We Value Your Privacy

This site uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to browse, you accept the use of cookies and other technologies.


What the Horror Genre Says About Survival Mentality

Catharsis and the drive to keep fighting.

horror genre survival mentality
  • camera-icon
  • Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

With the coronavirus leaving its mark on us all, there’s never been a better time to find some survival mentality. Fortunately for us horror fans, the horror genre has a lot to say about survival mentality, and you will find plenty of inspiration in your favorite horror characters.

Related: 13 Pandemic Horror Books to Keep You Occupied During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Survival Mentality in Horror Characters

One of the best parts of watching horror is rooting for the character you love to survive. They don’t always make it, but it’s fun to cheer them on and wish hopelessly for them to be the Final Girl (or Guy). 

Horror movies can bring out the best in us as human beings—just look at Crawl (2019). Haley, the film's heroine, stops at nothing to save her father, despite the risk to herself. Scary movies allow scriptwriters and directors to play with human emotion and the limitless love we all have for our nearest and dearest. It’s one of the best places to see human relationships at their most ferocious. 

Related: 15 Massively Scary Monster Horror Movies You Can Watch Tonight

Characters like Nancy from The Shallows (2016) possess an intense desire to survive. Nancy Adams is not driven by the need to save a friend, a soulmate, or even a child. She is a single woman with no children, surfing alone. Sure, she has her loved ones at home, but Nancy is driven by the pure desire to survive—to save her own life. 

As a species, we are designed to survive at all costs. According to Freud's dual instinct theory, we have a self-preservation instinct, one of the two primary instincts that govern human behavior (The other is the sexual instinct.). The self-preservation instinct is responsible for the fight or flight response we all experience when in danger, and it's the key to understanding survival mentality. 

Related: Fathoms Below: 6 Eerie Deep Sea Mysteries

When you’re faced with something like a global pandemic, or another week trapped within the same four walls, you can use your body’s primal survival instinct to make it through. For example, do you fight the boredom and frustration somehow, or try to escape it? Either way will help you survive, the same way fighting or running from a serial killer might help a horror movie heroine survive.

  • camera-icon
  • Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Why We All Need Survival Mentality During the Coronavirus Pandemic

With stay-at-home orders, quarantine, severe restrictions on daily life, and all the stress and pressure of living in pandemic times, your mental health is bound to suffer. It’s been a long, exhausting slog through the last year, and although the end is (hopefully) in sight, it still feels difficult to survive at times. 

Related: The Saddest Horror Movie Deaths of All Time

One of the challenges of surviving is avoiding despair and the desire to give up. This is especially true with something long-term, like coronavirus. The constant battle to get up in the morning and keep going eventually starts to grind you down. After a while, it becomes easy to fall into a “What’s the point?” mindset and stop fighting. If you did that in a horror movie, you’d be picked off easily. Your favorite Final Girls (or Guys) survived because they never gave up. Even when all their friends were dead, they drew on whatever reserves of strength they had and fought for their lives. Some of them fought for justice, or out of anger. It doesn’t matter—find something to fight for and hang on to it for dear life. 

Finding and keeping hold of a survival mindset will make your life much easier when the ‘Rona is crushing your spirit. Remember, though; it’s ok to lose the will to carry on sometimes. It’s ok to feel so ground down you "can’t even" anymore. It’s part of the process. You just need to get your survival mentality back before the mad axe murderer finds you.

Related: Female Villainy in Horror Movies

Try leaving yourself a note to remind yourself you aren’t going down without a fight. You’re not the guy who got killed first, that no one can remember existed. You’re Haley; you’re Nancy; you’re a Final Person. And if you are going down, at least be Carrie, and go down in style. 

How Horror Can Inspire Survival Mentality

Horror movies are excellent sources of inspiration for various things, like survival mentality, recovery from trauma, and healing from grief. They can also help assuage fear, anxiety, and a need for revenge. You see, people go through things no human being should have to suffer, like seeing your friend eaten alive or watching your spouse get shot. But as the credits roll, you realize that survival actually is possible. There is life after a loss, a divorce, or trauma. 

Related: 19 Horror Movies Set in the Woods That Will Keep You Out of the Forest Forever

With films that kill off all the characters, or even just your favorites, there will still be some sign of hope. Whether that’s a side character or a new set of characters that hint at a sequel, life will go on. 

One of the most inspiring films I’ve seen is The Shallows (2016). It features a young woman’s desperate fight to survive a night stranded in shark-infested waters with an open wound. Many people would have given up or become paralyzed by fear, especially given Nancy’s background (she just lost her mother), but Nancy never does. She faces hurdle after hurdle but fights ferociously for herself. 

Related: 15 Best Horror Movies of 2020

It’s unclear what drives Nancy, other than a furious desire to live, but this is what’s so inspiring. There doesn’t need to be a good reason to survive or approach life with a survival mentality. You are built to survive, to stay alive. So remember that next time you’re wondering what the point of it all is. 

the shallows
  • camera-icon
  • Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Horror Movies to Watch for Survival Mentality Inspiration

If you’re looking for some great movies to watch to help inspire survival mentality, I recommend the following:

  • The Shallows (2016). The Shallows follows Nancy’s journey through a solo surfing trip to a Mexican island. She is attacked and hunted by a shark and becomes stranded at sea alone. Nancy shows some epic survival mentality, and The Shallows is my go-to for survival mentality.
  • Frenzy (2018). Frenzy is different from The Shallows in that it features a group of friends who are slowly but surely picked off by sharks. The Final Girl fights for her friends, her sister, and then finally herself. The film’s epilogue is incredibly inspiring, as it offers a glimpse into Lindsay’s life one year after the shark attacks. It’s a great example that you can suffer awful things and still live life afterward.
  • Carrie (1976). Carrie isn’t exactly the best example of survival mentality because [SPOILERS] Carrie doesn’t survive[/SPOILERS], but she isn’t beaten by her problems, either. She doesn’t lie down and take it; she fights back. Part of survival mentality is not letting things win and fighting back, and either version of Carrie, or even the book by Stephen King, is an excellent example of that.
  • Teeth (2007). Teeth is the best example of survival mentality for trauma survivors, as well as having to adapt to changing situations. Dawn isn’t broken by her new abilities the way Carrie is, and she begins to use them to get revenge. She adapts to her situation instead of letting it destroy her, which is something we could all take inspiration from these days.

Next time the pandemic is getting you down, reach for one of these horror movies and dig out your survival mentality instead.