Examining horror movie tropes and whether or not the genre has gone stale
Benjamin Jacobs // Contributor
Imagine this scenario: a group of teenagers with forgettable personalities explore an abandoned area. These teenagers will fit into one of the following categories: the jock, the fanservice girl, the nerd and/or stoner, the token minority character, the nice guy or the “virgin” girl. Coincidentally, the area they are exploring has some connection to a dangerous force acting as the antagonist, ranging from the devil himself, to a serial killer that just happens to be in the area. As the teens explore and get acquainted with their surroundings, the antagonist kills our heroes one by one with jump scares and gruesome imagery galore, and by the end of the movie, either everyone is dead or the virgin girl is the sole survivor. Of course, while the protagonists are forgotten, the antagonist lives on, becoming the mascot for the inevitable franchise.
Of course, this summary can explain a run-of-the-mill horror movie such as Friday the 13th or The Blair Witch Project. Despite these two examples being classics in the genre, they are still filled with the stated cliches and follow the formula presented. However, it is important to note that not all horror movies are like this, and that the horror genre is not stale, as there is still some room for creativity, even within these tired tropes.
One thing that the genre needs to do is scare the audience, triggering their deepest anxieties by creating tension throughout. A brilliant example of this would be John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. The movie is about a family living in complete silence in a post-apocalyptic Earth now dominated by human-hunting creatures with hypersensitive hearing. It works well because the lack of sound puts the viewer on the edge of their seat, waiting to see who will be the first to break the silence. The film uses jump scares effectively, slowly building tension throughout.
However, jump scares are typically used as an easy scare. Oh sure, they can be utilized well, but when overused throughout the movie, it becomes boring. Considering how overdone this trope is it’s not surprising it seems tired.
While there are still many good horror movies out there that work with the cliches presented, the genre could also experiment with some innovative new ideas. However, these too may be at risk of becoming well-known cliches in the future. For example, despite many people hating the found footage trope within horror, it did start off as an experiment with The Blair Witch Project. Despite the fact that it was slow and the characters came off as annoying, it was still utterly terrifying. As the experimental found footage element had never really been used before, it gave the film a sense of realism that was new to the genre.
There is still plenty of potential for growth in the horror genre. Since the film industry is continually expanding, who’s to say that the horror genre couldn’t break the mould and find some new techniques and themes to explore.