Animals are often the first to die in a horror movie, as any horror fan knows. It lets filmmakers tease the gore to come and signals that any of the characters could die just as suddenly. Here’s how recent movies have used this trope: (Mild spoilers for Sissy, X, Get Out, The Monster, and The Invitation.)
Early on in this Australian horror comedy, which is now streaming on Shudder and the Roku Channel, a group of friends headed to a “hen” (bridal) party accidentally hit a kangaroo. They debate the “humane thing to do” with the animal, which is still alive, but suffering. The kangaroo, which they soon put out of its misery, is the first victim in this bloody satire about social media. Horror vets will be able to predict exactly how this scenario repeats later in the film.
A similar scene is in Ti West’s slasher: The cast and crew of a porn movie in 1970s Texas come across a dead cow that was hit by a semi. Maxine (Mia Goth), who’s in the front seat, has to look away from the gore. We also get a glimpse — before it actually happens — of the bloodbath at the farm house where they’re shooting the movie. The same sheriff (James Gaylyn) is at both scenes: It’s easy to figure out what happened with the poor cow, who we don’t see get hit, but the slaughter at the farm house is senseless human violence.
Get Out (2017)
Before Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) get to her parents’ house, a deer jumps in front of them and Rose, who is driving, can’t avoid hitting it. They’re both shaken by the impact, but Chris insists on checking on the deer, which is lying some distance from the road. We learn later in the film why this accident has such an effect on Chris: His mother died in a hit-and-run accident when he was a boy. They call the police, and the cop who shows up demands to see Chris’s driver’s license, even though he wasn’t driving. Rose calls out the cop, who is white, for racially profiling Chris, demonstrating what an ally she is (or seems to be). Watch the scene on YouTube. For more about the deer’s symbolism and how it’s connected to Kaluuya’s character, read this insightful article: “Black Buck.”
The Monster (2016)
Hitting an animal with your car is also an effective plot device to have the characters stranded in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. In “The Monster” a mother (Zoe Kazan) and her daughter (Ella Ballentine) realize they’re not alone in the woods and that the wolf they hit was fleeing from something even more dangerous.
The Invitation (2015)
In Karyn Kusama’s eerie thriller, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are driving to a gathering at Will’s ex-wife’s house in the Hollywood Hills when they hit a coyote. They were already debating whether to skip the event and now Will must decide what to do about the injured animal. He takes a lug wrench out of the trunk and (offscreen) puts the coyote out of its misery. This disturbing beginning to their evening is only a preview of things to come, as Will realizes his ex-wife and new husband have a sinister agenda for their party.