut-and-dry problems and a predictable story arc. I don’t mean to say that all non-horror movies are simple and formulaic, just that the point of dramas and rom-coms or superhero movies are to create a world contained in itself. Other genres depend on a form of detached illusion and fakeness. But horror movies, at least the most compelling ones, tap directly into the human psyche and the repressed and normalized horror of our socially constructed world. They make the things we have accepted as natural unbearable and turn the unknown into the familiar. 

Most horror movies don’t have a clear-cut message, but they are fiercely political. In “Gingersnaps,” a traditional coming-of-age story is amped up into a violently emotional werewolf saga that indulges in the monstrosity of growing up in a claustrophobic, suburban town and the dramatic messiness of sisterhood. Or, for example, “Raw,” a bizarre depiction of a vegetarian turned cannibal, forces us to reckon with the cruelty of herd mentality, oppressive hierarchical structures and the violence of devouring living beings. 

These movies uncover the deeply twisted parts of our humanity and society with a visceral sincerity. They do not mock the world in an ironic detachment, but throw us directly into all of its wickedness so we have no choice but to face it.

I more than understand the desire to ignore everything bad and continue to binge TikTok videos for hours on end. Of course the ability to do so is a luxury, just as my urge to watch horror movies to feel some perverse connection to the world is a result of the fact that I am not directly surrounded by horror on a daily basis. Still, it’s important to find something to hold onto right now. Whatever it is — running, crafting, friends — lean into it, but if you’re having a hard time grabbing on to something, I suggest you watch a horror movie. You might feel worse, but you also might feel a little more sane; the point of horror movies is that you never know how they’ll make you feel until you do. 



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