If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I used to hate horror movies. It might be a social faux pas to say, but I didn’t see any merit in them. To me, they were just another unnecessary source of anxiety in an already anxiety-inducing world. Then the pandemic hit. Now, I don’t just like scary movies, I love them. I’d even go as far as to say I need them. But why?
I can’t quite answer that. What I do know is that horror movies have turned from a great source of anxiety for me to a kind of comfort or escape. The jump scares and ghost stories in horror movies seem so out of this world that it’s hard for me to be scared of them, especially when the real world is already so scary. It can be helpful to direct your anxiety into something not only fictional but so unworldly and absurd that you can’t imagine it happening in real life.
There’s been a pandemic outside for over a year now, and a whole host of political and human rights worries have both prolonged the pandemic, and been unearthed by it. Sometimes it’s nice to retreat into a world of haunted houses and demons from other dimensions, even if just for a moment. When I’m watching these movies, I’m more focused on ghosts than on the pandemic, and that’s a much-needed distraction.
Still, even if it’s easy to escape, it’s not always right. I think that part of the appeal of horror movies isn’t just how distant they are from the real world. They also appeal also because they represent the real world all too well. Media isn’t just a place to escape, but a place to reflect on the state of our society. We obviously can’t turn our backs on the real world forever.
For me, watching horror movies during quarantine helped me understand the world outside of me, even when I wasn’t able to experience it personally. There are clear-cut examples, such as Get Out or Us, which criticize racism and societal inequality, or Pan’s Labyrinth, which is essentially a parable for fascism. Even the ones without overt political messages can be commentaries on the state of our society. Films like It Follows and Scream are commentaries on the sexist tropes and slut-shaming present in a lot of horror flicks and turn those stereotypes on their head.
Horror movies are also very helpful for anyone dealing with isolation, anxiety, or uncertainty. Watching films like Midsommar or The Babadook, which feature women undergoing mental health crises while also encountering supernatural horrors, made me feel somewhat seen. Going through a mental health crisis can sometimes feel overwhelming and close to the supernatural. I’ll admit, seeing my struggles through the lens of a horror movie is actually really effective. Sure, it’s not realistic, but it still makes me feel less alone.
Horror movies were always unnecessarily stressful to me, and I couldn’t find any artistic value in them. I admit that I was totally wrong. Part of me was just being pretentious, and part of me was still working through my own issues with anxiety. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t like horror movies, because we all have our own tastes. Still, I’m now proud to say that putting on a scary movie is comforting for me. Sometimes, the real world is confusing and scary, and watching a story about supernatural issues is easier than confronting real ones.
However, it goes deeper than just escapism. Horror movies actually help me conceptualize and challenge the real issues the world is facing. They’ve forced me to confront both my personal issues and the role I play in society. Scary movies started out as an escape and then became a wake-up call. They became a way for me to start understanding complex societal issues that were difficult to wrap my head around – to serve as a stepping stone for more nuanced discussions and ideas.
Of course, horror movies have gone above and beyond just being ‘scary’. In fact, it’s been pretty eye-opening for me. From stereotypical horror movies to ones that dissect issues like racism and feminism (I’m looking at you, Get Out and Jennifer’s Body), there truly is something for everyone – especially if by the end of the movie, you can’t sleep at night.
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