On Friday, the prestige horror film Hereditary, which, depending on your capacity for these things, is either scary as all hell or scary but not that scary, beat already fairly rosy box-office predictions, bringing in $13 million and giving boutique powerhouse studio A24 its biggest opening weekend ever. Directed by Ari Aster and starring Toni Collette, the film is a nightmarish buffet of intrafamilial terror, demonic possession, immolation, and decapitation widely regarded as one of the most sadistically horrifying movies in years. I can tell you this because I have read the Wikipedia plot summary for Hereditary multiple times, which is the only way I will ever personally experience any of that terror and decapitation, because no way am I actually watching that shit.
It’s me, the Culture Knower so frightened of horror movies that I have resigned myself to only reading about them on the internet, which is like viewing a solar eclipse by staring into a cardboard box. I live in fear of those moments when a super-scary movie gains such prominence—like It in 2017, or A Quiet Place in 2018—that my refusal to go within 200 yards of a multiplex constitutes a personal and professional liability. The sole exception I have made in the past decade is Get Out, which I am very proud to tell you I watched in the theater, grinding my armrests into dust.
Otherwise, forget it. Seriously. Get a load of this, or better yet, don’t.
At times I tell myself that the issue here is not Scariness but Bleakness, that I am not a chicken, but rather just a heroically thoughtful and sensitive person. For example, I have an especially profound dislike for Black Mirror, which horror enthusiasts might argue is not really horror at all, but that nonetheless has a very specifically unbearable tone of operatic despair. Or at least, that’s my impression after reading the Wikipedia plot summaries for every episode of Black Mirror. My least-favorite episodes, based on this method, are “White Bear,” “White Christmas,” and the part of “Black Museum” when the lady is trapped in the stuffed monkey. (Relatedly, my least-pleasant cultural experience of 2017 was reading the Wikipedia plot summary for the 1981 Stephen King short story “The Jaunt.”) I have physically watched just one episode of Black Mirror, that being, you guessed it, “San Junipero,” which I endured only after extensive textual and face-to-face verbal confirmation that it has a happy ending. (Maybe.)
I have become, therefore, a connoisseur of Wikipedia descriptions of terrible, terrible things. The plot summary of 2016’s Don’t Breathe was a hell of a ride, the turkey-baster reveal handled with both economy and delicacy; the 2017 Oscar in this category goes to the synopsis of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, which does a lot of tricky pronoun work and has a pleasingly pompous rhythm overall. (“Amidst gunfire and explosions, the Herald, the poet’s publicist, organizes mass executions.”) Whoever has chosen to chronice the various atrocities of the Saw franchise is likely working harder than most of the people making the Saw movies.
On this basis, I would give the plot summary of Hereditary four stars, or four bloody skulls, or four “lady crossing her arms” emojis, or whatever. The summary is grammatically pleasing, and ordered into concise and coherent paragraphs, and thorough without rambling. (The worst is when it’s a horror movie involving the slaughter of like 75 interchangeable teenagers, such as Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, making it very frustrating to determine who smashed whose hand with a hammer.) The Hereditary summary, I noticed, was dramatically edited sometime between Friday and Monday, the specific description of That Really Upsetting Scene in a Car stripped of much of its detail, presumably in an attempt to not upset me personally. (Too late.) I don’t want to know how the sentence “Peter has an experience in class and breaks his own nose” plays out in a crowded movie theater; I want all the facts and literally none of the feelings.
Why do I even read these things, though? Are these “facts” really so important? Am I actually obligated to find out who is brutally murdered in Unsane, and where, and why? Or is this just the internet equivalent of how, as a little kid, I used to browse the horror-movie aisle of the Walmart video-rental section, memorizing the back-cover plot synopses of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sleepaway Camp and all the other movies I’d be too terrified to watch, even as an adult? Do I have the brain of a horror-movie savant, but not the heart, or the guts? Should movie studios release PG-rated versions of all horror movies for heroically thoughtful and sensitive cinephiles such as myself, with all the scary scenes replaced with replays of LeBron James’s block in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals? No idea, no, no, yes, probably, and definitely.
Have you seen this movie, Green Room? I sure as hell haven’t.
Probably this one isn’t technically horror either, but the “embattled amateur punk-rock band” conceit intrigues me, and the trailer looked great. (Yes, I can suffer through most trailers, though not all of them: The Final Destination series has a very specific air of garish, gleeful whimsy that makes any exposure to it super-traumatic.) I have contemplated working up the courage to watch Green Room practically every day since the film’s release, in 2015. How bad can it be? It’s short, it can be experienced via Amazon Prime as one of 25 open browser tabs, and I can take a walk every 10 minutes, preferably while the movie is still playing. How I know I am still entertaining this plan is that I have not yet read the Wikipedia plot summary for Green Room. No spoilers, please. I can handle that on my own.