Fear is a fascinating yet funny concept! Fascinating because it keeps evolving as you grow. Funny because you can never get rid of it! As a little girl, ghosts really terrified me. Human-like (or not) figures with a disoriented appeal, long hair and an annoyingly slow stride. And abnormally long, well maintained straight hair for some reason (while it took days of care and several products to get my hair look half as decent). But those ghosts were scary! The ones that come out in the dark with lurking eyes, loose-fitting clothes and blood oozing all over their body.
Soon this evolved to a more plausible fear of object possession. Dolls, old clocks, rustic chairs and dirty white curtains. God, I don’t know why the 5-year-old me thought it was necessary to wreck a little cloth doll, but it haunted me for the next eight years! These were the days when Conjuring would keep me up all night until I’d watch Monsters, Inc. for some relief.
But as we grow up to understand the world better, supernatural beings and fluffy toys don’t really bother us as much. We come into terms with more terrifying and realistic emotions and experiences that could end up being even more scarier. And the world of media? They knew just how to capitalise on this through music, art and FILMS!
Horror movies work more effectively when they can successfully convert fear into a more personal one. Based on what scares me the most, I’ve split this genre into three categories. Ari Aster, the writer-director of the acclaimed Horror film Hereditary stated that Horror films are more frightening if you are invested in the characters. This stands especially true if we are talking about a close circle or family where the focus shifts from monsters to something we can relate to more closely. Thus bringing us to our first category, Horror in Family.
In this category, the characters are paid so much of importance to, that they become the story. Or more aptly, you become a part of their story. So anything that happens to them impacts you as it happened to someone you know dearly. One set of films like Manichitrathazhu directly talk about this through their plotlines that revolve around one person desperately trying to help another member of the family cope with a scary circumstance. Other movies like A Quiet Place, The Shining, Bird Box and the Us creatively bank on this fear by talking about an external force attacking the family and their collective fight against the gruesome, scary villain.
The second category would be one that I’d like to call Home Invasion. To know that our safe space can be accessed and invaded by strangers or the unknown, is one of the scariest feelings in the world. This is why Orphan will forever be my favourite horror film. Human beings need the assurance of a space that they can rely on for comfort. The moment that is hindered, we tend to feel vulnerable and exposed with nowhere to hide or run. When in 1938, Orson Welles radio broadcasted the infamous War of the Worlds where he talks about an alien invasion on Earth, we are told that it created widespread panic amongst the civilians. It is because of this same fear of invasion. 82 years later, this fear still haunts us! Films like The Purge, Varathan and Game Over portray this emotion beautifully, thus leaving us double-checking the latches of our doors every night.
The third and the most disturbing of all categories is that of the Altered Human. A situation which is common in the Person Vs Society storyline where a system or a society can turn a person into against them. The fight for sanity. It is scary because of its high probability of happening in this mechanical, biased world that's constantly running in one direction. A few of my favourite films under this category would be A Clockwork Orange, Joker and The Silence of the Lambs. The protagonist in such movies often goes around relentlessly committing horrible crimes as a result of either societal negligence or cruelty. However, the circumstances lead the audience to side with the protagonist at some point of the story and to find their acts justified in their universe. What’s truly scary is that more often than not, these universes are very very similar to the one that we live in right now.
Fear is truly a fascinating concept! Maybe Conjuring doesn’t keep me up all night anymore. But the scary world we live in, filled with spiked minds, bias and unfair judgements sure does!