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The Real Monster was Trauma All Along! New Kinds of Scary Movies

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

CW: this post discusses horror movies, including potential spoilers for Hereditary (2018), as well as briefly discussing broad plot details of Midsommar (2019), Smile (2022), Get Out (2017), Candyman (2021) and Scream (1996). This post also briefly mentions intergenerational trauma, racism, complex/abusive family dynamics, and grief and loss.

Now that we’re in the month of October, spooky season is officially upon us! I love Halloween, I love sweater weather, I love crunchy leaves, and I love horror movies. I don’t know where it started, but I've been rabidly consuming all the horror I could get my hands on since I was a very small human. I took comfort in the surviving of all the Final Girls* of the 90s - Sidney Prescott from Scream might have been a small gay awakening for me. I loved the thrill of watching horrifying things happening to pretend people, knowing that there was nothing at stake

and nobody would actually get hurt.

I think this is one of the reasons why horror movies are so popular - getting to experience a huge thrill, a rush of adrenaline, the feeling of danger - without any actual danger. We can sit safely at home, wrapped up in blankets and eating our favourite snacks, and still share in the feeling of shock and fear when we get to the twist at the end of the movie. Horror movies have always been good at finding our sensitive spots and poking them. Our deep fears about death and what comes after it, or the idea that things we consider safe and innocent (Dolls! Summer camps! Children!) could actually be evil and murderous. But recently something has been happening with horror movies that I find really interesting - they’ve started to probe topics like mental health and trauma in a much more direct way than they have in the past. The movie that first got my attention in this was 2018’s Hereditary, directed by Ari Aster. I saw that movie 3 times in theatres, and it haunted me. I felt it for weeks and I didn’t understand why, at first. On the surface, this is a movie about a family who go through a terrible tragedy and come to discover that their matriarch was a member of a demon-worshipping cult. But underneath that, it pokes at intergenerational trauma, toxic family dynamics, complex grief and the painful and messy different ways we cope every day after a trauma, and I think that’s what makes this so scary in that haunting, gut-level way. Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and the remake of Candyman (2021) by Nia DaCosta both explore systemic oppression by depicting racism itself as the monster in their stories (read more about this in this short essay by Tananarive Due - Black Horror Rising), while Midsommar (2019) looks at traumatic loss and our need for connection and belonging. Most recently, Smile (2022) explores the lasting impacts of trauma, while also being scary as heck.

I’ve been super excited to see more of these movies, and my intention is to write some more blog posts unpacking some of the movies that have touched on these issues in the next few weeks.

*the ‘final girl’ trope is one that became popular in slasher horror movies, wherein we follow one young woman who survives all the hardships and horrors and watches her friends die around her. Think Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm St, Laurie Strode in Halloween, or Sidney throughout the Scream saga.

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