All By Myself: Don’t Watch These 10 Movies If You’re Scared Of Being Alone
Some of us are afraid of the dark. Some of us are afraid of the open ocean. And some of us fear things much more existential—some of us simply don’t want to be alone. Autophobia is the irrational, often extreme fear of being alone. Autophobia can trigger, naturally, when a person is alone, though it can also persist even when other people are around. In those moments, the fear shifts to perceived isolation, the idea that everyone around might simply disappear (think of this as the equivalent of feeling alone in a crowded room).
It’s a common fear, perhaps more ubiquitous than either nyctophobia or thalassophobia. No one necessarily wants to be alone (except maybe Whoopi Goldberg), though autophobia is distinct from simply feeling lonely. It’s a deep, perennial fear, one that manifests in intense feelings of danger and anxiety. Check out some examples below:
Scared yet? If not, these 10 titles are all but guaranteed to make you find the closest person and huddle up next to them.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse is one of the scariest movies ever made. As a commentary on the increasing digital isolation of the youth, Kurosawa’s ghosts are metaphors for digitally punctuated loneliness. It’s existential as heck and the ramshackle specters of broken minds are guaranteed to haunt you long after the credits roll.
Sure, Deborah Kerr’s Miss Giddens isn’t strictly speaking alone in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, though she might as well be. As her charges talk of ghosts and the few adults in her life demand discretion to increasingly threatening ends, Bly becomes her prison. She’s isolated in her paranoia, the creeping sense that the specters she sees aren’t as fake as she’d imagined. It’s the best adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (sorry, Mike Flanagan), and one of the greatest ghost stories ever told.
John Hyams became a director to watch after Alone, his anxiety-inducing 2020 slasher. Of course, Hyams would terrify again with the Kevin Williamson-scripted Sick years later, but all the slasher panache in the world can’t compensate for pure, autophobic dread. In Alone, Jules Willcox’s Jessica is traveling cross country (alone, roll credits) when she suspects a strange man is stalking her. I won’t spoil how it all ends up, but few scares are as frighteningly simple as the scene where Jessica spots her stalker at the rest stop. Is it really him? Is he really following her?
Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game would be plenty frightening without its more supernatural elements. Carla Gugino’s Jessie is handcuffed to the bed, unable to escape, after her husband passes away during some kinky foreplay. She mentally unravels, eventually finding her strength during an excruciating bout of gore, though it’s the moonlight man that sends the most visceral shivers. Is the large figure she keeps spotting in the night real or just a hallucination? Spotting that while trapped alone in bed would be enough for me to have a heart attack.
A Dark Song
Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song is criminally underrated. Plus, it’s guaranteed to incite any latent autophobia the audience might be experiencing. Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) rents an isolated country manor for months so occultist Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram) can summon the spirit of her deceased son. Joseph tells her it’s poised to be a long, grueling experience, and sure enough, it is. As the days blend together, the rituals grow more frightening. Soon, time collapses in on itself and Sophia is essentially trapped in the home. Not just alone with Joseph, but possibly alone with whatever dark spirits they may have called out to.
A Tale of Two Sisters
While most horror fans have likely seen Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters, I’ll still refrain from spoiling it just in case. There are few movie moments as effective as the twist here, a gut-wrenching and horrifying reveal that recontextualizes everything the audience thought they knew. Suffice to say, autophobia is in full swing as Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) returns home to her family’s estate. Tensions boil to a crescendo of violence and paranoia. You can’t always go home again.
Under the Shadow
Like A Dark Song, Under the Shadow has been criminally slept on. Babak Anvari might not have had the follow-up audiences expected, but Under the Shadow remains a remarkably accomplished debut. Mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) elects to stay in revolutionary Tehran as neighbors flee. She is alone there with her daughter, and soon, a Djinn is introduced for good measure. It’s terrifying, all the more so on account of Shideh’s cultural and proximal isolation. Horror protagonists often flee the haunted home, but rarely do they face such dynamic threats. What’s scarier, being alone with a spirit, or alone with regressive politics?
Speaking of Djinns, David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s The Djinn is a locked-room fable with a boy and a Djinn. That’s it. Considerably more visceral than Skinamarink, it’s easy to draw comparisons as the pair of directors exploit common childhood fears of isolation and loneliness. Mute Dylan (Ezra Dewey) is left home alone after a Djinn is summoned. He endeavors to escape to increasingly frightening ends. It’s scare after scare, trauma after trauma, as pointed and terrifying an encapsulation of childhood fears as I’ve ever seen.
The Haunting of Julia
Mia Farrow is responsible for some of the most nuanced horror protagonists ever, and while her stint in The Haunting of Julia, adapted from Peter Straub’s novel Julia, is no Rosemary Woodhouse, it’s pretty dang close. It’s a slow, atmospheric ghost story, likely accounting for its lack of contemporary zeal (despite a new 4K release), but Farrow is excellent at tapping into her grief and isolation. Ghosts are bad, sure, but sometimes, it’s better to be haunted than really, truly alone.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
The Blair Witch Project for the internet generation, Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is an evocative, lo-fi nightmare guaranteed to crawl under your skin and claw at your autophobia. Viral challenges, urban legends, and existential dread combine in a remarkable debut that adroitly targets the isolation of youth and the gnawing uncertainty that things might not get better—they might simply get worse.
What do you think? Have you seen any of these autophobia-inducing nightmares? Let me know over on Twitter @Chadiscollins.