Modern Trends in Horror Films That Reflect Our Collective Fears By: Elizabeth Rai

As the horror genre continues to hold up a mirror to society, there are certain fears and narratives that are repeatedly explored in the contemporary horror film landscape. Excluding the universal and eternal fears that always plague the human experience, the repetition of these fears in recent years suggests their prominence and importance in modern society.

Below is a list of a few fears that have widely manifested in horror films in the past decade and that continue to grow.

Our Wariness of Technology

Much speculation has been given to the future of technology and its potential dangers throughout the years. The fear and distrust of technology is by no means a new one, as it has pervaded horror and other genres for a while. However, as we’re now in the technological age, more horror films continue to explore our cultural fears of technology and have extended to include social media and other new technological developments. Considering that techno-horror has been prominent in film for a long time, its continual presence suggests that it’s a widespread cultural anxiety that'll continue to grow as technology continues to develop.

Many contemporary horror films tap into our collective technology-related fears such as our distrust of the Internet and social media, and our increasing anxieties of being surveilled as privacy becomes an increasingly important topic. While such horror films may seem far-fetched at times, they often reflect the real-world horrors of technology. With the existence of things like the dark web and our knowledge of widespread government surveillance, the techno-horror subgenre has a lot to go off of to fuel its narratives. There are news stories breaking every day that sound like something out of a horror movie, like the blue whale game or the recent discovery of two dead bodies by teens using the Randonautica app that became a trend on TikTok. Movies like the Unfriended series, Cam, The Den, Friend Request, and 13 Cameras are just a few of the many horror films in recent years that reflect our collective wariness of technology.

As some of the movies listed above exemplify, the rise of technological development also affects the way that horror films are created. Many modern horror films utilize modern technology to supplement its narrative by using things like webcams, micro cameras, and screen recordings as its medium. While not completely a horror film, the 2018 film Searching, which contains horror elements, is a perfect example of this as the film is completely told through a series of screens and intrusive cameras.

In 2015, technology ranked second among a list of widespread American fears as part of a study done by Chapman University (Romm). In response to the results, sociology professor Christopher Bader, who was involved in the study, aptly stated:

“People tend to express the highest level of fear for things they’re dependent on but that they don’t have any control over, and that’s almost a perfect definition of technology.”

This centrality of technology to our present lives explains why it harbors so much fear for us; as it holds a lot of control over our lives it has the increased potential to bring about dangerous and negative consequences.

Fear of American Society

The past decade has undoubtedly escalated a culture of fear in American society. As we go through what many consider turbulent times, the fear that permeates our society has become a catalyst for many horror films. Over the years there has been an increase in the amount of horror films with political undertones that comment on this collective fear found in American society. Whether they comment on the fear of government corruption, the ills of capitalism, inequality, or the general state of the nation, these horror films reflect prominent fears found in the current social and political climate.

Acccording to Chapman University's ongoing study of American fears, the fear of government corruption has topped the list for three consecutive years.

As our social and political climate continues to heighten in polarity, the distrust of our government has also heightened.

The Purge franchise epitomizes these fears found in American society, as it's a blatant commentary on the state of our nation and specifically comments on government corruption, inequality, and privilege. The film franchise has become extremely popular in the last decade, with four films already released within the span of a few years.

As things continue to worsen in society, more films with similar commentaries continue to be released to hone in on this rampant culture of fear. Films like Us and Green Room and even shows like American Horror Story: Cult continue this trend by commenting on topical fears and anxieties.

Environmental Concerns and Eco-Horror

Much like techno-horror, the eco-horror subgenre has been popular for a long time. From natural disaster films to nuclear fallout films, concerns about our environment in horror films has always been around. However, as the state of our environment continues to worsen every year due to global warming, it has become a central issue. According to Chapman University's study in 2018, half of the top fears recorded for that year were related to the environment.

Consequently, there have been many horror films released that directly relate to these environmental concerns in the past decade and that will probably continue to be released. Films like Mother! offer a more allegorical approach to the devastation of our climate, wherein our protagonist's plight is representative of our undoing of mother nature (Aronofsky). Other films like The Bay, Harbinger, or Annihilation deal more directly with environmental concerns and the effects of pollution and climate change. These films emulate the horrors of a decaying environment in varying ways to highlight the extremity of such issues.


Created with an image by Pelly Benassi - "untitled image"