The key reasons why Joker (2019) feels so scary include the bleak atmosphere of Gotham City, the haunting music and sound design, Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker, and the fear of the unknown, among others.
Released in 2019, Joker is a dark and gritty character study, following the descent of the titular character into madness and mayhem. Although it wasn’t marketed as a horror movie, it certainly felt like one to many viewers. So, why does Joker feel like a scary horror movie? Here is my analysis.
1. The Bleak Atmosphere of Gotham City
One of the main reasons that Joker feels like a horror movie is because of its atmosphere. The film takes place in a grimy, decaying Gotham City, which is a character in and of itself.
The city is dark, dirty, and dangerous, and it’s clear that the people who live there are struggling to survive. This bleak environment sets the tone for the entire film, making it clear that this is not a world where happy endings are guaranteed.
2. Joker’s Haunting Music and Sound Design
Another key element of the film’s horror-like atmosphere is the use of music and sound. The film’s score, composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, is haunting and unsettling, with strings that rise and fall like the breathing of some unseen monster.
There are also moments where the soundtrack drops out entirely, leaving the audience with nothing but the sounds of the city and the characters’ breathing. This creates a sense of tension and unease that is reminiscent of horror films.
3. Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-Winning Performance as the Joker
Of course, the most obvious reason that Joker feels like a horror movie is because of the titular character himself. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck (aka the Joker) is nothing short of incredible, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him when he’s on-screen.
The character is terrifying not because of any supernatural abilities, but because he feels like a real person who has been pushed to the brink of insanity. His descent into madness is gradual, but it’s also inevitable, and watching it happen is both fascinating and horrifying.
4. Scenes that Could Have Been Lifted from a Horror Movie
One of the most effective scenes in the film in terms of horror is when Arthur is riding the subway and is confronted by a group of Wall Street bros. The tension in this scene is palpable, as the audience knows that something terrible is about to happen. When Arthur finally snaps and starts attacking the men, it’s both shocking and satisfying in a twisted sort of way.
But what really makes this scene feel like a horror movie is the way it’s shot. The camera lingers on the violence, showing it in all its brutal detail. This is not a film that shies away from the gore, and it’s all the more unsettling for it.
Another scene that feels like it could have been lifted straight out of a horror movie is when Arthur goes to Arkham State Hospital to find out the truth about his mother. The hospital is dark and creepy, with flickering fluorescent lights and eerie shadows. The patients are all clearly disturbed, and the way they move and talk is unsettling.
When Arthur finally finds his mother and discovers the truth about his past, it’s a shocking moment that feels like a jump scare in a horror movie.
Another scene that is so scary in broad daylight is when Joker meets a very young Bruce Wayne outside Wayne Manor. You are never sure if he is going to do nothing or hurt the kid who would eventually grow up to become The Batman.
5. Themes Found in Horror Films
But it’s not just individual scenes that make Joker feel like a horror movie. The film also deals with themes that are often found in horror films. One of the most prominent themes is the idea of the monster within. Arthur starts out as a sympathetic character, a man who has been dealt a bad hand in life and is struggling to get by.
But as the film progresses, we see him become more and more violent and unhinged. This transformation is both terrifying and tragic, as we realize that Arthur was never really a good person to begin with. The Joker was always lurking beneath the surface, waiting for the right trigger to bring him out.
Another theme that is often found in horror films is the idea of society as the real monster. Joker portrays a Gotham City that is corrupt and decaying, where the rich get richer and the poor are left to fend for themselves. This environment creates a breeding ground for violence and chaos, and it’s clear that the people in power have no interest in fixing it. In this way, the film suggests that the real monsters are not the villains like the Joker, but the system that creates them.
Explore additional key themes and messages in the movie here: 5 Key Themes and Messages in Joker.
6. The Fear of the Unknown
The film also deals with the idea of the unknown and the fear of the unfamiliar. Arthur is a character who is often misunderstood and marginalized by society. He is different from those around him, and this sets him apart. The fear and suspicion that the people of Gotham feel towards him is palpable, and it’s clear that he is viewed as an outsider. This fear of the unknown is a common theme in horror films, and Joker uses it to great effect.
7. The Uneasy Feeling that Lingers
Ultimately, what makes Joker feel like a horror movie is the sense of unease that permeates the entire film. From the first frame to the last, the audience is on edge, never quite sure what’s going to happen next. The film is a slow burn, building tension and anticipation until it finally explodes in a burst of violence and chaos. It’s a film that makes you feel uncomfortable, and it’s all the more effective because of it.
If you’re looking for a movie that will leave you on edge, Joker is definitely worth a watch. It’s a horror film in all but name, and its atmosphere, sound design, and themes will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.