If you haven’t seen “Get Out,” stop to avoid spoilers. For everyone who has seen “Get Out,” it’s a rare horror film that has received near universal acclaim. That’s because it’s a beautifully crafted horror story that’s perfect to study in case you want to write a horror film of your own.
The basic element of horror is less gore but the gradual revelation of the threat of violence. Of course, every horror film needs physical action, but that physical action must make sense. In general, the “Get Out” embraces the following elements of horror:
- The real horror isn’t revealed until the end.
- Until the real horror is revealed, nothing people do or who they are makes sense.
- When the real horror gets revealed at the end, everything suddenly makes sense and that sudden understanding creates the real horror.
The main element of horror is isolation. The hero has to go from a normal world to an isolated world where the isolation works against the hero and for the villain. In “Get Out,” this occurs when the hero goes to visit his girlfriend’s parents in their home isolated in the middle of the woods.
Think of every horror film and the hero’s usually isolated. In “Alien,” the hero is trapped in a spaceship with a monster. In “The Shining,” the hero is trapped in a hotel that’s snowed in. One minor exception to this is “It Follows,” where the hero can go anywhere but the villain mysteriously can appear wherever the hero goes. That means the hero really can never be free of the villain.
Besides isolation, real horror occurs when things appear weird or unusual in the beginning, but suddenly reveal themselves to be far more sinister. When so many isolated elements come together, that alone is horrifying. In “Get Out,” the hero meets black people who act strangely and has to deal with his girlfriend’s mother’s ability to hypnotize people. The ultimately horror comes when the hero suddenly realizes what his girlfriend’s motives really are.
Discovering the villain’s motives must be a huge revelation that suddenly makes everything clear, but this revelation itself must be terrifying. In “Don’t Breath,” the hero discovers the villain has imprisoned a young girl in his basement. That alone is frightening enough, but the real horror comes when the hero learns that the villain kept this young girl imprisoned in the basement to impregnate her so she’ll bear him a child. Now even more horror occurs when the hero gets trapped in that exact same situation.
In “Get Out,” the hero learns that his girlfriend has betrayed him. Even worse, the hero learns that his girlfriend has betrayed multiple people. Even more horrifying is when the hero realizes that his girlfriend has lured him to her parents’ house specifically to betray him so somebody else can possess his body. The idea that someone could possess your body is horrifying enough, but to realize your own girlfriend betrayed you and her seemingly nice family has had ulterior motives about you all this time is even more horrifying. To compound the horror, the hero is going to lose his body to a blind man who wants the hero’s eyes so he can see again.
So the two crucial elements of horror are:
- The revelation of the villain’s goal
Isolation forces the hero to battle multiple sinister forces alone. The revelation of the villain’s goal must explain the strange things that happened earlier, must be a shock, and must place the hero in the same horrifying situation that we don’t want to see happen. The fact that it does happen to the hero is where the real horror comes from, not from showing more gore or creative ways to kill people with household items.
Some of the best horror movies in recent times are “Get Out,” “Don’t Breath,” and “It Follows.” These movies show the pattern of horror that every horror story must follow so study their pattern and make sure your own horror story follows a similar pattern of isolation and the horrifying revelation of the villain’s goal that squarely threatens the hero in the end.