Since its release in 1975, "Jaws" has been a bone of contention among film enthusiasts and scholars. Directed by the celebrated filmmaker Steven Spielberg, "Jaws" is an iconic cinematic masterpiece that forever changed the landscape of film. The debate, however, continues to rage: is "Jaws" a horror movie, or does it belong to some other genre?

To engage with this question, we must first lay a foundation of what constitutes a horror film. According to film scholars, horror films are designed to frighten and panic, to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. They deal with our most primal nature and its fears: our nightmares, our vulnerability, our alienation, our revulsions, our terror of the unknown, our fear of death and dismemberment.

Does "Jaws" fit into this description? Let's dissect the movie.

Fear and Dread "Jaws" opens with an unforgettable scene: a young woman goes for a late-night swim in the ocean, only to be violently pulled under the water by an unseen force. This scene capitalizes on the deep-seated human fear of the unknown, particularly when it lurks in the deep, dark waters. The viewers spend the majority of the film in a state of dread and anticipation, fearing the next attack from the unseen menace. This manipulation of fear is a staple of the horror genre.

The Monster In horror movies, there is usually a monster or a terrifying entity. In "Jaws", this role is fulfilled by the Great White Shark. However, the shark's monstrous image is cultivated not just through its physical presence but through its unseen terror. For most of the film, the shark remains hidden beneath the water's surface, turning the entire ocean into a potential threat. This echoes the classic "what you don't see is scarier than what you do" technique used in horror films.

Suspense and Shock The use of suspense in "Jaws" also aligns it with horror. The audience is always aware that the shark is lurking, but the characters are often blissfully ignorant until it's too late. This builds suspense and heightens the eventual shock of the attack. The iconic score by John Williams plays a significant role here, as it often precedes the shark's appearances, conditioning the audience to feel dread whenever they hear those two infamous notes.

Gore and Violence While not as visually explicit as modern horror films, "Jaws" does feature a significant amount of gore and violence, which is a common aspect of horror. The shark's attacks are brutal and bloody, further adding to the film's horror element.

Despite all these factors, some argue that "Jaws" is better classified as a thriller or adventure film, citing the film's latter half which focuses on the shark hunt. Indeed, the film showcases elements of these genres too: the character development, the high-seas adventure, and the man-versus-nature conflict. Yet, the pervasive sense of dread and the violent shark attacks that define the movie argue in favor of its classification as a horror film.

In conclusion, while "Jaws" incorporates elements from various genres, it is justifiable to classify it as a horror film, given its effectiveness in invoking fear, its use of a monster, the suspenseful plot structure, and the explicit scenes of violence. Regardless of its categorization, "Jaws" remains a timeless classic, a testament to Spielberg's filmmaking prowess, and a touchstone in cinematic history.


Read more trivia about Jaw movie here.

July 18, 2023 — Muhammad Nurul Afsar