Atlantics as a Horror/Ghost Genre Film

by Zach Cogan, Dylan Kanaan, Gabriela Horwath, Shahrez Aziz, and Meagan Johnson

Though Atlantics sets itself up to be a more of  a mystery and a romance rather than a typical horror movie, its filmmaking styles, as well as its form, do include a lot of imagery, sounds, and tropes traditionally associated with the horror genre, which are broken down below.

The Ocean

One significant element of the film is the class struggle of the Sengelese people, a story of journeying to a foreign land to find menial labor. Prior to the young construction workers leaving for Italy, the audience is graced with a tender moment between Souleiman and Ada with the raging ocean in the background of the scene. The ocean does in fact play on the beauty and intimacy of the characters’ young love, but also create a sinister effect throughout the film. There is a numbness to the waves. The ocean is all-consuming, treacherous, and unpredictable–similar to the relationship between Ada and Souleiman. As seen below, the way the ocean is presented to us defines a lot of the tone in that section of the movie, with the ocean being at its darkest and most sinister in the middle portion of the movie, where the horror aspect is most prevalent. Yet, even when the film ventures into a commentary of class struggles, defining love, and fantasy, the ocean serves as a constant reminder of the mystery of one’s own existence Although we never see the wreck that claims so many lives, the churning waves seems to carry a mystical force or magical entity. This mood later serves the possession of the women, ultimately defining the film as a literal and metaphorical ghost story. 

The Possession

A more obvious interpretation of a modern horror film is the possession of young women by those lost at sea. One of the most haunting instances of this possession occurs when the night is dark and the ocean is rather still, the audience can follow a group of young women that appear in frame. They don’t communicate with each other, rather, they follow in an organized line like soldiers heading for war.

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The women are bare-foot and barely clothed, yet the most striking feature to the women is their chalky white eyes. The women possessed by their loved ones are awakened in the middle of the night by some unidentified force; they serve as the vessels for the mens’ vengeance.

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Although the synchronized, zombie-like movements of the women are horrifying in its own right, the sadness and anger that drives the men adds another level to this ghost genre. The men are haunted by their own regrets and their struggle to simply exist in Senegal. Even when the ghosts are satisfied and buried, there remains this idea that our motivations and decisions forever haunt us–whether its loved lost, living an impoverished life, or living under the rigid expectations of others.

The Sickness

One of the distinguishing factors of the movie that makes it feel like a horror movie was when some of the characters started to feel sick. The first character that the audience sees feeling unwell is the young detective, Issa, that is assigned the case. The commissioner asks the detective if he is feeling better, which is the first hint that the audience gets to something strange going on. The next abnormal experience happens when the detective starts to sweat an unhealthy amount during his interrogation of Ada. The detective steps outside to catch his breath, but there is visibly something wrong as he is having trouble breathing. This strange occurrence continues as he stumbles back to his home, being unable to walk straight and having to take breaks. While this already presents an uneasy feeling for the viewer, when Fanta starts to feel the same way, the audience gets definitive proof that there is something happening that is affecting many characters in a strange way. This does not provide direct evidence that the film is becoming a horror/ghost movie, however, it does start to set up the uneasiness that is involved with this genre.

The Realization

A prominent feature of horror movies is when the characters realize that they have reached a point of no return, that their lives are forever changed. This is often the point of a horror movie that the characters themselves are in the most feared state. Issa for the majority of the movie is anxious and troubled about his illness, but he still holds onto the belief that everything is going to be okay. He still goes into work and tries to catch Souleiman for arson. Yet, Issa, like in true horror movie fashion, reaches the point of no return when he sees himself in the video with completely white eyes. It is in this moment that Issa has lost hope that his sickness was something that could pass with time. This is made clear when he flies back in his chair and stares at the computer in disbelief with his eyes widened.

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He now realizes that something terrible and supernatural has happened to him, explaining why he has been so ill and which cannot be reversed. He is in such a state of fright that he can’t even trust himself, so he chains his arm down. This made me think of Poltergeist during the scene when the guy looks into the mirror and sees his face falling apart. In a similar fashion, there is a period prior to this point, like Issa, where innocence still remains, until the realization happens that whatever happening is real.

The Score

In horror/ghost genres, sound is used as a driving vehicle to add to the rising tension on screen (or is at least used to reflect it). Atlantic’s sound score does just the same, it contributes to the film’s transcendence of genre. It leverages a variety of mysterious sounds such as rattling and hums, a host of anxiety-inducing electronic noises, and low bases interspersed with high flutes— all cumulatively contributing to the film’s dark and draining mystique. The sounds frequently waver in and out, reflecting not only the Atlantics’s waves, but also the events that play out on screen— the hauntings from the coming and going of loved ones, a state of indefinite suspension for the characters entrapped in its story. The score walks the line between meditative, unknowing, gloomy, treacherous, and sinister. It serves as both an indicator and a catalyst for unsettling moments throughout the film, such as Ada’s wedding. The distorted, heavily synthesized music that plays during the scene is heavily reminiscent of many of David Lynch’s films and shows, which are often considered some of the best the horror genre has to offer.


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