Sometimes you don’t have to put on a horror movie in order to witness very scary things. Currently the world is dealing with a global pandemic. COVID-19 has swept through the United States and around the world, causing sickness and death at an alarming rate. It is an invisible danger that infects and spreads in a way that hasn’t been seen since the influenza pandemic of 1918.

The future can feel uncertain right now. The normal we’ve been used to for some time feels like a distant memory as a new way of existing in the world takes hold.

It can be overwhelming. It can feel like every day is another day to try to fight off anxiety and attempt to find some semblance of a routine.

The crazy thing is, stories like the one we’re living have been told before. Movies like Contagion (2011) have had a resurgence of popularity as people explore their morbid urge to watch a fictional experience similar to our own.

Yet, this can also be a time when we look to culture to get a sense of understanding. Stories, especially in the genre of horror and dark fantasy, can be a twisted mirror providing a less rose colored reflection of our own society, revealing sides of it that we may not always be aware of.

The zombie sub-genre of horror is no different. Horror filmmakers, such as the legendary Goerge Romero, used the “plague” of fictional zombies as symbolism for things like oppression, sickness, and even the breakdown of a society- or the rebuilding of one. And, interestingly enough, a lot of what we’ve seen in those films, minus re-animated corpses roaming about, has come to fruition in some way or another thus far in varying degrees.

So, it is my argument that zombies movies are the perfect source in getting a sense of what you can expect from the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some of the lessons zombie films have taught us:

  1. It will/can spread fast and quick: You’ve seen it in zombie movies time and time again. It usually only takes one bite, touch, blood exchange in a crowded enough place and before you know it you’re getting the opening credits of the latest post zombie apocalyptic earth. That’s not very different from what we know from COVID-19. People are being advised by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stay away from crowds, and  not get too close to anyone you don’t really know– and even the ones you do. You can never be too sure, so you should play it safe and distant. That is often the rule of thumb in zombie movies.
  2. There are ways to protect yourself as best you can: Zombie movies usually have rules, such as wear or carry protection. Protective gear can be the difference between safety and danger, and in some cases life and death. Currently our shields seem to be face masks, gloves, soap, water, and anti-bacterial sprays. It doesn’t sound as badass as crossbows, swords, and barbed wired covered bats like The Walking Dead, but in a way we’re a bit more fortunate in that regard if you ask me.
  3. There will ALWAYS be people in denial who don’t want to listen to the rules or follow the plan: We’ve all seen those characters in zombie movies. You know the ones I’m talking about. The characters that keep talking back to the leader of the group, are skeptical about EVERYTHING, and ultimately think they’re the exception to following any of the established rules in place. Sometimes they end up wreaking havoc on the best laid plans, or endangering themselves and others unnecessarily.

We yell at the screen, wondering how those people can be SO IGNORANT to the fact that there are flesh eating ZOMBIES outside that will kill indiscriminately. We tell ourselves that if this movie happened in the real world SURELY people would see the death and carnage and understand the stakes… Well, it’s kind of looking like zombie movies weren’t that far off. But we can see the hope in zombie films in that eventually those characters come around, or at least the characters that aren’t in denial keep their wits about them enough to stay especially distant from those types.

  1. The mental stress will be a burden for MANY: Characters dealing with mental stress in zombie flicks come in a variety of forms. Sometimes it’s the main character themselves, often fighting between survival and being on the brink of losing their minds. Other times it’s the wandering character who seems displaced from reality, aimlessly going about. Then there are the ones who are so far gone they may turn to senseless violence of others.

Zombie films let us know that it isn’t always about the monster outside, but the monsters within. This is not far from our current reality. You or someone you know may be struggling with a sense of alienation and loneliness. Others may be feeling trapped and ready to lash out. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in March, 45% of Americans who took the poll admitted that they felt that the coronavirus was harming their mental health. Luckily for us we are not completely in a zombie apocalypse, and mental health assistance still does exist. Teletherapy, psychology apps, and crisis lines like the National Suicide Prevention hotline and the Crisis Text Line (where you message 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor) are still up and running and are good sources for help.

  1. Good people die: Anyone familiar with death knows that it can feel random and unfair. With zombie films there are always a few characters who meet an untimely end that we wish we could reach through the screen and save. This pandemic is no different. At the time of this writing close to 80,000 people have been infected with this virus, and an unfortunate percentage of them have died. These people are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, family, and most of all human. Just like the zombie apocalypse feels random and undeserved, so too does this global pandemic claiming the lives of the people we love.
  2. The government isn’t all knowing, or all capable: I’ve often wondered when watching zombie films why many never seemed to focus on the big players in government. Seemingly the world order as we knew it would collapse and suddenly many people would be on their own, trying to forge a new order in the world. Not saying we’re there, but there’s been… a lot of things happening that have made it very clear that whatever progress there is to be made it will need to be pushed by the people and the majority.
  3. There’s no going back. The new normal is here. Good news is that humans are good at adapting: Usually there’s no going back in zombie apocalypse films. The undead roaming about and possibly eating brains is the new normal. More so, there’s no going back in those films because situations such as that are shown to bring out the true colors of people, and there’s no way to simply forget what has been uncovered. I’d argue we’re in a similar situation now. Without a vaccine in sight, social distancing and extra precautions will most likely be our new normal for some time. But there still is hope. Just like we see in those films how new societies can form (both positive and negative) we the people still have a say so in what our future can look like. It may not be ideal, but it doesn’t have to be absolutely bleak either.

In conclusion, is the COVID19 pandemic the same as a zombie film? Of course not. But zombie flicks do deal with a danger lurking in our midst that isn’t exactly fast but can be brutal. Zombie movies also are good at focusing on the human condition of the people who have to deal with an uprooting of many things they have come to know. In that sense, I find some solace in many of the movies that had close to happy endings– or at least hopeful new beginnings. I hope you can too.