Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve last posted on here…I’m sorry to keep you guys waiting by the edge of your seats (LOL). I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about some of my favorite thriller and horror films over the past year – A Quiet Place (2018), It Comes At Night (2017), Super Dark Times (2017), and while they are all such different films, I found a lot of my thoughts and analyses about them to be quite redundant.
I was left wondering, what is it that separates these films from each other? What makes them so special? I think how we categorize fear for one is very important here. If we want to categorize anything in the genres of thriller/horror it should be categorized by the type of fear that particular film embellishes. So, I have taken it upon myself to create a scale of fear, “The O-S Scale”, to help one analyze thriller/horror films more adequately (Get your notepads out gang!).
To me, there are two extremities when it comes to fear in film – Objective Fear and Subjective Fear. If we think about the literal term ‘Objective’ this comes from meaning actuality or supportive reasoning such as statistical facts or science that explains why something would be categorized as objective. While ‘Subjective’ comes from meaning interpretation, or personal declarations such as feelings or emotions, that explain why something would be categorized as subjective. Thus, Objective Fear refers to actuality, or overt fear, while Subjective Fear refers to interpretation, or ambiguous fear.
For example, your most objectively scary movies are going to be your slasher or torture films, to name a couple – movies in which you’re directly faced with the catalyst of the fear. In these films you might often wonder, “What caused this evil rage? – A wrong-doing? A mental-health issue? What does this perpetrator want from the victims?”
While your subjectively scary movies are often more of your or dystopian films or films that lack a distinctive Mise en Scene – movies in which the root of the fear is harder to define, and often described as “IT”, because the evil is something we have yet to put into words, category, or meaningful thought. In these films, you might often find yourself thinking, “What is IT? Is IT all of our problems manifested into something we can’t explain, something we can’t see, something we can only feel? Is the evil that we combat self-induced?”
To put things in perspective, if we were to label the most objectively scary movies on my “O-S Scale” as a 10 and the most subjectively scary movies as a 1 (not to say that a 10 correlates to horror and a 1 correlates to a lack of horror), we could consider a movie like Halloween (1978) as a 10 and a movie like It Comes At Night (2017) as a 1.
Further, during your objectively scary movies, our fear is usually instilled like a rollercoaster – build-up’s to a climax followed by a come-down from that scene, followed by a relapse, over and over again until the movie concludes. Yet, during the subjectively scary movies, there aren’t usually these sporadic moments of climax throughout the film. Of course there are climatic moments for sure, however, there’s more so this lingering of constant unease or fear during the whole movie. As if the tension we feel comes from knowing we’re not going to get that big hurrah of a scare when we anticipate it, because we don’t even know exactly what the fuck we are afraid of yet (see homemade graphs below).
Let’s break this down in more of a literal context – Usually your objectively scary movies are conducive to dark hallways passed through by a shaky protagonist with a light waiting to turn sharply to only see a ghost staring back at them. Our subjectively scary movies might be envisioned as a petrified protagonist alone in the woods searching for the root of strange noises, sightings, etc. Make sense?
Now, in my humble opinion, I think we are currently in a subjectively dominated era of horror. Not to demean or disenchant the great objectively scary movies that have recently been made, but I do feel as if our current climate of horror leans more on the subjective side. One thing that we can all agree on, is that there are great masterpieces of both objective and subjective film of all sorts, despite if you have a certain preference in category or not. Likewise, we can also agree that neither category of film is more scarier than the other.
What I hope you take away from all of this, is a new lens to analyze the thriller/horror genre of film. I hope to bring more critical thought to the physical reactions that are a natural byproduct of our deepest cognitive emotions. To enlighten my readers on the subject matter of fear itself – an inevitable, natural, and complicated source from our inner subconscious, that is often the reason for why we can or cannot explain our complexity of wonder.
What are some of your favorite thriller/horror films? How would you rank them on the O-S Scale? How do you feel about these categories, do you agree or disagree with this spectrum? Below are some horror films that I have ranked on the O-S Scale, let me know what you think!
Halloween (1978) – 10
It Follows (2014) – 1
As Above, So Below (2014) – 6
It Comes At Night (2017) – 1
A Quiet Place (2018) – 7
The Invitation (2015) – 5
Honeymoon (2014) – 4
Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015) – 3
The Witch (2015) – 4
Super Dark Times (2017) – 1
Jeepers Creepers (2001) -10
Hereditary (2018) – 4
The Others (2001) – 2