enjoying horror while the world burns

It’s a bit funny, isn’t it? To feel excited about a new slasher film, while simultaneously dreading reading the morning news. My love for the horror genre feels at times unethical like my enjoyment is somehow contributing to what can only be described as the looming threat that we as a collective are all becoming numb to tragedies and therefore becoming averse to empathy. For the record, I do not believe this to be true. But it’s hard to say that anything is for certain when the ways in which we are consuming news and entertainment are so consistent, simultaneous, and between the two, blurred. It would be insane for anyone to think it’s not affecting us on some level.

Like anything, I believe it is important to take pause and take stock of what we are doing and consuming regularly and allow ourselves to question it.

I have paused the number of horror films I’m watching; half deliberately, half not. I think the weight of the pandemic is likely creeping up on all of us if you haven’t felt it already. Headlines are dominated by violence, be it, physical, political or otherwise. It seems impossible to avoid because it is. And it’s made it much harder for me to get into the right headspace to enjoy the darker themes of cinema. I’ve instead opted for the likings of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (in which MY joke made its way into film twitter), whatever French film is playing at TIFF and beginning the new season of Only Murders in the Building (I’m in love with Steve Martin, publically and unapologetically).

For the longest time horror movies provided me with some of my purest memories with friends; nervous laughter at sleepovers. They have allowed me at times to focus and contextualize my anxieties; serving as a way for me to rationalize and calm myself down. The genre has provided me with inspiration for my own creative endeavours (duh, lol). They’re some of my favourite films and have been both a source of entertainment and vessels for me to use to critique and understand art, culture and societal fears. And yet, these films rely on us, the viewers, submitting to the consumption of some of our darkest thoughts.

The problem I think we’re seeing, or perhaps rather that I am seeing — is that our worst fears are no longer just fears they’re realities. And I don’t mean that in the sense that watching fictional violence is somehow equal to the real-world tragedies we are bearing witness to. I mean it in the sense that we are no longer afforded pause. Maybe it’s naive of me to think that there was ever a time we were; but I think of the nervous laughter with friends in 6th grade, before smartphones and the 24-hour news cycle, where we were afforded the experience of horror with a pause before the horrors of reality. There was a time when we were able to consume media and art with the separation and privilege of pause, right? 

The lines of entertainment and reality are so blurred as we scroll our timelines and see; friends from high school, family, body-cam footage of police brutality, a joke, civilian live-tweeting from a war zone, a meme, a friend from college, an attack on human rights. Our eyes move from the big screen to the small screen, to the smaller screen we keep in our pockets. This observation is nothing new. And if you’re like me, the pandemic was cause for an increase in screentime, an increase in doomscrolling, and a flare-up of anxieties. Again, nothing new. However these habits, I have found to be harder to break than I may have thought — especially when the replacement feels a bit like a dramatized version of reality. It makes sense that if we’re not going to be afforded pause, we’d seek out films that at least offer us a few minutes of *not* feeling scared. 

I think the weight of the pandemic specifically felt by the art world, and even more specifically the film community is weighing heavy. From a financial industry standpoint of course, but also subject matter. We’re already starting to see the resurgence of the rom-com with Julia and George reuniting and I think we will continue to see horror swing back to its 90s early 2000s fun, campy and light. I for one am excited about this renaissance as, like I said, this was the horror that I fell in love with, sleepovers and all.

There isn’t a bone in my body that believes I’m the only one feeling this way — nor do I believe I’m the first to articulate it. In fact, I know I’m not. I’m almost certain I read a thread of tweets about this exact thing, probably a year ago (if you find it, please let me know, I’d be hopeless at finding anything I read from even a week ago).

What I wonder though, is if that will be enough. Will we, will I, be able to enjoy the silliness and the nostalgia of the wave of horror that I believe we’re about to experience in the same way I did before? I think it will be tough for filmmakers to tap into that, truly and authentically enough for people to buy in the same way. I think the most recent Scream did this with great success, (minus Neve Campbell’s salary dispute)! And I’m curious to see what’s to come in a way of the elevated horror audiences have come to expect.

Obviously, this is not the most important conversation to be having, I honestly don’t even think it cracks the top 100 for most. But art occupies an important space in our society and has for centuries. To ignore the art that is happening now seems wrong; but also to give focus to pieces of work, people, and industries for entertainment also feels wrong. So what does that leave us with?  I’m choosing to remain positive, and be excited for what’s to come. But I’m also open to a radical shift in entertainment — so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. 

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