From Jordan Peele to Stephen King: how the horror film resurgence is representing 2019’s terrors

Social commentary, yeah?

Some psychoanalysts reckon we watch horror films for catharsis, as a way of purging negative feelings and pent-up aggression. Well, maybe that’s why the genre’s having a massive resurgence in 2019. There’s no end of stuff to get yourself all worked up about in the current climate, no end of issues to purge with blood and guts and violence and medium-to-large onscreen terror. It’s shaping up to be a golden year of shit-your-pants cinema, and there’s a precedent for this.

In the ‘60s America feared the ‘other’, reflected in the likes of Night Of The Living Dead; in the 1970s it grappled with the real-life violence piped into TV screens from Vietnam, resulting in moralistic horrors such as Last House On The Left; and in the ‘80s audiences flocked to watch It to purge anxiety over AIDS, an unknowable force paralleled by the shape-shifting central demon. But which anxieties are reflected on cinema screens in 2019 – and why?

The collapse of civilisation!

The dread scroll of the Twitter feed. The creeping sense that, in the UK and the US, society is deteriorating – and you could be next. It’s all right there in Us, modern horror master Jordan Peele’s doppelgänger chiller about (spoiler alert!) an overlooked class of people who, after having being locked out of mainstream society for years and years, rise up to make their voices heard. Sound familiar? Also there’s the unsubtle wordplay in the title: Us / U.S. – geddit?


The destruction of the future!

Sorry to sound like a low-rent stand-up comedian on a cruise ship – but hey, killer doll movies, what’s all that about? The fear that your children have been exposed to forces beyond your control, of course. In both the UK and the US, young ’uns are worse off than their parents; each successive generation has enjoyed better living standards than the previous one – until now. Maybe that’s why we’re getting a couple of scary doll movies in 2019, from Annabelle Comes Home to Child’s Play, a Chucky reboot that hits reset on the franchise.

Tech claustrophobia!

Ever get the feeling that the walls are closing in, you’re being watched, hemmed in by tech that tracks your every movie? This sense of claustrophobia is evoked by Happy Death Day 2U, a sequel to 2017 sleeper hit Happy Death Day – it’s sort of Groundhog Day mixed with a slasher movie – as characters are trapped in a 24-hour loop, living out the same stabby day over and over.

Nostalgia for a ‘better’ time! 

Two words: Stephen King. Ah, man, everything was better in the past, wasn’t it? Actually, as we’ve seen, people always have been shit-scared about something or other, but many of us definitely have nostalgia for our younger years, when the scariest thing we could think of was a cracked paperback copy of It or Pet Sematary, or even – less scarily, to be honest – a ropey film adaptation.

So 2019 is offering us a few Stephen King throwbacks, tales that have claws their way out of the dirt and back into our mortal real: a remake of Pet Sematary; a sequel to The Shining, named Doctor Sleep, adapted from King’s 2013 novel of the same name; and It: Chapter Two. All will, paradoxically, remind us of a simpler, more comforting time – while giving us the willies.


A general sense of injustice!

You know the whole idea that the people in charge should be looking our for best interests and have our wellbeing in mind? What if… they didn’t? What if… they were only out for themselves? I know, I know, it doesn’t seem – but perhaps that’s the contemporary fear at the heart of Brightburn, a sort of darkweb Superman in which a superhero crash lands from another planet but, instead of coming to protecting us, turns out to be a bad bastard instead.