'Jaws' and Genre: The Horror of an Unseen Threat

We're not here to argue genre semantics. We're here to talk about why 'Jaws' is so horrifying.

Jaws Brody horror
Universal Pictures

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about what makes Steven Spielberg’s Jaws a horror film.


Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws is one of those films that exists at the intersection of a couple of different genres. According to IMDb, it’s a thriller. According to YouTube, it’s an action-adventure film. And according to a good group of folks with a healthy fear of the sea, it’s a horror film.

I am, like the creator of today’s video essay, not all that interested in sussing out any given film’s absolute, unequivocal genre. Films can play in lots of different sandboxes. And setting aside petty semantic squabbling allows for far more interesting questions. So, instead of the very boring and subjective “is this a horror film?”, we get the far richer and intriguing “why is this a horror film?”

And when you get down to it, what makes Jaws horrifying is deliciously uncanny. Is the shark terrifying because it is plausible or because it eeks over into exaggeration? Is the shark scary because, per Spielberg, it has no agenda other than “eat everything”? Or do its obsessively discussed allegorical rumblings give away its debt to genre film?

And then, perhaps the crunchiest question of all: if Jaws is indeed a creature feature, how do we reconcile the fact that this film is famous for actually not showing us the shark? That this, perhaps, is what elevates Jaws from a shark movie to a monster movie: that by evading our gaze and staying out of sight, what lurks under the waves becomes our worst nightmare.

The video essay below tackles all of these questions and then some, with the express purpose of fleshing out what it is, exactly, that makes people think of Jaws as a horror film. It is a thoughtful and nuanced approach to a subject that often inspires division: that Jaws‘ horror status persists not in spite, but in tandem, to its more optimistic qualities.

Watch “Jaws: When Seeing Isn’t Believing“:

Who made this?

This video is by Grace Lee. We’ve covered her work on FSR before and with good reason: she’s an expert at tackling dense and challenging content with a keen eye, elegant flourish, and overwhelming cultural fluency. You can follow Lee on her YouTube channel What’s So Great About That? here. You can follow Lee on Twitter here. And you can support Lee on Patreon here.

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(Senior contributor)

Three toddlers in a trenchcoat. Currently running The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope.