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‘Midsommar’ and the phantom genre of elevated horror

| Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

If you asked a film buff to explain the meaning of the term “elevated horror,” they would probably start off by listing a smattering of critically acclaimed horror films from the last decade. Movies like “The Babadook” and “It Follows” are elevated horror. “Get Out” and “Us” are certainly elevated horror. What about the “The Witch,” “Mother!” and “Hereditary?” Absolutely elevated horror. Our film buff friend would likely revel in categorizing such films according to this vaguely-defined hierarchy. What a happy time for this unique and totally legitimate sub-genre!

And recent events seem to indicate our film friend is right. Just last weekend, film production and distribution company A24 released an extended cut of Ari Aster’s summer release “Midsommar”— with an added 25 minutes of footage for all those die-hard elevated horror fans to feast upon. But what exactly is elevated horror and why should anyone but pretentious film nerds care about it? Perhaps you yourself have stumbled across the term ‘elevated horror’ in Youtube video essays or on Reddit threads, or maybe your annoying FTT friend wouldn’t shut up about how the monster from “It Follows” is actually a metaphor for STDs. Maybe you’ve never heard of the term before and just want me to offer a definition already. To this last group, I apologize. I cannot provide you with a definition because the genre of elevated horror doesn’t exist.

That’s right. There is no such thing as elevated horror, and I henceforth decree any further discussion of elevated horror to be the subject of buffoonery and idiot-speak. When our film buff friend raves on and on about how “Midsommar” or “Get Out” is ‘elevated’ all they really mean is that they saw a horror movie that included the use of metaphors and maybe had an ambiguous ending. This isn’t to say “Midsommar” and “Get Out” don’t rock — they do and you should go see them — but classifying horror films (or any film for that matter) as ‘elevated’ simply for including metaphor and possessing basic characteristics of art house cinema is not only snobbish, but also silly.

Any high school English student can tell you what a metaphor is and recognizing metaphor doesn’t elevate a horror film above the rest of the pack. There are heaps of slasher flicks (“Psycho,” “Halloween,” “Scream,” etc.) with plenty of merit. Lest we also forget psychological thrillers (“Silence of the Lambs”) or body horror films (“The Thing,” “The Fly,” etc.) that are classics in their own right. We could include these movies in the “elevated horror” sub-genre for the sake of argument, but such an inclusion would make the category meaningless. The whole genre would then function simply to mean “horror movies which we generally hold to be good” which isn’t done in any other genre of film.

We don’t refer to “Up” or “Ratatouille” as elevated animation. We don’t refer to “The Dark Knight” or “Black Panther” as elevated hero epics. We correctly identify those films as belonging to the animation and superhero genres respectively and then discuss their merits as genre films and as films in general. Thus, horror fans should reject the pseudointellectual term ‘elevated horror’ and not overly glorify the use of metaphors in film for the sole purpose of sounding intelligent when discussing the merits of horror movies. Instead, we should all celebrate the great quantity and quality of horror films being produced today. Moreover, we should appreciate how the genre continues to serve as a place for filmmakers to experiment and express themselves on the big screen in unique and provocative ways.

So go see Jordan Peele’s next movie. Rent “Midsommar” when it’s out on DVD. Grab your annoying film friend and flock to the silver screen for Robert Egger’s “The Lighthouse” when it comes to theaters this October. Get out there and experience the unique voices at work in the horror genre today. Their films may be disturbing and oftentimes genre-bending, but they’re not ‘elevated’ and they’re not exclusive. They’re just weird and seriously fun alternatives to the increasingly homogenous offerings at your local cinema. So let’s go see them before Disney buys A24.

See you at the movies!

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