Day 6

Buck up scaredy-cats: Jordan Peele is making horror movies too good to look away from

Washington Post pop culture writer Elahe Izadi doesn't like watching horror movies. But now that critically acclaimed films like Get Out and A Quiet Place have reimagined the genre, she's giving them a try.

'I did allow myself to scream in the theatre a good deal,' pop culture writer Elahe Izadi says

'Get Out' director Jordan Peele's chilling new horror film 'Us' is in theatres now. (Universal Pictures)

Horror films can be a cathartic and entertaining two hours of thrills for certain film-goers — but for others, a torturous, stomach-churning exercise in fighting the urge to flee a cinema.

Self-described "scaredy cat" Elahe Izadi told Day 6host Brent Bambury she decided to face her fears earlier this month. 

Ahead of the premiere of Jordan Peele's latest horror flick, Us, the Washington Post pop culture writer went to an advanced screening of the Lupita Nyong'o hit.

"I did allow myself to scream in the theatre a good deal to relieve some of that anxiety I had. I forced myself to watch the key plot points," she said.

Warning: This video may be disturbing to some viewers

The driving force behind her a decision? With the success of films like Get Out, A Quiet Place and Bird Box — all garnering critical acclaim — Izadi decided she could no longer avoid the genre.

"It's happened before where horror movies come out and it's kind of once again considered a prestige genre," she said.

"We're again at a peak and I think it's because you have some really innovative and interesting filmmakers purposely choosing horror as the genre with which they want to explore some really complex societal issues."

Horror as anxiety relief

In a period where everything seems frightening in the world, Izadi said there is security in the fantasy of a horror movie that may actually help ease a viewer's fears. 

"You look on Twitter, you turn on the television at any moment, [and] there's something really horrifying that is very real," Izadi said.

There's a relief in the genre, she added, likening the experience to riding a roller coaster. 

I want hazard pay — at least, like, foot some therapy bills me.- Elahe Izadi, Washington Post writer

While the film may give the viewer a similar adrenaline rush to careening down a 60-metre drop, at 150 kilometres per hour, and feeling out of control, she says, they're ultimately safely attached to a track. In terms of horror, this is the predictability of the genre itself. 

The fans and academics Izadi spoke to said they, "find great release of taking their real world anxiety and juxtaposing it on something fictional ... and allowing that anxiety to work itself out on screen."

Comedy and horror: Odd bedfellows?

As in Peele's first film, Get Out, comedy can play a role in the horror genre. Throughout the unsettling thrills of Peele's 2017 film, comedic relief offers respite from the unsettling thrills.

In Us, Izadi says comedy plays an even bigger role.

"[Us] feels more like what we would consider a classic horror movie," Izadi said, adding "there are also way more funny parts in it than in Get Out."

Director Jordan Peele, left, and actors Lupita Nyong'o, centre, and Winston Duke attend the premiere of 'Us.' (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

"I was ... laughing out loud several times."

In comedy, timing is everything. The principle extends to horror. A filmmaker must build just enough tension to frighten an audience and release it at the right moment — with a punchline, of sorts — for the best effect.

"If you're going to create any sort of visceral, emotional, innate response in an audience … you need to know how to wield that and wield timing and wield how you're amping up the pressure and kind of a slow burn," Izadi said.

Danger pay

Izadi says the reason films like Get Out, A Quiet Place and Bird Box are successful is not because of shocking images, but because they reach viewers more deeply.

"The Saws of the world feel more like I'm just having this really intense experience in the theater and maybe I'll be spooked to see if is there something behind me," Izadi said.

Elahe Izadi is a pop culture writer for The Washington Post and a stand up comedian. (Marvin Joseph/Washington Post)

"It's not the same experience when you watch Us and you think about the parallels with the American dream or the underclass. These are the themes that stick with you."

Still, Izadi's brushes with horror films could remain limited until something changes.

"I want hazard pay," she said laughing.

"At least, like, foot some therapy bills me."

To hear the full interview with Elahe Izadi, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.