We now live in a Squid game world, where almost everyone you know has seen the South Korean drama about debtors agreeing to play deadly children’s games for a chance to make money.
Horror has never shied away from questions of class and privilege. He often uses alternate worlds where the rich and unscrupulous use the setting and their means to dig the ditch. Watch Dennis Hopper’s Paul Kaufman in Land of the dead, presiding over a luxury skyscraper in a zombie infested dystopia, or the set Purge franchise, in which the rich use twelve hours of chaos to eliminate those they see as unwanted.
But we don’t need to imagine a distant dystopia at all. In many cases, the horror villain is activated by good ol ‘capitalism, by the world we live in today. Sometimes it’s so familiar we don’t even recognize it.
If the killer don’t have you, don’t have insurance
In Would you prefer, Iris (Brittany Snow) is the sole babysitter of her teenage brother, Raleigh, who has leukemia. Wealthy philanthropist Shepard Lambrick invites Iris to a board game where, if Iris wins, she will receive enough money to pay for her brother’s treatments. Lambrick will also use his influence to get a bone marrow transplant in Raleigh.
At the party, Iris meets her competitors, who are all in their own financial difficulties. Lambrick has them play a sadistic version of “Would You Prefer”, where they are forced to torture and mutilate themselves in order to win. Refusal to gamble or confiscation results in death.
Iris wins the game, but not without making several gruesome choices. But when she returns home, she finds out that Raleigh has committed suicide because he considers himself a burden to her. Iris is now rich, but what for?
The obvious villain of Would you prefer is Lambrick, who uses his power and the players’ desperation to lure them into the game. Yet Iris is only desperate because she lives in the United States, where a for-profit healthcare industry has sentenced her brother to death unless she can gain wealth and influence. This is why it is both hilarious and tragic to read the Letterboxd reviews of the film by Canadians.
Unlike Canada, the United States is one of the only First World countries that does not provide health care to its citizens, tying coverage to employment and charging astronomical fees. For example, UK citizens enjoy free ambulance rides, while Americans pay an average of $ 450 after insurance.
A third of American workers had medical debt before the pandemic, which only made matters worse. In March 2021, finance company Credit Karma, which offers credit scores and credit reports, found that its clients owed a total of $ 46 billion in medical debt.
Yes Would you prefer is too bloody for the general public or its reviews are too poor, consider breaking Bad, winner of 16 Primetime Emmys. A high school chemistry teacher turns into a nasty methamphetamine lord to pay for cancer treatments, and we’ve all followed him for five seasons and a spin-off. This felt realistic, and if people questioned details, it was the chemistry that fired Walter’s famous Blue Sky crystal.
But if Walter White had been Canadian, he would have gone to the doctor. The end.
Of course, it’s not just Brittany and Walter here.
13 sins, a remake of the Thai horror film 13 Beloved, follows Elliot, a poor salesman who is asked to play a game consisting of 13 tasks. Everyone gets more money back, but if they don’t finish them, they lose everything. Even as the tasks rapidly increase in violence and danger, Elliot continues. Why? He has lost his job, is in debt and has to take care of his pregnant fiancee and his disabled brother. He also finds the initial tasks a bit exhilarating, much like Walter White.
Outside of exceptional cases, US healthcare also defines one of the greatest franchises in modern horror. One could argue that Seen the villainous John Kramers all turning to meanness is due to browsing medical insurance.
In the early days of the franchise, Kramer (Tobin Bell) tries to teach a womanizer doctor who apparently – and yet wasted everything – the value of life. John has plenty of time to plan his elaborate torture game from the hospital bed where he dies of an inoperable brain tumor.
But in Saw VI, we get to see a bit more of John’s backstory when John chooses William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) to play the game.
Easton is a health insurance manager whose department frequently uses a shady formula to deny coverage to sick people. One of those people is John, who was hoping to try experimental therapy abroad. Not only does William deny the treatment, but he informs John that he will be completely excluded from coverage if he tries it. If John had had hope or a chance, would he have become Jigsaw?
At the end of William’s game, he is confronted with the widow and teenage son of a man to whom he has denied a life-saving cover. They have the option of killing William, whom the son takes.
Healthy? Okay, what about an education to die for?
In American Mary (2012), Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a gifted medical student, but the student debt she incurred to become a surgeon is piling up. To pay her bills, she applies to a strip club to end up performing emergency surgery on the manager’s partner for $ 5,000 – under the table, of course.
The allure of money leads Mary to start performing extreme body modifications for wealthy clients who can’t get the job done elsewhere. Despite the influx of money, Mary’s problems only get worse thanks to the increasingly dangerous nature of her job and the predators in her male-dominated domain who take advantage of her.
Mary’s turn is also similar to Walter White’s. Work excites and changes her, money is attractive, and trauma pushes her to the brink. But the way only became clear when debt collectors came to call them.
Of course, the cost of schooling only gets worse when you add things like rent, books, food, and supplies. There is no shortage of broke college students who fall into horror situations. An indie favorite is the 1980s set The Devil’s House (2009). Despite many red flags, student Samantha accepts a strange babysitting job to pay rent. Things rarely go well for horror movie babysitters, and Samantha is no exception.
Things would be worse, financially speaking, for Samantha and Mary today. According to the Department of Education, some 42.9 million Americans owed $ 1.59 trillion in federal student debt as of June 2021, a year-over-year increase of $ 49 billion. Meanwhile, the cost of undergraduate education alone has increased by over 25% over the past decade, resulting in increased debt – along with interest.
A more modern entry is Amazon’s 2021 series Panic, based on Lauren Oliver’s novel. Heather Nill (played by Fear street‘s Oliva Scott Welch) thinks the only way she can get out of her Texas trailer park and her evil mother is to play a dangerous and deadly game that will net her $ 50,000.
Heather is risking her life, but it might not be enough. According to College Data, the 2020-2021 cost of one year of tuition and fees is $ 10,560 for a state public university. But if Heather wants to leave Texas, it’s $ 27,020.
Or maybe it’s just the cost of living that.
In an episode of Buffy spin off angel, a character refuses to leave his new Los Angeles apartment, which contains a malicious ghost, as rents are controlled. She’d rather be haunted than deal with a landlord who could dramatically increase her rent. In Los Angeles, where the average price for a bedroom is currently $ 2,450, rent-stabilized housing can only increase by 3% per year.
This is one of the many examples where someone chooses or stays in the wrong place because they cannot afford to leave. It’s either all they have (Open day, His home, Candy), this seems like a good deal (1BR, 13 cameras), it’s supposed to be a new beginning (The brilliant, american horror story), and / or they invested their savings (The Haunting of Hill House, Bad Ben).
Haunted house and dangerous gambling often present a sunk cost error, a term used in business but more widely in abusive relationships. Someone is left in a bad situation because they have already spent a lot of time or money. Someone might not want to “throw away” a multi-year relationship because of a specific incident, even if that incident is indicative of a larger pattern of violence. Someone might not want to leave a house because of a ghost? What is chopping off a second finger if you’ve already chopped one off, and going away now means nothing? (This happens in The chances).
And U.S ? We are the frogs in the pot. We’ve been living in this bizarre system for so long, we barely notice it as the root cause, and we accept scenarios where the only way to win is through bizarre games, criminal behavior, or exorcisms.
It sounds horrifying, but studies show that medical, educational, and other debts mostly delay milestones like buying a house (haunted or not), marriage, kids, and real-life creative pursuits. In the cold daylight, without the ghosts and the killers, it’s just a little sad.