Why Dumb Decisions are Smart Moves in Horror Films

Using Jeremy Saulnier’s ‘Green Room’ as an example.

Using Jeremy Saulnier’s ‘Green Room’ as an example.

Horror movies are full of dumb decisions. People split up instead of sticking together, they investigate menacing sounds instead of heading the other way, they hide instead of running, they run themselves into inescapable corners, use weapons once then leave them behind, and they never, ever check to see if the bad guy is actually dead that first time. This is why, frame for frame, we talk to horror movies more than any other genre, telling the characters to “get out of the house,” “turn around,” “run,” and the like.

But stop to think about it for a second, and you’ll realize that this is no mere commonality, and in fact dumb decisions not only propel horror movies, they ultimately make them more relatable. See, what we’re calling “dumb” decisions are really “rash” ones, they aren’t linked to one’s intelligence but rather one’s emotional response to survival-threatening stimuli. No one in a horror movie is thinking straight, they’re thinking with immediacy as a guide, not reason. And when you team this with the notion that most horror protagonists begin as inept and then prove themselves through their reaction to evil, you start to see how dumb decisions can make for smart films.

One of the best contemporary examples of this is the “Clusterfuck Trilogy” of Jeremy Saulnier. In each of these films – Murder Party, Blue Ruin, and Green Room – Saulnier uses an inept protagonists and their dumb decisions to initiate, advance, and solve the films’ main conflict, and in the following video from Ryan Hollinger’s Screen Smart YouTube channel, we learn the hows and whys behind that decision.

So check it out, and the next time you find yourself shouting at the screen, just remember, dumb makes the story go ’round.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist