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'Get Out', 'Hereditary' and the issue with elevated horror


Traversing genre and burrowing into the fabric of everyday life, the horror genre is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, keeping our mortality in check whilst toying with the darkest fears of the internal mind. From old wives’ tales to gothic literature, horror has mutated into a popular cinematic medium in which brains are splattered onto walls, dark phantoms haunt the unfortunate and human psychology is surgically picked apart. 

Just like the horror folk tales of old were spiked with a moral lesson, the cinematic genre followed suit, with horror having long been associated with being one of the most relevant and ‘human’ forms of storytelling there is, dissecting the dark realities of the modern world and to allocate their true meaning. Such was applicable way back in George Romero’s classic and racially-charged Night of the Living Dead, and remains true to this day with Jordan Peele’s equally pertinent 2017 film Get Out, so why is it that some are terming this new wave of original horror, new, superior and ‘elevated’?

Pioneered by the independent distribution company A24, modern horror has seen great success in the past decade, with such films as Ari Aster’s Midsommar to Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, whilst further afield, the likes of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Peele’s Get Out have seized the cultural zeitgeist. Dark, contemplative and atmospherically immersive, these films invite a more self-reflective attitude, asking viewers to identify with their material rather than passively let it pass them by. 

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Whilst eager fans of cinema may call this ‘elevated horror’, genre fans would simply call it ‘horror’, even going so far as to say that such aforementioned films are ‘horror films for people who don’t like horror’. This is simply due to the fact that the horror genre has indisputably always dealt with themes of racism, depression and romantic heartbreak, with the likes of The Babadook being unable to exist had it not been for 1968s Rosemary’s Baby, with the same to be said for Midsommar and the 1981 film Possession

No doubt, modern horror is going through a refreshing revival with a diverse range of voices like Remi Weekes, Prano Bailey-Bond and Nikyatu Jusu helping to imbue a sense of originality in a long-stagnant genre. Though, even during an era of stagnation, horror was still marked with considerable success throughout the early 21st century, with even the peculiar trend of torture porn imbued with important cultural significance. 

“There’s something quite snobby about the term elevated horror,” Censor director Prano Bailey-Bond told Far Out in a recent interview, “horror has always been the genre that’s gone to the difficult places and been tackling complicated psychological or sociological ideas”. Instead, Bond describes the modern horror resurgence as simply a “really great cycle” for the genre as it welcomes a whole host of new voices, with many other filmmakers and critics echoing these comments. 

Without the ground for existence, the term ‘elevated horror’ is redundant, reserved for those who simply believe themselves to be above a genre they deem to be ‘trashy’, with only the overt intelligence of such modern movies being worth their time. To use the term is to ignore decades of innovation in the intricate genre, having long exposed the fears and explicit evolutions of the contemporary zeitgeist, including the atomic fears of the 1950s, the consumerism confusion in the 1970s or the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 

The horror genre has long been the jester of the Hollywood stage, having the most fun as it dances and jokes, whilst being the most truthful and profound person in the room. To mark such recent horror innovations as ‘elevated’ is to suggest that you were the first person to notice that there ‘might be more’ to one of the oldest and most popular movie genres of all time.

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