by Erich Asperschlager
IT succeeds in just about every way: as a satisfying first part of a planned series of films (tricky), as a book adaptation (tough), as a Stephen King adaptation (tougher), and as a film carried almost entirely by child actors (near impossible). It's thrilling, funny, moving, and scary. It's also the latest exhibit A in an ongoing argument about what counts as “horror.”
There was an outcry in the online film community earlier this year when some critics insisted Jordan Peele’s Get Out wasn't a horror movie but rather a “social thriller.” Then came an article from The Guardian arguing that movies like The Witch and A Ghost Story are “post-horror,” whatever that means. Horror fans rightfully bristled at what felt like a campaign to rescue well-made horror films from the genre ghetto. “These films can't be horror,” these pop cultural St. Bernards seemed to say. “They're good!”
Horror fans were not pleased.
Once again, I understand the anger—the mother grizzly instinct to protect a horror movie from those who would tag, drug, and relocate it to a more genteel preserve. Perhaps, though, we should use this latest outrage as an opportunity to rethink the way we label and categorize films. It’s not as rigid as the modern rush to classify movies down to the sub-sub-sub-genre level would suggest. The truth is, Get Out is horror and a thriller and social commentary. The problem isn't the idea that a movie fits into more than one category. It's the presumption that no good or thoughtful film can be horror because horror movies are neither.
Screw the pretentious critics who stick their nose up at horror; and screw the horror fans who stick their nose up at anything they don't consider to be “true horror.” Both types of people are wedged between walls of narrow perception and should be pitied. The rest of us need to take a breath and realize that the “X is not horror” discussion is an indicator that horror movies are growing in popularity and reaching a wider audience. As infuriating as it is to see snobby critics disqualify horror movies because they aren’t scary, we should never shame the average moviegoer whose idea of horror differs from our own, even if that criteria is as simple as “was I scared?” Horror is great because horror is inclusive. Circling the wagons protects from outside attack, but it keeps others out as well. If we get too defensive about what is and isn't horror, we risk driving newcomers away. Maybe someone who doesn't think they like scary movies will go see IT this week because they heard it's “not a horror movie.” If they have fun, maybe they seek out other scary movies. Before you know it, Patrick is reading their seven word review on an October podcast.