The best horror movies take a latent, back-of-the-mind fear and force you to it head-on, whether that’s the home invasion paranoia of Funny Games or the risk of sexually transmitted diseases in It Follows. For all its occasional cheesiness, Old works the same way. It’s unsubtle, but that’s why it’s effective, since the whole point is to depict a fear that unfolds over a lifetime.
“I wonder if everybody continues to feel like a kid when they’re our age? Or is it because we were kids yesterday?” asks an Old character who begins the movie a pre-teen and ends it in her mid ’40s.
The Australian film Relic, from 2020, is one of the hidden gems of the last half-decade of horror flicks. Focused on three generations of women and the decline of their matriarch, Natalie Erika James’ film links the mental decline caused by dementia with the deterioration of a family home. (For a small picture, the set design is immaculate, and the house takes on an anthropomorphic quality as we watch it crumble.)
Relic does something similar to Old, showing you three connected people at different phases of their life–the film’s final scene, which hints that Emily Mortimer’s character will suffer the same fate as her mom, is particularly gutting. Umma uses a similar family construction to wrestle with intergenerational trauma, and, as star Sandra Oh told NPR, the widely-held fear of turning into your mother.
“What does one do with the trauma? Hopefully, as parents, in any means, the best thing that we can do as parents is to deal with our own trauma, to not pass it on,” Oh said. “Because if you don’t…it is going to sneak up and terrorize you, and then hence, you’re going to terrorize the next generation.”
When we’re young, fear of aging is mostly felt through watching loved ones become less independent. In Umma, director Iris K. Shim cleverly uses demonic possession as the framework to explore the fraught relationship between adult child and parent, how one can wind up becoming just like their own tormenter, even while actively working to avoid such a fate. She also explores the way your view of your parents changes with time–how you see them not just as your guardians, but as a son or daughter themselves, and how they eventually share with you the unvarnished versions of stories that were once given a pleasing gloss. Getting older can chip away at even your most steadfast beliefs, even how you look at your own family members.
Though it’s the least traditional horror movie of the lot, the British white-knuckler All My Friends Hate Me is easily one of 2022’s most gripping features. Andrew Gaynord’s debut drills down on a very particular window of time—between the end of college and the beginning of your 30s—and tells a tense but frequently hilarious story about a group of university pals reuniting for a birthday. The audience conduit, Pete (Tom Stourton, who co-wrote the script), feels he’s changed for the better, while his old running mates have largely stayed the same. That distinction serves as the catalyst for 90 minutes of mean-spirited pranks, brutal cutdowns, and a final confrontation that will have you pulling out clumps of hair in the theater.
All My Friends Hate Me offers a few classic scares, but really the dread of the film will linger for anyone who can’t stand the regression that tends to come from seeing old friends, or being called an embarrassing nickname that’s long since been relegated to the back of your mind . While films like X and Old create horror from the physical deterioration of aging, All My Friends is about how fragile maturation can be and how easily all that work can come undone.
These films work well together in concert, offering the kind of catharsis-by-discomfort that only horror can. The concept of getting old is too broad for a single film, but between dealing with regret, physical and mental changes, and shifting family dynamics, these films offer a thorough probing into one of our biggest collective fears. Just maybe grab some good anti-aging serum when you’re done.