But beyond any shifts in how these films are made, perhaps the most encouraging trend in horror for the past decade has been the regard it has begun to receive as a vehicle for meaningful storytelling. Get Out is one of the most influential films of the decade, and a definitive horror film, one of only six best-picture nominees for the genre in its entire history. Even beyond Get Out, the Oscars have paid more attention to horror this decade; 2017’s The Shape of Water, only arguably a horror film but definitely a monster film, won Guillermo del Toro his first Oscar for directing. A Quiet Place received a nomination for its meticulous sound editing. And this year’s list of awards-season contenders includes more horror entries than it has in years—with possible nominees including The Lighthouse, Midsommar, and Us. And although it’s less of a genre film than some of director Bong Joon-ho’s previous output, it feels nonetheless noteworthy that the South Korean thriller Parasite has become one of awards season’s most beloved and widely discussed films.
During his own interview with the L.A. Times this fall, author and Horror Writers Association president John Palisano offered a theory as to why horror, particularly social horror, is finally getting its due. “Horror is speaking to all generations in a way it never has before,” he said. “In the 1950s, it gave people a way to deal with atomic fears; in the ’60s, horror addressed societal change; again in the ’70s, with consumerism, and the ’80s, with AIDS. Now, the entire country is unified in a threat we’ve never had to face before: the threat from within. And it speaks to both sides [of the political divide].”
So maybe it’s not that horror got elevated, but that this has become the decade when mainstream audiences finally started to notice. Jaws, The Exorcist, The Shining, and, more recently, Get Out and Midsommar aren’t anomalies—they’re horror at its best. Horror has long been one of cinema’s most effective and interesting lenses through which to examine the things that scare us most, both as individuals, and as societies. In the 2010s, directors have been given the space to tell these stories their way—and confident marketing that makes sure they reach not only typical horror audiences, but outsiders who might love them just as much. If this continues into the decade to come, the exhausting semantic debate over “elevated horror” will have been a pretty small price to pay.
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