It often seems that there is nothing more opposite to the horror genre than a romantic comedy. Horrors have jump scares; romcoms have sudden manufactured drama that could just be explained through a 5 minute conversation. Horror has tension building; romcoms have the fact that you know that the two people who have spent the most time on the screen will have to get together at the end no matter how unbelievable it may seem. The slutty friend who has sex gets stabbed in the dark woods minutes post-coitus vs. has more sex and gives terrible advice as the quirky best friend who somehow lives in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan despite seemingly never working a day in her life.
While horror leaves us sleeping with the lights on and romantic comedies make us question how we too can live independently in The Big City while working as a florist, there are times when romcoms can leave us more terrified than if we were to be wandering alone in the woods with a mass murderer on the loose.
Without further ado, my top choices for terrifying romcoms.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)
I’ll admit it: I was one of the people who messaged Todd when I heard they were doing this movie on Romancing the Pod to say I *love* this story. For a long time, it was my favorite book. What’s better than finding out that your life-long favorite person is actually your soulmate able to time travel?!
Well, of course… except for the fact that it’s actually terrifying.
The Time Traveler’s Wife tells the story of a time traveler, Henry (played by Eric Bana), who is incapable of being able to tell when and where he will end up in another time. He knows that he frequently travels to important moments in his own life and that stress makes it more likely to occur, but other than learning to pick locks and steal clothing (because, of course, clothing can’t time travel. That would be crazy), making sure he’s in great physical shape to be able to run or parkour his way through the past (and sometimes future), and working as a librarian where he can quickly stow away into nooks and crannies when he feels like he’s about to disappear, he has very little control over his time traveling. He meets Clare (played by Rachel McAdams) in the library where she excitedly introduces herself as someone he knows very very well. In fact, he’s visited her dozens of times since she was six years old. Obviously, they’re destined to be together to the point that even something like time can’t keep them apart.
In the book, it felt as if Clare had far more agency, but on screen it was clear her [future/present] husband had been grooming her since she was a single digit child. In the book, the fact that Clare’s father and brother were the reason Henry dies prematurely felt terrible and tragic. But the reality makes sense (although, not much more as immediately murdering someone instead of calling the cops seems like a major “well, that escalated quickly” type of reaction) in the movie: they’ve found a naked, one-legged, nearly middle-aged man on their property who claims to know their underage family member.
What’s more: although uncertain of how and why Henry will have an untimely demise, both Henry and Clare are pretty certain throughout most of the story that it will happen. Henry has visited Rachel throughout her life (remember: especially throughout her childhood) but never appears older than his 40’s. Despite knowing this, Henry’s selfish ass decides for Clare that her pain in losing the man she’s loved all her life (remember: SINCE SHE WAS 6 YEARS OLD) is worth their being together. Clare never had a chance and Henry basically Passengers her life, taking any free will from her through lifelong grooming.
Add coerced pregnancy when Clare sleeps with a younger time-traveling Henry after present-day Henry gets a vasectomy, the fact that Henry is the first man Clare has sex with at the moment she turns 18, the whole time traveling fetuses situation, and that one of the main moments Henry travels to over and over throughout his life is to rewatch his mother be horrifically killed, and The Time Traveler’s Wife is one minor chord away from being a bonafide horror movie.
While You Were Sleeping (1995)
Again, this is one of my favorites, but I’m much less ashamed to admit it. Who doesn’t love a quirky Sandra Bullock as the protagonist Lucy and her embarrassing pining over the dreamy Peter Callaghan (played by Peter Gallagher) and subsequent love affair with his brother Jack (played by Bill Pullman)?
Lucy is a mass transit toll booth employee living a boring, lonely life in Chicago and daydreaming about a seemingly rich patron she sees every morning when she sees him get pushed onto the train tracks on Christmas. She heroically jumps onto the tracks and ends up saving his life, although he (Peter) is now in a coma. When trying to see him in the hospital and being turned away because she’s not family, she states matter-of-factly – and altogether far too loudly since she’s talking to herself – that she “was going to marry him.” This gets relayed to his family who have rushed to his bedside as “this is Peter’s fiance.” Hijinks ensue as Lucy doesn’t ever correct the error and quickly (as in, between Christmas and right after New Years… so… two weeks max?) falls in love with Peter’s brother. It’s an adorable Christmas-time miracle.
Of course, you have to ignore the fact that the entire plot centers around a lonely family-less woman worming her way into her crush’s life while he’s in a coma. Sure, the deception wasn’t truly her fault, but Lucy is played as if she has absolutely no agency in her own life and therefore can’t possibly imagine that she can be at fault for any of her own choices. Then, when she’s called out by her only friend – and boss – that marrying a man she had never spoken to before this week after deceiving his family is bonkers, she snaps that, yes, she must be crazy for wanting a stamp in her passport. With that being the final word on the matter, the whole story boils down to “I didn’t tell the truth at any point because I want to go to Rome.” The selfishness is unbelievable.
Then, there’s the enmeshment issues with this family. Truthfully, the movie needed to end with them all in individual and family therapy sessions, and Lucy in trouble with both the family and the law after not only making grandiose false claims but trying to deceive a man into marrying her.
Plus: who was taking care of the cat every other day while Peter was in the hospital?!
The Break Up (2006)
I’m not sure how The Break Up was ever considered a romantic comedy, but here we are.
Brooke Meyers (Jennifer Aniston) is in a long-term relationship with her live-in manchild of a partner, Gary Grobowski (Vince Vaughn) when they decide to break up. A battle of wills and stubbornness ensues as both refuse to leave their apartment and decide to make life a living hell for the other one.
That’s it. That’s the plot. There is seemingly no character growth, just the slow breakdown of Brooke’s ability to put up with another moment with Gary. I think we're supposed to see all of their actions against one another as hilarious hijinks, but, really, they're just cruel.
I’m lucky in that I’ve never broken up with someone while living with them, but from what I’ve heard from others who have, that seems like the most stressful, uncomfortable, and frustrating situation. Given the option between living with my asshole ex for an undetermined amount of time vs. being chased by a homicidal maniac, I’ll take the maniac, especially if my ex is as terrible as Gary is throughout the movie.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2019)
This high school romcom is sweet in a life sure is wild, isn’t it?! kind of way.
Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) is a shy, awkward high school junior who has written letters to all the boys she’s had a crush on throughout her life. For some reason, these letters are addressed and ready to go in a box in her room rather than, say, kept under lock and key in a diary. When her little sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart), decides Lara really needs to live a little, she throws some stamps on those suckers and sends them out into the world via the United States Postal Service. And, you guessed it: hijinks ensue as her previous crushes confront her and she convinces one, Peter (Noah Centineo), to pretend to be her boyfriend rather than have an awkward five minute conversation with her older sister’s now ex boyfriend, Josh (Israel Broussard), who also received a letter.
This, by far, has to be the most true-to-life horror movie that exists. Think about it: what’s the worst thing that could happen to you? Dismemberment? Dealing with a serial killer? No way. It has to be the instance in which your most private thoughts and terrible, hormone-driven writing makes its way into the world when you’re in high school. There’s a reason why reading someone’s diary or burn book to find out how they truly feel about you is a common climatic trope in movies: it’s downright terrifying. And the entire movie is based around this experience! I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie and nearly burned all of my high school diaries immediately even though I’m in my mid-thirties.
I think we can all admit that being a teenager is the true horror in life.