The best horror films, TV shows and books are able to examine relevant issues through a unique lens. By creating a level of separation between the viewer or reader and the underlying theme with the outward expression of horrifying images, excellent works of horror are able to present interesting and often important themes with nuance. It’s fascinating that 2018’s best horror and thriller films and TV shows — HBO’s Sharp Objects, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, A24’s Hereditary and Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place — all explore grief and inherited trauma within families.
All of the works are outstanding in their own right, but when examined together, they seem to suggest that grief, trauma, guilt and loss have a corrosive impact upon familial relations. Specifically that an individual can assume the grief and trauma of other family members. It is certainly a dark theme, with Sharp Objects and Hereditary ending on a more sour note than The Haunting of Hill House and A Quiet Place. However, it’s becoming apparent that the best horror entries are more than just genre films or TV shows; they are complex works of art with important and relevant messages and themes.
In all of the works listed, the families are left reeling after the death of a family member. Hereditary, The Haunting of Hill House and A Quiet Place depict supernatural entities that are haunting or hunting the main characters. Although Sharp Objects does not deal with the supernatural, its Southern Gothic atmosphere is still tinged with lingering horror and dread. They use atmospheric cinematography and sound design to paint the picture of families in ruins. Interestingly, all four of the works are slow-burns as well, carefully unfolding the plot as the respective families fall apart.
In each of the works, the outward expression of physical horror only partially conceals the emotional horror of the characters’ situations. In The Haunting of Hill House, the ghosts that seem to haunt every corner of the house mirror the metaphorical ghosts of mental illness that haunt the family. Though I do not want to give away spoilers, inherited trauma is depicted in a particularly disturbing way in Hereditary, as it is passed from grandmother to mother to children. In A Quiet Place, the creatures are both the source and representation of grief. Lastly, the mysterious death of several girls in Sharp Objects evokes a sense of deja vu in the protagonist’s past and acts as a source of contention in her already complicated family.
All of the works are able to use the often-criticized and discounted horror and thriller genres to intelligently and profoundly depict families in crisis and the midst of chaos. 2018’s entries show that horror is a genre to be taken seriously, as some of the most interesting reflections on the human experience are presented through this darker lens.