From slashers to hackers: What horror movie storytelling can teach us about cybersecurity comms


Love it or hate it, spooky season is with us once again. For many of us, this has meant spending the lead-up to Halloween catching up with our favourite horror movies (and discovering some new ones too).

If you watch enough of them, you become familiar with the tropes and storytelling methods that keep viewers hooked, and occasionally cowering behind their sofas. Many of these are age-old techniques to create tension and suspense, and are as applicable to technology communications as they are to the Scream franchise.

As Cybersecurity Awareness Month comes to a close and Halloween lurks menacingly behind the corner, we’ve asked ourselves: what can cybersecurity communicators learn from horror movies? It turns out, more than you might think!

Humanise the villain

Cybersecurity is an area with an obvious villain; the hackers plotting in the background to disrupt infrastructure and hold businesses to ransom. All too often, they’re portrayed as anonymous, hooded figures in front of some non-descript lines of code. While a dose of mystery is gold dust in the horror genre, we all know that the best villains – from Freddy Kruger to Michael Myers – are the ones with a great backstory and certain amount of relatability.

In cybersecurity too, the media are always looking to peer behind the curtain at the inner workings of ransomware and hacker groups. What are their motivations? How do they like to operate? Humanise the villain if you really want to get to grips with their threat.

Foreshadow the future

Horror cinema is a genre that demands repeat viewing, partly because you begin to spot the symbolism and foreshadowing that teases a bigger payoff or twist later in the film. Notable directors like Hitchcock and Kubrick were masters of this technique.

There are learnings for us to take from this too. Cybersecurity is all about what’s coming next; what attack vector, threat or vulnerability is set to wreak havoc? Having a voice on what’s on the horizon is crucial for communicators, and positions your brand as a thought leader at the forefront of threat intelligence.

Keep it relatable

While horror films play with the supernatural and otherworldly, it can be argued that their true terror lies in their relatability; the protagonist could be any one of us. With modern classics like Get Out and Hereditary, the scares take place amid otherwise very normal life events, like meeting a partner’s family for the first time or losing a parent.

Keeping the story relatable and human is a crucial tool when you’re communicating an inherently complex concept or technology. While cybersecurity can be highly technical, its impact can be felt on every level of society, from governments and private companies to the average consumer. Journalists from national publications and broadcast outlets are looking for stories that their audience can relate to, whether it’s a breach that might affect their data or a threat to public services that we all use, like the energy grid or the NHS.

Want to know more about how we inject creative storytelling into our work with cybersecurity clients? Let’s talk about how our BETTER STORIES BIGGER IMPACT approach can work for you – get in touch!