I’m not the type of guy that cries much in movies. I often get emotional, especially if I’m really invested in a film, but shedding tears just doesn’t normally happen. Of course, there are some exceptions: Toy Story 3 and Logan come to mind immediately. But after watching Eighth Grade for the third time, I couldn’t help but let out some tears as I had found myself more emotionally invested than ever. However, it wasn’t for the reason that I expected.
An Unexpected Realization
Let me preface this article by saying that Eighth Grade was my favorite movie of 2018. To be fair, it was destined to be my favorite from the start with A24 distributing and Bo Burnham (one of my favorite comedians) writing and directing it. When I went and watched it for the first time in theaters in early August, it was nothing like I expected it to be. I was caught off guard by the absence of the traditional 3 act story structure. Instead of having a beginning, middle, and end, it felt like I was watching this girl’s life play out for a week. It was realism in film that I had never experienced before. And I loved it.
However, when I went back and re-watched it in December to make sure it was my favorite movie of the year, I realized something about it that changed how I will view this movie forever. Although Eighth Grade had Bo Burnham’s comedic touch, it wasn’t a comedy. And although there were some dramatic elements throughout, it wasn’t a drama either. This was a horror film, and it was the most realistic one I had ever seen in my life.
Let me give you three reasons why that’s the case.
1. THAT Scene
Let’s start with the obvious reason: THAT scene. If you haven’t seen the movie, either skip to reason #2 or get on Amazon Prime and watch it now. You’re missing out on so much that I will get into later. But if you have seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And you probably dread thinking about that scene as much as I do.
But seriously. The tension and anxiety in the car scene of Eighth Grade is absolutely unbearable. No other scene made me want to turn away from the screen yet at the same time, see what was going to happen next. Even when I re-watch it, I still get anxious and nervous watching what happens leading up to that moment. As much as I loved Hereditary, the car scene of Eighth Grade was the scene that terrified me the most in 2018.
That scene is so well executed and is a genuinely realistic look at some of the things that some girls in middle school face. Granted, it may not be in the same way as in the movie, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this a disgusting reality. Despite the horrifying nature of the scene, I’m thankful that Bo Burnham addressed it the way he did. Middle school is filled with so much more terrible stuff than people realize nowadays. And as a guy who was in middle school 5 short years ago, I can only imagine how much worse it has gotten in that time.
2. The Reality of Social Media Today
At one point in Eighth Grade, Kayla (the main character) is hanging out at the mall with some high schoolers. She is asked by one of them what grade she got Snapchat, to which she hesitantly responds, “fifth grade”. Two of the high schoolers then briefly discuss the implications of that, including the possibility of sending nudes to each other at that age. The two other high schoolers shut down the topic immediately.
As Bob Dylan so eloquently puts it, ‘times, they are a-changin‘.
See, when I was in eighth grade, I had a red sliding phone from AT&T and a 32GB iPod Touch. As far as social media goes, I was really only allowed Facebook and Instagram with very strict parental controls. My parents were scared at the thought of a middle schooler like me having social media. Honestly, I can’t say I’d blame them. Knowing what I know now, I often wish I never had social media at that age.
But then I realize that times really haven’t changed all that much – they’ve just gotten worse.
Walk into any middle school nowadays and you’ll see that to be the truth. You’ll see almost every single kid with an iPhone in their hand or their pocket. You’ll see them glued to their phone screens. Listen to their conversations and you’ll realize that their only reality is the one that exists behind a screen. And that begs the question: DOES THAT NOT SCARE ANYONE ELSE?
Guys, this is TERRIFYING. The next generation of politicians, voters, lawyers, doctors, teachers, are only living on their cell phones! Their perception of the world is the one they are told on Twitter. Their love is the one born by “sliding into the DMs” or swiping right. Their standard of living is the one that their peers post on Instagram. Their self-esteem is the one provided by how many likes they get on a picture. This is incredibly problematic.
What I love about Eighth Grade is that while it also makes fun of this, it addresses the severity of the issue. It tackles how much control social media has over the youth right now. It sheds light on how much it dictates their friendships, their conversations, their self esteem, their view of the world, everything. Kayla is a prime example of this in the film. Her life is basically controlled by the world within her phone.
And then she cracks the screen.
It feels like the end of the world to her. She is so distraught by not just the world within her phone, but by the phone itself. It has become an attachment to the physical device that brings her to this world she lives in. And sadly, the same is true with any middle schooler today.
As a culture, we need to teach our children that there is a world beyond their phone screen. There is a reality that exists outside of a glowing little box. There is love that exists outside of DMs and likes. But before we teach the children that, maybe we should take a look in the mirror first.
3. Bringing Back Unwanted Memories
One of the best scenes of Eighth Grade is near the end when Kayla is sitting outside by a fire with her dad. She decides to burn her time capsule from 6th grade, not only filled with memories from that simpler time, but as she says, “just sort of my hopes and dreams”. It’s an emotional and raw scene that hits me right in the feels every single time. I think of all the scenes in Eighth Grade, this one hits home the most. This is the part where I totally shed tears (and I’m not ashamed of that).
The similarities between me and Kayla are uncanny. We’re both introverts, we struggle with a lot of the same things, we both don’t really have a lot of friends, I could go on and on. So when something happened to Kayla in this movie, I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes and remember experiences that I had in 8th grade. It wasn’t a fun time for me. It’s honestly horrific for me to think about.
That’s what makes Eighth Grade a horror movie to me. Every time I watch this movie or think about it, the awful memories from that time flood back into my brain. It scares me not only because of what Kayla goes through, but because of what I went through. They’re horrifying memories to me that I wish I could forget.
I wish there was a way I could burn those memories from middle school like Kayla does. Middle school was 3 of the hardest years of my life. I was invited to birthday parties out of spite, people constantly made fun of me, I dealt with fake friends, people fabricated false stories about me for their own personal enjoyment, and more often than not, I just felt alone. Much like Kayla. Looking back, part of me wishes I never had to go through it. The other part is glad I did.
First off, I never would’ve connected to this movie on the level I did if I had not gone through what I did. I probably would’ve felt detached from this movie, solely looking at it from a technical standpoint (which is also fantastic). In fact, I know that’s true. There’s no way I would’ve been so moved by it.
I also have to realize that every experience we have in this life plays a part in who we are as people. Despite the terrible things that happened in that time, I learned so many things about life and myself that have helped me so much in the long run. It’s played a part in shaping the man I am today. Sure, it totally sucked in the moment. But if that’s what it takes to not only grow as a person, but to help others in the same boat as me, then so be it.
Those memories totally suck, and I hate thinking about them. I honestly do. Those memories are what makes Eighth Grade a horror film to me. But thinking about those memories reminds me of how far I’ve come, what I’ve learned, and how much I’ve grown since then. It makes me proud of who I am today.
I think reflecting on the past sometimes is necessary to better ourselves as people. As painful as it might be, it’s never more painful than going through it again. If we don’t learn from the past, we’ll end up making the same choices in the future.
Closing Remarks: Every Loss is A Lesson
“If we didn’t have bad days, we wouldn’t appreciate the good ones.” – Kerry Manning
Life can’t always be picture perfect. We all have our struggles, our imperfect moments in life, and Eighth Grade shows that beautifully. Despite the horrors of the present time, we can come out of the other end stronger and better than before. We can learn from it. We can grow from it.
Life sucks, you guys. Everyone knows that. However, this is life is what you make of it. I could’ve been completely defeated after my 8th grade year, but I decided that I wanted to get something out of it. And because of that, I learned so much. You can take the hard parts of life and turn them into something you’re proud of, even if you’re proud that you simply made it out of some experience alive. Every loss can be a lesson, but only if you choose it to be.
Eighth Grade is, at its core, a horror film that addresses some really heavy and prominent themes and issues in today’s world. We can either run from it or we can learn from it. I’m not going to try and tell you what you have to learn. I’ll leave that for you to figure out for yourself.