Why horror is the genre that will define 2021

From a siege of the United States Capitol to a presidential impeachment trial for inciting an insurrection to growing no-fly lists, many of the defining events from the first few weeks of 2021 could be lifted straight from a horror movie. It’s a foreboding, anxiety-ridden—and frankly, horrifying—atmosphere that lends itself to the genre. 

Historically, horror movies have provided astute social and political commentary and helped us make sense of what scares us in real-time. For example, many critics claim that “The Fly” (1986) speaks to the AIDS crisis, while “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) shines a light on racism in America. In 2020, many of us revisited dystopian pandemic flicks like “The Purge” and “28 Days Later.” 

Even as we emerge semi- or fully vaccinated from our post-pandemic cocoons, it will take some time to adapt to real life. In the meantime, we predict these subgenres will emerge as we continue to find catharsis from things that go bump in the night:   

Cult and zombie movies

It’s an understatement to say the past couple of years have been polarizing—we’re quick to label or argue with anyone who disagrees with our viewpoint. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s our fascination with cults and zombies.  

Before the pandemic hit, “Midsommar” gave us a window into the horror of a seemingly benign invitation turned into a deadly, cultish nightmare. Not a cult or zombie movie in the traditional sense, “Midsommar” is a case study in drinking the Kool-Aid and shows us the cryptic power of what people are capable of when the veil is lifted on people’s true feelings, resentments, and biases.

Of course, most of us only think about the shocking results of many cults. “Midsommar” shows us the ecstasy of indoctrination, and its idyllic scenes and flawless cinematography only juxtapose and amplify the horror. 

Disaster flicks

The pandemic continues to rage on in many places around the world, including India. But for many, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and more headspace to focus on the next most significant threat to human existence—climate change. 

Looking for a disaster flick to light a fire under you? In “The Day After Tomorrow,” the impacts of climate change cause the world to rebel against its inhabitants — and no one or nothing is safe. Apocalyptic weather, daring escape scenes, hopeful romance, and the expected scattering of plot holes make this disaster flick an entertaining and overly dramatized foreshadowing of the worst to come if we don’t make some serious changes to address climate change. 

More recently, the TV series “Snowpiercer” showed us that even when the world becomes an icy, uninhabitable hellscape and humanity must band together to survive, classism, hatred, murder, and heroism persist. If we can’t get along on a train speeding on a never-ending loop through an icy, hypothermic tundra, when will we? 

Invisible monsters 

After a year like 2020, many horror movies might call for an extra trigger warning or two. The COVID-19 monster has now earned its spot as a notorious villain of the digital age — an invisible terrorist that makes movies about the horrors we can’t see feel almost too real. 

If you’re looking for a flick that agitates the imagination, look no further than “A Quiet Place” and the upcoming sequel “A Quiet Place Part II.” Following the first movie’s deadly events (will we ever recover from the loss of Beau and Lee’s sacrifice?), the Abbott family must now face the terrors of the outside world while continuing to fight for their lives in complete silence. 

Of course, there’s always the classic that turned the horror genre on its monstrous head, “The Blair Witch Project.” 2020 and 2021 have been traumatic for sure, but at least we weren’t consumed by an invisible monster in the Maryland backwoods. 

Korean psycho thrillers 

Worldwide class and income disparities aren’t anything new, but the pandemic certainly shone a light on them, just as Korean filmmakers have been doing for years. 

We all enjoyed the horror and wild success of Best Picture winner “Parasite” in 2019. Zombie masterpiece “Train to Busan” received massive praise following its 2016, and it hits even harder in 2021.

The Korean zombie flick focused on a newly single father and the everyday people fighting to stay alive amid a zombie apocalypse. It’s an intense rebuke of individualistic and self-serving behavior, and masterfully highlights the grief patterns and psychological impacts of a spreading pandemic. Watch it to see how closely horror can mimic real life and to find solace in the fact that empathy always wins in the end.