Elevated horror: groundbreaking or elitist?

Anabella Rodriguez, 24, an avid horror movie watcher, walked into a showing of the movie “Midsommar” in 2019. She expected to see blood and gore, but she soon figured out that the movie felt less scary and more disturbing.

“I’m used to horror movies having jumpscares and guts flying everywhere,” said Rodriguez. “But the movie really just got under my skin, especially with the fire at the end.” 

Rodriguez researched the type of horror she watched, finding out about the term “elevated horror.”

“I can definitely see this type of horror in a lot of horror movies that are released now,” said Rodriguez. “It’s honestly really great seeing movies that don’t have to rely on gimmicks to scare people.”

The term elevated horror spawned from a series of films released by the film studio A24, such as The Witch, Hereditary, and Midsommar. 

“The term ‘elevated horror’ came around in 2019 to describe the wave of horror movies, mostly A24-produced,” said Ryan Lattanzio, a writer for IndieWire. “That imbued their storytelling with metaphor and strong craftsmanship over jump scares and schlocky twists.”

The use of subtle horror comes from what the viewer does not see, such as with this clip from A24’s The Witch.

A24 also makes movies outside of the horror genre, such as Everything Everywhere All at Once, which made $101 million in the box office, according to The Numbers. 

Many moviegoers, such as Valena Andino, look forward to A24’s horror movies rather than their films outside of the genre. 

“I love watching A24’s movies because of how often they deal with serious topics,” said Andino. “With movies like Hereditary, we can see the effects of inherited trauma on a grieving family.”

A line of movie posters at CMX in Miami Lakes. (Steven Soler/SFMN)

A24’s elevated horror films also find success in the box office, their highest grossing film making over $81 million in 2018, with Midsommar making over $40 million in 2019, according to The Numbers. 

Many people present different thoughts on the term “elevated horror”, some even disagreeing with its meaning. Cherry Rivera, 23, a top seven finalist for the Face of Horror competition held in 2022, finds that the term detracts from actual genre-bending horror movies of the past. 

“As much as I like A24, they haven’t really done anything too crazy,” said Rivera. “We’ve seen these types of movies in the past a ton of times.” 

Rivera believes that the supposed genre of elevated horror has been done many times before, especially at the beginnings of cinema. 

“Movies like Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead, The Babadook, and Rosemary’s Baby already did what A24 films do today,” said Rivera. “The term just seems redundant, and kind of puts down the genre as a whole.” 

One of the movies that Rivera lists, The Babadook, uses silence and emptiness to convery horror. It was also released before A24 started to truly rise to popularity.

The following clip comes from The Babadook’s trailer from 2014:

CMX movie theater in Miami Lakes. (Steven Soler/SFMN)

Horror buffs, like Lor Gislason, a writer at Horror Obsessive, also have an issue with the term being thrown around to put down horror films as a whole despite their ability to tell a story.

“I have no idea how people can still feel this way,” said Gislason. “Considering how many horror films have swept award shows and brought in billions of dollars in ticket sales and countless merchandise.”

Gislason also makes it a point to point out how these movies can transcend blood and gore, and how films in the genre do not need to stick to the previously mentioned trope to be considered horror.

“It doesn’t need to be Leatherface wielding a chainsaw to be horror if that’s the issue,” said Gislason. “Horror and terror are reactions, and we each experience them differently, like personal phobias.”

Steven Soler is a native to Miami who enjoys reading, writing, gaming and music. They are a student at Florida International University and plan on becoming an editor for the Miami Herald.