Subdividing the horror genre unnecessarily restricts films and misleads viewers.
“Elevated horror” is a term I’ve seen people slinging around a fair bit recently, particularly in reference to the rise of films like Jordan Peele’s “Us” and “Get Out,” as well as John Krasinski’s entrance into the horror genre with “A Quiet Place.” The term “elevated horror” refers to the relatively recent rise of allegedly artsy horror, films that are somehow designated to be highbrow, standing above and looking down at the thrashing commons … or whatever sort of pretentious imagery could be easily associated with this sort of holier-than-thou status.
Krasinski’s film received its “elevated” label due to its unique, somewhat anti-horror gimmick: make a sound and you’ll get mauled to death. It’s not cerebral or abstract or particularly elegant, but the premise works directly against the shrill, jumpscare-heavy construction of the past decade or so of horror films. Krasinski saw the sort of stuff that works well as horror in theaters (sit down with friends, string instruments build up tension, a ghost or creepy, wide-eyed child bursts onto screen to make the whole audience jump, rinse and repeat) and made some slight variations to the formula. It’s different enough to be artistically unique without being unrecognizable as horror.
The thing with “elevated horror” is that I’m not even sure it really exists the way that viewers and critics describe it. There’s no clear delineation between baseline horror and “elevated horror,” and if there were to be, does that mean that regular horror is a lesser art form? The term itself implies that horror is an innately “low” genre, that it needed some dusting up. And perhaps that’s true — I could see myself agreeing with someone saying that Jordan Peele reinvigorated popular horror as an artistically rich genre, but I don’t buy the argument that his work, important as it is, is above the rest of the genre.
The creation of another subgenre of horror in itself is a bit frustrating. I think that at this point we know that genre-divisions are arbitrary and often restrictive, so why are we trying to create a category specifically for things that resist the categorization of genre?
“Hereditary,” another film often considered to be “elevated horror,” was described as a “family drama that curdles into a nightmare” by director Ari Aster up until its release. He avoided labeling it as a horror film to try to temper people’s expectations. Trying to mold a whole new genre to fit films like “Hereditary,” which can be negatively reviewed by people if they watch it in theaters expecting a fast-paced horror film, only furthers the genre problem. Let people go into a film with an open mind rather than with genre expectations stamped into their head.
Trying to label exciting new films as “elevated horror” is misguided. It seems like proponents of the label are trying to promote directors and projects they’re excited about by calling them “elevated,” but it will only serve to put those out-the-box ideas into a newer, different box. The label also attempts to reduce the dynamic history of horror films into something insignificant. Just let “elevated horror” films be films, no labels attached.