What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — especially if they’re sealed behind the screen.
With the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) barring us indoors, people around the world have turned to Netflix for respite. Netflix reported a US$709 profit on their US$5.8 billion revenue, and has increased its investments in Asian content to cater to its 16 million new subscribers.
Netflix established a notable partnership with South Korean producers to co-produce and distribute content under the label of “Netflix originals”. These collaborations are not only high in quality, but they have also gained the licence to explore difficult topics and visual styles that are not widely accepted, or might be censored under broadcast laws (e.g. violence and gore, the portrayal of alternative lifestyles, or mental illnesses).
The pandemic proved to be the best time for Korean dramas on Netflix to shine. Having nothing better to do, I found myself completing entire series within days. Watching several series at once however made me feel bored from watching “same-same but different” content.
This is when the horror genre started to appeal to me
I have always been apprehensive about watching anything to do with zombies and the apocalypse. I was uncomfortable with how they portrayed fictional scenarios that could very well become a reality.
This is a common sentiment. The monster genre has been observed to highlight societal fears, where the monsters are metaphors for issues such as bad leadership, poverty and corruption. The timing of the horror-monster genre is also quite event-specific. For instance, films around the time of World War II expressed concerns relating to the war, communism and invasion.
I was unsettled witnessing the world descend into panic-buying, hoarding, and political issues, because this is the exact response that I saw in shows/films like Kingdom (2019–), #Alive (2020), and most recently, Sweet Home (2020). We were basically living out whatever the horror show/film portrayed.
So why would I recommend watching the worst case scenario? Wouldn’t that be like living through hell twice?
Maybe — but that’s also precisely the reason why we should be watching it.
1. Horror teaches us what to do
Unlike Ringu (1998), horror for us is fortunately contained within the screen. Coltan Scrivner’s study on “morbid curiosity” notes that viewers who were interested in films that dealt with pandemic situations like Contagion (2011) or Outbreak (1995) seemed to be calmer in the face of Covid-19.
Scrivner posits therefore that horror informs the viewer on how to react to situations and the possible outcomes, allowing them to “practice” living through a disaster through the “safe space” of the film/show. They feel more empowered to handle crises, which in turn alleviates the stress of the situation.
“Morbid curiosity is an internal motivation to learn about threatening situations in your environment, such that you might be able to avoid those situations in the future,” Scrivner said. “Currently, one of those situations is COVID-19.”
2. Horror makes us aware of who we are
We are enamoured by the courage of the frontliners in Sweet Home. The less “useful” characters however may sometimes irritate or disgust us by adding on to the perils of the situation.
It is easy for us to criticise when things go wrong and say a judgement call was bad in hindsight. Yet if found in a similar situation, I doubt it is as easy to claim the role of Eun-hyuk (Lee Do-hyun), who has to make difficult decisions and manage the mob, or Yi-kyung (Lee Si-yong), who risked her life to ensure everyone else’s safety.
Horror can therefore serve as an introspective activity. We might romanticise being a protagonist and making the right calls all the time, but if we reviewed our lives without rose-tinted glasses, we may identify with the less desirable members of the mob. It doesn’t even have to be a zombie attack — having this awareness can also help us ensure that we’ll be more helpful in any day-to-day situation.
3. Horror is hopeful
Even as monsters proliferate and intrude their home, “hope” is at the heart of the horror genre. Train to Busan builds its premise around reaching Busan safely, characters in Kingdom battle against challenges to find a solution to all their troubles, and the main characters in Sweet Home are determined to find a safe heaven — somewhere they can comfortably call “home”.
Be it a self-motivated willpower to overcome the odds, or just an environment that forces the protagonist to take on the challenges, protagonists of the horror genre generally fight against whatever threatens to consume them.
Watching horror during the pandemic therefore fills us with a hope that things are going to get better. When that may be, or how we will survive is unknown — but at the very least, we know what we should be doing. We can check whether our attitudes and mindsets are constructive, and hopefully we can overcome our current predicaments and arrive at the end of the tunnel.
Catch all 10 episodes of Sweet Home on Netflix — or if you want to read the original, you can find the Webtoon online!