[Ryan] “Elevated Horror,” And Other Things That Don’t Exist, Probably

I opened Twitter on Sunday, April 9th to learn that John Krasinski, who portrayed Jim for nine seasons on The Office and recently directed the surprise hit, A Quiet Place, is not a horror fan. Or, he wasn’t. Until recently, when, according to Krasinski, companies like A24 begin to green-light what he calls “elevated horror.” Films like Get Out, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Witch, It Comes At Night.

That is, horror films that famously, or infamously, had next to no “Boo!” factor and, usually, some degree of social commentary. Now, it should not be surprising that the onslaught of “John Krasinski Is Actually Bad” articles have arrived, and so soon at that. Outrage is profitable, as always. With the advent of the “hot take,” the ever-profitable “outrage factor” has become clickable. Angry clicks generate ad revenue, and ad revenue funds future outrage pieces.

Krasinski was bound to say something, to someone, that might conceivably upset us. And no mid-grade internet publication is exempt from the temptation to mine their interview materials for such content. Krasinski’s admittedly boneheaded comments are the newest such outrage. It is not a good look for any horror director to dismiss the genre at large. It is especially unbecoming for a genre newcomer to suggest that horror only became worthwhile in recent years – and, at that, only among a rather narrow cast of films. The implication, of course, being that A Quiet Place, Krasinski’s first horror outing, belongs in the aforementioned cast of “elevated horror.” One is reminded of an interview in which William Friedkin skewered Nicholas Winding Refn for calling his own film (Only God Forgives) a masterpiece.

The outrage! I’ll begin by pointing out the obvious: Krasinski’s comments were stupid. Horror has always been elevated, so to speak. There has scarcely been a time when even “low-brow” horror was devoid of ethos. As I recently wrote in an article for Drive-In Asylum, even the much-maligned exploitation sub-genre has never been, properly speaking, nihilistic. When much of popular entertainment had contented itself to be kitsch, passively conservative, horror has always longed for another world and invited its audience to do the same.

But lambasting Krasinski, clearly a talented genre filmmaker, for not having been a lifelong member of the Junior Varsity Horror Enthusiasts Club is bizarre. His comments reminded me of a minor controversy a year or two back. The first time that I was told, quite matter-of-factly, that It Comes At Night was not a horror film, it was not by an angry teenager lamenting (SPOILER, I GUESS, KIND OF) the fact that there was no “it” that came at night, but a card-carrying Film-Twitter-intellectual-guy. He informed me that the film was, in fact, a prime example of what he, and the academics whose work he was parroting, called “post-horror.” He explained that post-horror is a phenomenon in which films devoid of common genre tropes are built around premises traditionally suited for “scary movies.” He listed other examples: The Witch, again. Get Out, which, at that time, had just been released. As an early example, he cited Dogtooth.

You’ll notice that these are the same films now dubbed “elevated horror.” The underlying assumption, of course, is that there’s nothing more to horror cinema than, well, spookiness, or something. And so when A Quiet Place is released – which deals, on one reading, with the terror and trauma that comes with parenthood, all parenthood, the tenuousness of bringing a new creature into this world, or any world, which suffocates the weak, and turns the gentle cruel or comatose – it is treated as an exception to the norm.

But if you are a semi-regular reader here at Grindhouse Theology, you’re probably fully aware that this isn’t the case. Horror can be oddly humanizing. And devout. No genre comes close to matching horror’s insatiable thirst for transcendence. You cannot watch a horror film without being thrust into an encounter with the sublime.

Which is to say that A Quiet Place, like The Witch, It Comes At Night, and whichever other horror films you liked too much to call “horror,” are well within the bounds of “horror proper.” They aren’t “elevated,” because the genre is not “submerged.”

I suspect Krasinski will figure this much out on his own. He’s made a smash-hit horror film. His future projects will be greenlit with much less difficulty. He will be asked to produce more horror films, because his track record is proven. I hope that he will. And I hope that, in the coming years, he will revisit The Exorcist, or Rosemary’s Baby, or Messiah of Evil (my favorite of the three, truthfully), and realize that his comments were daft; That horror has always been top-shelf. Increasingly, between Get Out and The Shape of Water (yes, it’s a horror film – deal with it), it seems plausible that audiences the world over might share in that epiphany.

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