Practically speaking, Mick Jackson’s Threads is not a horror movie, but many (including myself) would say it’s at least on the outskirts of the genre. While many remember the Cold War as a series of scares and propaganda triumphs (such as the fall of the Berlin Wall), “Threads” reminds us what an apocalyptic hellscape would be like. And, although the movie is dark and depressing, it’s also oddly refreshing to see an apocalyptic scenario without things like zombies, cyborgs, vampires, or god knows what else, making it a bit more “fun” for viewers. I think sometimes we need to get a glimpse of horror without the silly tropes (though let’s be real, some aspects of films even like The People Under the Stairs actually could happen, as unseemly as they appear).

Now, obviously, real life is also letting us view such scenarios, with Russia’s current attack on Ukraine, as well as other wars and assorted hellscapes created over the years (in the name of progress, freedom, and peace). So reality itself is reminding us what horror looks like, too, and it feels a bit odd talking about a film being scary when you can already see horrifying scenes on the news. So, with this kind of factual backdrop, how can one view a movie like Threads?

Does it merely distract from real issues, as we might accuse sillier films of doing? Is it even appropriate to focus attention on fictional depictions of deadly attacks, or is it a pathetic distraction? Personally, I think these are odd, specialized issues that pop culture writers don’t often seem to address, and I hope to be a bit sensitive to them as I proceed (though not so over-sensitive that I completely de-value powerful films such as these).

What “Threads” Can Tell Us About Today’s World

Honestly, Threads is one of those movies that I didn’t feel as much as I perhaps should have, and I don’t think I can fully convey why. Perhaps more horrifying than the movie is the fact that, for the most part, it didn’t really move me. I know it has impacted others, and they recount it as being among the scariest movies they have seen. However, it just didn’t rile me up or have me recoiled in fear. That’s when I realized I was simply feeling jaded with a lot of these apocalyptic scenarios. I was desensitized.

Now, obviously, that makes my intake of TV shows and films look bad, but I actually still think those would be a scapegoat. I also generally don’t feel comfortable pinning so much blame on the arts and entertainment. After all, a movie like Threads never really invented the problems it depicts. It only highlights them. The fact that I felt jaded likely has more to do with the broader life circumstances.

As I watched Threads, I am guessing I was thinking, “Well, we won’t be able to entertain or talk our way out of this situation.” And that is exactly the problem with authoritarianism and the dangers of nuclear weapons. After so many decades of being bombarded with all of this pro-war propaganda and artificially inflated scandals, it only makes sense to hit the snooze alarm every so often. At the very least, the non-stop panic alarm gets old, annoying, clichéd, and possibly even stops serving its purpose anymore, much like a car alarm that people ignore. Rather than spring to the vehicle or the motorists’ aid, many think “Man, that’s annoying!”

The Good Things About “Threads”

If you can’t tell, this is by no means a conventional movie review. In fact, I’ll merely mention the main actors’ names here: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, and David Brierly. That name-dropping out of the way, I might as well discuss some aspects of Threads that I remember appreciating. To begin with, I appreciate that the main characters are all quite detached from the political aspects of nuclear conflagration. There is a confluence of forces that they have little control over, do not fully understand, and wish to ignore. And who could blame them?

Also, in an odd sort of way, I felt out of place watching the whole thing. I live in (and, to some extent, with) the United States, not Britain. So there was already some comfortable distance between myself and the characters and events immediately depicted in the film. However, one thing becomes crystal clear: The social or political positions of the characters would no longer matter after the nuclear bombs go off.

That’s very similar to how it would be in the United States. There would be reduced interest in “Red States” vs. “Blue States” or petty debates in Washington. Would the Central Intelligence Agency even matter, by a certain point, if the mushroom clouds were large enough? And, on that note, if you watch Threads, I urge you to also watch real footage of various nuclear tests, maybe try to remember the cute little codenames. Also, remember how childish the arms race was, with the USSR’s launch of Sputnik inspiring the US to intensify its own efforts to build up its war technology. Also, it should be mentioned that a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union would have been just as devastating as one inflicted by them.

Could a Nuclear Conflagration Lead to Fun?

Obviously, we may look back upon the Cold War “for historical reasons”, but that’s not all. We can still find some relic ideas from that era prominently displayed today. But, again, it’s fortunate that “Threads” dared to strip out the entertainment aspects, just leaving us with the horror. Obviously, a spy aspect would prove attractive to filmmakers and moviegoers, but not every movie or TV show has to be attractive, and not everything should.

That being said, there’s still nothing wrong with looking at art that makes the apocalypse more palatable. After all, humor would become a struggle once such an event occurs…and that pretty much does seem inevitable at some point. But by all means, if the proverbial phoenix can occasionally rise from the nuclear ashes and wink at the camera, we might as well let it. Tragicomedy has its place, too.

What are your thoughts on Threads? Let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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