It’s been over a year since the world stopped. When the coronavirus pandemic first toured the world, jokes about zombie outbreaks and the movie Contagion dotted social media feed. After a while, the jokes died down as the death toll around the world increased. Now, in the spring of 2021, the world is taking a collective peek out of our self-created foxholes to peek around and see what’s left. For me, pandemic anxiety has been bookmarked through cinema – horror movies, in particular.
The last time I set foot in a theater in 2020, it was for a preview screening of The invisible Man. Working as a freelance writer in a world without theaters came down to indie horror releases, as these were the only films that dared to move to the frontier of video on demand. I got the hang of it, the world started to look a bit more normal, and I felt safe to venture out into the world… to a sparsely populated movie theater to see A Quiet Place, Part II.
Horror has gently pushed the world into isolation from the pandemic. Horror has kept our imaginations alive and our simmering anxieties for a long year. And now it seems the horror is coming out like A Quiet Place, Part II and the third installment of Conspiracy the series will be a strange re-entry point for many of us.
While we haven’t learned anything else over the past year, we’ve learned that humanity is adjusting in worrying ways. We merge our identities and our lives with all of the bizarre circumstances presented to us and suddenly alien ideas like total isolation and wearing a mask everywhere are totally normal. More importantly, it becomes difficult to go back.
Feel comfortable with the disaster
In a time before the pandemic, disaster movies were the biggest form of escape. In movies like A quiet place, the scarcity and isolation of this world was something that existed only in the imagination. We could look for heroes and get lost in the stories because we were deleted. Come in Part II, the movie didn’t like the escape at all. It was familiar and it was scary.
In A Quiet Place, Part II, isolation for the sake of safety, and a healthy fear of others (those with potential liability) is a strangely relatable notion. Within a year, the focus of what was doing something scary has totally changed. Looking at Part II, the film’s most striking element was no longer the strangeness of a world built on isolation and fear. It was expected. Where the real horror of the film lay was in the examples of people who had lost all humanity.
As the film progresses into the third act, our heroes come face to face with a group of people who have adopted a predatory survival method. Once again, escape gives way to grim reality. It’s hard to watch villains who sacrifice the weak and interpret it as a fictional vision of a monstrous humanity when we’ve spent most of a year learning which of our colleagues, neighbors, and even our loved ones consider human life through the scope of “I have mine and I fuck everyone.
Invoke fear in our communities
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It locks its narrative to its 1981 setting and, more importantly, to the satanic panic that gripped the nation at the time. During the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, socio-political forces created a pervasive cultural narrative that led many Americans to believe that satanic cults had taken hold in their neighborhoods. Evil was everywhere, fear was growing and no one could be trusted.
While satanic panic looks ludicrous in hindsight, it’s also safe to say that our culture is in the throes of its own panics. Pandemic panic. Political panic. This past year has been defined by a frightening fear and distrust of our neighbors and the repeated message that you cannot rely on others to watch over you. In our isolation, many of us have only had the chance to watch the news and watch our own real horror unfold in the form of reports of a pandemic, a hostile electoral cycle, and unrest in nearly all of them. the corners of our life. The result is that each of us looks over our shoulders and asks ourselves, “Who was paying attention? Or “Who did they vote for?” “
Unlike the third Conjuring movie, where the Warrens uprooted and defeated the Occultist, there’s no third act showdown where we identify and remove what scares us. Fear in our communities is a condition we live with. Horror has historically reflected the main social concerns of a given period. For horror films that come out as the world reopens, it’s not the movie that reacts to the present moment – it’s how the moment has caused us to respond to horror in new ways.
Film and the entertainment industry in general have become an illustration of the global impact of the past year. The industry has shut down, releases have tentatively pivoted to a “new normal” through streaming partnerships, and theaters – once places of community gathering and shared experience – have remained empty. The cinema experience relies heavily on community, which is precisely why reopening some theaters has seemed to be the most promising sign of a return to a new level of normalcy.
As with the pandemic, horror movies are the first to venture out and test the waters. Many viewers will come to their first movie theater in over a year to project new horror like the final episodes of A quiet place or Conspiracy franchisees. For many viewers, myself included, the thrilling thrill of a new horror movie will be tempered by the slightest hum of anxiety. The on-screen scares don’t really take into account the fear of not knowing and overcoming the tension of the past eighteen months. The horror films of 2021 will serve as a weird and resonant re-entry point and also a small opportunity for hope. I’m not sure when we’ll comfortably gather for the common joy of screaming through a jumpscare or feeling an entire auditorium hold their breath as a slasher takes it out, but we’ll get there.
Caitlin is an Austin, TX-based sweater enthusiast, movie critic, and light-hearted typewriter. Her love of cinema began with the screening of Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves bourbon and hates people talking in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings and many more.