Horror movies have go-to techniques that scare us silly, like the jump scare, the twist, the unknown lurking in the darkness, the expert who is no help, or the building sense of dread. You might not have noticed how many horror films have a sit-down dinner, which is used in a number of ways.
Horror has understood how bizarrely masochistic our human ritual of eating together is, long before anyone was using their self-diagnosis of social anxiety to skip out on family get-togethers and Friendsgivings. Inescapable exercises in formal etiquette, the consumption of a meal someone else has prepared, the life-draining amount of small-talk necessary to survive – the dinner table truly is The Hunger Games of horror, a gladiator-esque arena where people live and die by how well they play the game.
What that game is depends mainly on who you’re dining with. Is it your significant other’s parents? Then the game is making a good first impression. Is it your extended family? Then the game is making it out without wading into a political debate with your insufferable uncle. There are all kinds of games we play at the dinner table, performances we put on so that we can fill a basic need without cutting to the meat of our psychological hang-ups. We all inherently understand how to behave during these social ceremonies, which is why watching them play out in horror movies is so damn unsettling.
Jessica Toomer looks at the ways different horror films harness the power of the dinner table, from benign foreshadowing to enlightening discussions to horrific reveals in movies such as Get Out, Hannibal, and Midsommar, among others at Uproxx.