As I made my way over to The Scribe one autumnal morning, I was struck by the serenity of the scene before me. Even in November, I could still wear my favorite wool coat and sneakers—a rarity for all Torontonians. A few struggling leaves still clung to their branches, while the Danforth was littered with specks of orange and red. A morning without class worked its usual cure on my psyche, leaving me feeling uncharacteristically smug, smiling to myself on the street—like someone who has never heard the word “midterm” or “exam” in their life.
I’m happy to say that Disney’s Encanto positively surprised me. As a Colombian, I am used to bad representation. From Narcos to the foreign obsession with Pablo Escobar, I don’t expect media accuracy when it comes to my country. As a result, when Disney first announced their production of Encanto, I was skeptical at best. After the Mexican critiques surrounding Coco, and the lack of Colombian writers in the movie, this skepticism morphed into dread over what I thought would be an attempt at taking the fantastic things my country had to offer and fall short in the delivery; I feared that Encanto would become a representation of something I couldn’t recognize. Needless to say, I didn’t have high expectations when I walked in, but on leaving the theater my critiques about representation were almost minimal.
How do we distinguish between horror and tragedy? Both feature often graphic depictions of intense human suffering, from gore to rock-bottom misery. Yet, for some reason or another, tragedy elicits our pity while horror elicits our excitement. Our natural, human response to suffering is empathy, but somehow this switch is temporarily turned off as we encounter the horror genre. Perhaps this phenomenon is unexplainable, a mere mystery of human nature; perhaps it is not.
Squid Game follows Seong Gi-Hun, a South Korean gambling addict who, strapped for cash, falls prey to a mysterious man in a subway station who offers him an opportunity to make thousands of dollars—all Seong has to do is call the number on his card. When he calls, a mysterious voice tells him to wait outside his apartment at midnight, and when he does, he is picked up in a van and knocked unconscious by a sedative gas. Gi-Hun and a few hundred others meet the same fate and are gathered on a remote island to play a series of children’s games with high stakes—if you lose, you get shot and killed. If you win, you stay alive until the next game and keep playing in hopes of winning a multi-million-dollar prize.
For all the flack that influencers get, there’s something telling—maybe even honest—about this definitively internet-era career. A lot of us don’t like to admit it when we’re followers rather than trendsetters, but to even call someone an influencer is a tacit admission of the plasticity of human desire. Shiny social media profiles exert their little influences over us, sponsored ministrations leaving fading fingerprints on our brains to break our banks. No one is immune to advertising. Our susceptibility is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, humans are social creatures. Regardless of the mediation of the digital world, isn’t it natural to be touched and changed by human voices, human faces?
Let me begin by admitting that I’m not exactly a horror film fanatic. As someone whose youthful indiscretions include choosing Cinema Studies as an academic discipline, I’ve survived a substantial stake of horror films, but when it comes to being scared, real life is sufficient. For me, the question is not, “which horror film is scariest?” or even, “which horror film is best to see at the Royal at midnight?” but a far homelier question: simply, why? This year’s Halloween might be in our rearview now, but scaring the lights out of each other is an annual ritual with deep cultural roots. What gives fear its perennial popularity, and what gives horror cinema its immense popularity, not just this time of year, but throughout the seasons?