The Fear of Contagion

Covid-19 and our social anxiety of disease.

Image for post
Contagion (2011)

*CW/TW: Blood + Allusions to the Deceased/Death

One of the tentpoles of horror is the fear of viral infection, the unseen bacterium, and the rampant spread of disease. Covid-19 is the pandemic of our time that insidiously appears symptomatically to the common cold, but has spread to hundreds of countries and killed thousands of people. Quarantine zones and fever checks have become commonplace. City streets and gathering places are beginning to thin out in precautionary measures. The serious acknowledgment of transmission of the sickness has caused severe economic anxiety, escalation in xenophobia, and direct questioning of our social security. This event is putting leadership to the test and many have responded successfully or failed spectacularly. Without access to healthcare — testing kits — and the ability to stay home to self-quarantine many are marching headlong into an unknowable probability of illness. The ground zero of the disease’s origin in Wuhan, China has made many people fearful and scapegoating. Their behavior in public and social media has been appalling and blatantly stymied in racism. This fear is nothing new and has become deeply ingrained in our societies and is a byproduct of our inherent tribalism. Horror films have always been closely aligned with exploring the dread of bodily contamination by an unseen or inexplicable parasite.

Image for post
The Walking Dead (2010)

The Walking Dead (2010) and The Thing (1982) are examples of the monster being us or assuming our form. In Alien (1979), we are merely a vessel for the terror to incubate. Even demon possession films aren’t immune to being contagion allegories; they are entities whose main task is to infiltrate the human populace and spread traumatic energy. There is fear in these stories that we are defenseless or become irreversibly weakened by the presence of the infection and that those who are affected must be quarantined or neutralized. Throughout these films, the virus is transmitted through saliva or blood. The variant of transference rarely differs and this makes human beings especially vulnerable. We sneeze and cough everywhere and the locations where we are in contact with blood are incalculable. The Resident Evil (1996) video game series and films explore biological agents that are spread throughout cities as bioweapons. The unsuspecting populace is never the wiser until its too late.

Image for post
The Thing (1982)

The beauty of horror films is that they’re constantly pontificating on the eventuality of an apocalyptic event and the preparedness of the global community. Recent films, such as It Follows (2015) downsize the scale of the infection to the young, sexually active, and suburban. The deepest collective anxiety about viral events is time. We are merely biding time until the virus comes into our schools, into our places of leisure, and into our homes. Some type of virus in our lifetime will find us and get us and there’s no amount of hand sanitizer in the world that can keep that from happening. Regardless of who we try to keep out, ‘the plague’ will always find a way to slip through. This terror cannot be dispatched with a flamethrower, magic spell, or a bullet. It is microscopic and our means to control it are regularly futile until we create an antidote, until then it has control over us. During this time of potential panic, I pray that we can remain calm. We must dismantle disinformation and elevate knowledge. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay hydrated, be careful of the things you touch, don’t bite your fingernails and practice proper hygiene. Pandemic or no pandemic, your immune system will thank you.

*There’s some type of cruel irony at work here. A Quiet Place Part II, Resident Evil 3 (remake), and The Last of Us 2 are all coming out back to back this year. I’m intrigued to see what lessons we glean from these viral horror stories and perturbed at how empty my wallet will be trying to review them all.*

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

— Update, A Quiet Place Part II has been delayed. No new release date has been given at this time. Resident Evil 3 is still slated for release and The Last of Us Part II will release June 19, 2020.

“Nothing spreads like fear.” (Contagion, 2011)

Editor: We Are Horror Magazine. Writer: An Injustice, Fanfare, Gayly Dreadful, Haw Creek Horror, Rely on Horror, Something Ghoulish, and SUPERJUMP.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store