Alarm & Anxiety: Horror Movies

The geographer Yi-Fu Tuan distinguishes between the two components of fear in his book, Landscapes of Fear:

What is fear? It is a complex feeling of which two strains, alarm and anxiety, are clearly distinguishable. Alarm is triggered by an obtrusive event in the environment, and an animal’s instinctive response is to combat it or run. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a diffuse sense of dread and presupposes an ability to anticipate. It commonly occurs when an animal is in a strange and disorienting milieu, separated from the supportive objects and figures of its home ground. Anxiety is a presentiment of danger when nothing in the immediate surroundings can be pinpointed as dangerous. The need for decisive action is checked by the lack of any specific, circumventable threat.

This immediately reminded me of the many complaints directed towards Jump scares in films, and the contrastive praise towards Japanese Horror Movies. Jump Scares tap into Alarm. They trigger a normal fight or flight response. Their aesthetic is singular because they do not utilize the entirety of the environment and the space given, but merely invoke an ‘obtrusive event’. A horror movie that invokes Anxiety most likely has more work put into its setting, and creates that ‘strange and disorienting milieu’.

One example I can think of is the Japanese movie called Pulse. It is one of the best horror movies I have ever seen (although, admittedly, I don’t watch much) because of how singularly disorienting the aesthetic is. There is a constant anxiety in the atmosphere. Furthermore, this anxiety is paired beautifully with the overarching theme of social alienation derived from technology that runs throughout the whole film. It shifts from a disorienting horror movie into a tragic and apocalyptic tale.