Sociologists have long noted that when a culture’s anxiety increases, they are likely to respond by increasing the strength of external boundaries. Recently, this connection between anxiety and the response to a perceived external threat has reared its head in the 2016 presidential election. In response to a variety of fears, America has responded to its anxiety by turning inward.
This essay will read two recent horror movies against this cultural background. In both The Witch and It Comes at Night, a family finds itself in a situation of extreme duress. In both cases, the family’s patriarch responds by attempting to exert control and tighten the boundaries around the family. And in both cases, these attempts to protect the family from the outside world lead to further discord within, eventually resulting in the family’s demise. Both films offer a nuanced and chilling look at the costs of allowing anxiety to determine a group’s course of action, and the impossibility of sufficiently protecting against threats from the outside.