I watched Everest (Baltasar Kormákur, 2015) last night, and it got me thinking (again) about the boundaries of the horror genre. What makes a horror film? Why is Everest not considered a horror film? It’s called “adventure,” “biography,” “drama,” “disaster,” “survival,” “thriller”—but not horror.
The plot of Everest, which is based on the disastrous expeditions of 1996, certainly sounds like the plot of a horror film: a group of people treks off into an isolated and forbidding place and is beset by dangers, by a force that imperils all their lives. One by one, they succumb to horrible deaths, or struggle and barely survive, maimed and traumatized.
Watching Everest, I certainly experienced the emotions of horror—the fear and dread that Brigid Cherry has argued is so crucial to the genre: “The function of horror,” she writes, is “to scare, shock, revolt or otherwise horrify the viewer.”[i] I felt not only fear but revulsion, something Noël Carroll has (like Cherry) proclaimed as central to horror. Late in the film, one of the climbers, Beck (Josh Brolin), is forced to spend the night on the mountain and wakes up with his hands ungloved, frozen and bloody, black and red—not really his hands at all anymore, although they are still attached to his body. (He later has to have them amputated.) This scene was so painful, it was almost unbearable for me to re-watch it in order to get the screenshot below.