Cinematic Inclusiveness: Horror Cinema’s Portrayal of Mental and Physical Disabilities
thesisposted on 24.05.2021, 10:01 by Cossette Massa
The relationship between disability and horror cinema has been complicated. The majority of horror films have associated disability with monstrosity, and represented it as a phenomenon to fear or destroy. Paul Longmore, a leading academic scholar in disability studies, states that according to Hollywood, “the presence of individuals with visible handicaps would alienate consumers from their products,” and is the leading force behind the lack of minority representation in cinema (14). However, changes in the genre are taking place as horror films have begun representing a range of mental and physical disabilities with compassion and sensitivity. Angela Smith, a disabilities and film studies academic scholar, explains that horror cinema frequently “locate[s] horror less in singular and deformed bodies and more in dominant social structures, including the family and American culture,” because disabilities are a literary device to inform the audience about an underlying issue (“Introduction” 24). Moreover, they purposely “force viewers to confront spectacles of impairment as projections of their own socially, scientifically, and cinematically shaped prejudices” (Smith, “Chapter 3” 133). As the presence of disabilities becomes more prominent in horror cinema, so does the audience’s understanding and awareness about mental health issues and physical impairments. Disabilities are identified as a mental or physical condition that makes it difficult for an individual to interact with society the same way a non-disabled person can. This paper analyzes deafness, blindness, schizophrenia, and depression in films that were released over the last decade. The four recent horror films I base my discussion on are John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (2018), Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), Pearry Reginald Teo’s The Assent (2019), and Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (2016). My goal is to show how in aligning the audience with the character’s struggles, they are normalizing and making the audience consciously aware of disabilities in horror films.