Apocalypse Now-ish: Horror and the End of the World

PART 2

In the first installment, it was made clear that the Apocalyptic horror film gained its power from real threats like disease, mad science, pollution, etc. These are things that are around us, and we can’t ignore the effects that they have and what they can do. The fear of the end of the world is a real one.

But in the long run, maybe it isn’t the end itself we should be afraid of. Maybe it’s what it brings as a result.

It happens time and time again in films: the zombies attack and the survivors huddle together to try and ride it out. For the most part, they work together and try to ensure everyone’s safety. But there always tends to be that one person who doesn’t think think they’re going about it the right way. That one person who aims to save his own skin and damn everyone else. Maybe that one person turns in to two people. Maybe those two people turn in to three people. Maybe the numbers continue to grow until their last-ditch effort to try and make it through the end times fall apart completely.

We all want to believe that the human race is basically good, and when the (pardon my French) shit hits the fan, we’ll band together and make it through as best we can. But the films of the Apocalypse tend to paint a very different picture: while there are those willing to extend a helping hand, there are many who’s ideas are skewed beyond that. Some aren’t willing to lift a finger and only aim to look out for themselves. Others cause hostility and even death and seem almost oblivious to its ramifications. As scary as whats happening outside can be, these films can paint a pretty grim picture of humanity.

“The Mist” is a downright perfect example of this. While the monsters roaming the streets outside cause panic, the real meat of the story lies with the survivors, holed up in a grocery store. On top of dealing with those who aren’t willing to risk their necks for the safety of others, there’s the threat of Mrs. Carmody (brilliantly played by Marcia Gay Harden), who’s religious ramblings at first have people scratching their heads. But it isn’t long before people begin agreeing with her, and join her twisted church in the hope of salvation from Judgment Day. The store erupts in violence, with people killing people and crazed chaos becoming the norm. It shows a dark side to our race that we often want to believe won’t come out.

These themes can be seen across a broad spectrum of movies. “Dawn of the Dead” not only shows a gang who steal from others to keep alive, but it also shows the effects of greed on the human mind. “The Omega Man” shows a world where the crazed seem to have taken over, and aim to destroy anything that remains of the older society. These films show humans reverting to their dormant animalistic instincts. Because when the chips are down, what else do you turn to?

In a way, these are the scariest parts of Apocalyptic tales. This idea that if we manage to somehow make it through this cataclysmic event, we’ll only destroy ourselves anyway. Could that truly be what happens? We’ve seen examples of nations coming together in a time of need to rebuild and begin anew. Just look at Japan, which seems to remain strong as a nation while facing down the destruction left after the earthquake. But for every Japan, there’s a Haiti. An already violent place that only erupts in more violence. If the entire world were to lose every last thing it had, how long would stability amongst our fellow man last?

We tend to ignore the fact that someday our world is going to fall apart and get engulfed in utter chaos. We rationalize things by saying “well, it’ll never happen in our lifetime”. But in the back of our minds, there’s a question that continues to arise: what if it does? We don’t know what will happen, we don’t know how the world will react, let alone how we will react. We don’t know anything. That’s fear, and fear makes horror. That’s why horror loves the Apocalypse. It plays on something that constantly haunts us, and will continue to do so.

Until the world actually ends, that is.