In a recent interview, bestselling author Paul Tremblay talked about releasing his new book, Survivor Song, during a pandemic. The story revolves around a rabid-like virus, and deals with themes of paranoia, fear and isolation. While Tremblay had no idea COVID19 was lurking on the horizon, after reading him talk about feeling almost “apologetic for the book”, it hit me that the current climate of hysteria may impact negatively on entertainment that deal with similar themes (see The Stand by Stephen King, NOD by Adrian Barnes, The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker, and movies like Outbreak, Contagion, and 28 Days Later).
News broadcasts articulate daily on rising death tolls and the continuing spread of the disease, and footage of lockdowns, faces obscured by masks, reports of food shortages due to panic buying, economical uncertainty, job losses, the strain on hospitals and staff, the closing of businesses, shops, restaurants, cinemas, cafes, major events cancelled, holidays lost, and doctors playing God, is the fact we’re seemingly living in the very pages of fiction a push to seek out works that immerse us back into the nightmare? Could COVID19
mark the beginning of the end to horror?
In our home, my wife and I no longer watch terrestrial television for fear one of us will inadvertently switch a challenge and stumble into more footage of coffins stacked atop of each other in shipping containers. This is not a head in the sand moment. This is protecting our mental wellbeing. We know, like everyone else the severity of the situation that exists beyond our door, but for the sake of our sanity, we don’t need to be reminded of it on a hourly basis. For this reason, Netflix has become our respite. But I was surprised to find that, while searching for new episodes of Better Call Saul, under “popular searches” was the documentary, Pandemic. Next in list was Quarantine. Are people searching out these shows/movies, and if so, why? Is it to relate, to understand more, to know that it isn’t just them going through this? It seems so.
Downloads of Stephen Soderbergh’s thriller Contagion have soared, which holds a chilling realism to the current pandemic. Outbreak, the 1995 movie starring Dustin Hoffman is about, ironical, a virus outbreak, and apparently the third most streamed movie on Netflix. So why? Surely now is the time to sing along with Dick Van Dyke as he shoves his sweep up Mary Poppins’s chimney. Or finally get around to that Adam Sandler marathon you’ve been putting off. Or maybe revisit all those Merchant Ivory period dramas you hated as a teenager, but now might find merit in their pretension.
There is a theory that watching movies like 28 Days Later, World War Z, Contagion and Quarantine, allows us to live vicariously through the experience and survive. Whereas actually living through it still holds some uncertainty. This runs risks. By immersing yourself in the extreme, and seeing it daily on the streets you walk, can lead you to some dark places in the mind. Mental health is as fragile now as ever. The need to protect the brain from too much negativity is paramount to survival too. Where horror movies and books used to be escapism, a cheap thrill to detach us from the humdrum of daily life, they now hold little escape from the true horrors that surround us. Sure, there’s no monsters, no man with knives for fingers and burnt face, no clown carrying a red ballon, or zombie apocalypse (though seeing recently masses of people shuffling slowly into Tesco did engender scenes of Dawn of the Dead), but there’s still a genuine threat out there that can take the lives of those we love. When curiosity wanes, and the need to absorb facts and figures decline, people will concentrate again on what they can control, not what they can’t. For the sake of their own wellbeing, they will find solace in reprieve, and seek out the little things we overlook while existing in weekly routines of work, sleep and shopping. We will begin to see each other again. It’s happening now. I recently wrote a letter to my children about this and posted it up on various social media sites to remind people that things will get better. Some extracted passages and passed it on to others. Others cried because they could identify with it.
But what will all that mean to horror? Will we naturally drift away from the genre to help keep us sane? Or will we still listen to its eerie song to survive? I guess only time will tell. But wherever you find solace, enjoy your time there and detach. Life is hard at the moment, so bring as much pleasure into it as possible. And if that involves werewolves, vampires, or some romcom staring Rebel Wilson, then do it. Stay say. Stay indoors.