Horror movies for the wary watcher

An image from a promotional poster for the movie “Midsommar.” As seen above, the film utilizes landscapes and an uneasy sense of whimsy that juxtaposes the dark subject matter. // Photo courtesy of A24

There are many reasons that one may not enjoy horror movies. Maybe you do not get the adrenaline rush from fear. Maybe living in midtown Atlanta is scary enough for you. Maybe slasher films are not intellectually stimulating enough for you. Or maybe you were scarred for life by an excited parent convincing you to watch a scary movie when  you were too young for it to be fun. 

Many may consider horror movies to be their longtime adversaries, but one specific type of horror movie has the power to change that perspective.

The movies that create the case for horror have a few key elements that make them much more accessible to those who may not be huge fans of the genre: they have a relatable protagonist, there is a deeper meaning behind the story and the horror elements do not rely on pure gore.

One of these such films is “The Descent,” a 2005 film that follows the story of six young women who unknowingly descend into the horrors of a previously undiscovered cave. 

While this film does follow many conventional “cheap” horror tropes, such as plenty of blood and weird zombie-like creatures, it sets itself apart from other horror films through the ways it diverges from these conventions. 

Many of the classic “slasher” films that feature similar groups of protagonists, particularly young women, lack a depth to the overall storytelling and characters that can leave them feeling hollow. 

Conversely, “The Descent” features characters who have strengths, weaknesses and struggles that are revealed to viewers early enough into the film for viewers to be able to relate to them. 

The entire film serves as an allegory for one of the character’s journey to work through the guilt and trauma of a recent tragedy in her life. As she traverses the physical challenges of the story, she is simultaneously working through a part of her trauma that parallels the situation she finds herself in.

Through the film’s depth of characters and storytelling, “The Descent” reflects the greatest strength of horror films: they allow us to examine and critique parts of the human experience that are otherwise too taboo to discuss openly. In the case of “The Descent,” horror is used to artfully comment on the experience of healing from trauma.

Examining the philosophical significance behind horror can grow your appreciation for the genre as an art form. It allows us to explore parts of our lives that are otherwise very difficult to communicate in a manner that does not carry the weight of works like documentaries. 

The 2014 film “As Above, So Below” follows a group of protagonists into the catacombs of Paris through a series of perilous trials somewhat reminiscent of “The Descent” but instead making use of the controversial “found footage” style.

While this film makes liberal use of horrific imagery, from copious amounts of realistic blood to protagonists literally burning alive, it manages to do so in a way that does not drown out the deeper commentary that the film is making. 

Unlike the usage of the horror genre in “The Descent” to make commentary on the struggle of moving on, “As Above, So Below” uses the genre to make an extensive and dark commentary on the spiritual concept of salvation and the afterlife. 

When watching this movie, the film shockingly dares to answer the question “What is hell?” in a jarring and honest manner, which shows the insight and honesty that is reflected in the horror genre. 

One of the most impactful horror films created was the 2019 film “Midsommar,” known for its strong aesthetic opposition to conventional horror. The film is set in a theoretically idyllic location — rural Sweden in the summer — aesthetically characterized by bright and airy hues. It includes imagery of flowing white dresses, flower crowns, bright blue skies and a community appearing to live in perfect harmony. 

Instead of using blood or the supernatural to be scary, “Midsommar” uses something much more terrifying: the manipulation of a vulnerable person. 

The skillful subversion of horror tropes in the film creates the perfect watch for someone avoiding the horror genre because of a weak stomach. 

Whether you have been avoiding horror movies since childhood or last Halloween, there is a horror movie out there for you with the potential to broaden your definition of life, death or art.