In the trailer for Get Out (2017) there are jump scares, gleaming surgical instruments, unnatural movement, musical stings, and a roaring skeletal stag. This is a film, the trailer suggests, that seeks to scare or at the very least unnerve you. The trailer situates the film as a horror film.
Following its release, Get Out was met with critical acclaim, and was nominated for four Academy Awards (winning the title of Best Original Screenplay). It was also simultaneously, and curiously, distanced from the horror genre, whether through its positioning in the Comedy/Musical category at the Golden Globe Awards, or by reference to it being a “social thriller”.
There emerged a persistent desire to delineate a specific term for an apparently “different” form of horror cinema, a term which could be utilised to disassociate Get Out, along with The Witch (2015), It Comes at Night (2017), A Quiet Place (2018), and Hereditary (2018) among others from the perceived low-brow quality of the broader horror genre.
The term that gained the most attention was coined by Steve Rose, who posited that “post-horror” represented a ‘new breed’ of genre films that replaced ‘jump scares with existential dread’. A slew of alternative terms followed this article, including ‘elevated horror’, ‘prestige horror’, ‘highbrow horror’, and ‘smart horror’. The commonality of these terms is clear, in their implication that the horror genre is not usually elevated, prestige, highbrow, or even smart.
These terms also function to distance the “serious” critic from the historically distasteful, and possibly deviant, position of horror fan, in their key suggestion that if a non-horror fan enjoys a horror film, then that film cannot possibly belong to the horror genre, which is a “bad” genre, and from which nothing of worth ever emerges.
The problem with post-horror therefore is characterised not only by a lack of understanding of horror genre history, as highlighted in Nia Edwards-Behi’s superb response to the term, but also by its critical ignorance of the horror genre as it currently stands. A genre which, as contributors to this theme week will show, has never been so varied and vibrant.