Homes Made of Hallways

Emily Cheng 

As the player traverses the endlessly looping hallways of P.T. Silent Hill, it is frighteningly easy to become desensitized to one of the first moments of the “uncanny” that the game presents us: our character limps. Players who are familiar with first-person games may be accustomed to a relatively steady camera, one that simultaneously contains enough movement to suggest a character’s embodied experience, but is specifically designed to be unobtrusive. Often, the camera only becomes noticeably unsteady when your character is severely harmed and you are potentially on the brink of dying. So, when the first steps you take in P.T. Silent Hill seem to lurch forward and the camera almost mimics the viewpoint of someone staggering, the player is immediately filled with a multilayered sense of unease. Through its camera work, P.T. is able to foster a sense of soft rejection—the player cannot effortlessly slide into immersion since the perspective they are inhabiting is a jarring reminder of the character’s own distinct body and identity. This furthers the environmental sense of the “uncanny” that we were discussing in class. 

In my presentation, I tried to draw attention to two ways in which the spatial design of P.T. created a sense of the “uncanny.” I initially outlined how the infinitely looping hallways structure of P.T. perverts what the player would recognize as a home into endless liminal space. This reconfigures the players’ associations with the home as a safe space of dwelling, or residing, and transforms it into a hostile, transitional space. A second form of the “uncanny” that I thought P.T. was engaged with was a distortion of linear time into frozen, or endlessly repeating time. On this point, the class conversation seemed more divided and some people critiqued whether elements of time manipulation were actually salient in the gameplay of P.T. One comment that particularly stood out to me was made by Wes. He pointed out that although he was aware that diegetically time was at a standstill, his experience of time as a player remained quite linear, as he still experienced the passage of time as linear during each traversal of the loop. I found his comment interesting to consider in relation to Gazzard’s piece, Mazes in Videogames. Gazzard’s conception of time does seem to be space and player-centric. This idea comes up in her discussion of the loop-along, “The loop-along, however, is more cunning. It too acts as a spatio-temporal delay device, although this time it is mixed with some slight confusion on the part of the walker/player as he emerges from the delayed journey further along the original path” (54). In her argument, her references to time imply that the player’s perception of how long it takes to traverse space, which is influenced by how complex it is to navigate, becomes the basis of how time flow is experienced. This seems to resonate with Wes’ comment that his played experience of traversing the space was not fundamentally jeopardized or changed by the narrative implication that time has been distorted. However, others in class pushed back on Wes’ view and described that the looping nature of the hallway did foster a sense of being temporally “stuck” or that the game was able to effectively communicate the character’s own experience of being frozen in or forced to re-live a particular moment. 

Personally, I was interested in how the conversation returned to themes of the character’s perspective and thinking about how this concept in P.T. Silent Hill functioned differently from the role of perspective in nana825763’s horror short film, My house-walkthrough. The basic premise of nana825763’s film is strikingly similar to P.T. Silent Hill. The audience is taken along on a narrated “tour” of the endlessly looping corridors of someone’s dilapidated Japanese-style home. Narration is delivered in the form of subtitles, with certain phrases eerily repeating, mimicking the looped nature of the visuals. Similar to P.T., the house slowly undergoes changes as the narrator continues to walk through the hallways and deliver the story of the house and his family. 

Despite these similarities, the presence of this informed narrator and the medium of film makes the experience of watching this piece of media considerably different from the experience of playing P.T. Part of what is unsettling about nana825763’s narrator is his calm and undisturbed commentary and his way of navigating through the house. His intense familiarity with the space becomes juxtaposed with our discomfort and confusion. The film dramatizes the narrator’s own uncanniness by having him interact with the space as if it is normal, and thus, in the same way the limp causes us to be initially separated from the character’s perspective in P.T., we almost viscerally reject identifying with and immersing ourselves into the narrator’s perspective, despite the film being similar to an extended point of view shot. While players are able to acclimatize to the movement of the camera in P.T. and eventually immerse themselves into the perspective of the character they are playing as, the narrator of My house-walkthrough continuously maintains this divide. Our medium-specific lack of control over the camera movement and the rate at which the house is explored in My house-walkthrough presents new obstacles for our identification with the narrator. 

Finally, to tie in our discussion of “sympathetic” identification in horror films, I find that My house-walkthrough cleverly subverts and reverses the concept that the audience can identify with a perspective while knowing more about the space than the characters do. Despite the film being framed as a “house tour,” the lighting in the film, the rapid pans, and the obstructed views that characterize the footage give the impression that the house is being shown without actually allowing the viewer to visually take in the space. Thus, the narrator walks us through the space as if we understand what we are seeing, but even after multiple loops, we remain helplessly disoriented and the space persists as an unknown and unmappable entity. Suspense is generated despite us knowing, and intensely feeling that we know, next to nothing about this house compared to the narrator. It is precisely because of this dissonance between being shown, but never really seeing, between being addressed as if we are also gaining familiarity, but never really understanding, that we are deeply unsettled and feel resistant to identifying the perspective presented by the point of view shot. While both P.T. Silent Hill and My house-walkthrough use infinitely looping hallways to transform the home into non-Euclidian spaces, the difference in medium and the perspectives in the two pieces generate ultimately different experiences of the uncanny.

Space, Horror, Minecraft

Daniel Feng

MAAD 14920 1 (Autumn 2022) Comparative Media Poetics: Horror

Professor Jones

October 19, 2022


Otto Fredrick Bollnow’s excerpts from “Human Space,” describes the two different spaces that most games occupy: day, twilight, and night space. Day spaces are full of color, brightness, and vision where the character is able to see the full extent of their surroundings. Night spaces lack light which forces the individual to carefully interact with their surroundings, mainly relying on other senses like hearing or touching. Subsequently, twilight space is the intermediate between the two where light is slowly decreasing. Minecraft, the popular open world first person game, reflects Bollnow’s depiction of day and night spaces as it incorporates many of Bollnow’s conceptual definitions of space in their game. Although, Minecraft also transcends all spaces through a single inclusion of abandoned structures. 

Day space is more specifically explained by Bollnow as the space of seeing. He writes earlier that “the essential feature of day space lies in the fact that we can ‘oversee’ it in its entire extent. Not only do I have individual objects, but I have always incorporated them in the totality of space.” (Bollnow, 203). Since everything can be seen, players are more likely to explore their surroundings to understand more of their world through interaction. Bollnow introduces this idea through philosopher Lassen’s definition of “orderliness of the visible,” which argues that an individual’s eyes create a visual space of understanding while the rest of their senses create an entirely different space on their own (Bollnow, 204).

On the other hand, vision is restricted in night space, which requires more reliance on other senses to construct the world around. Light is often so limited that people are unlikely to see even a few feet in front of them. As a result, every step forward presents a new set of visual information that needs to be processed. The lack of sensory information encourages people to pick up on usually unnecessary information like breathing patterns or heartbeat. As described by another philosopher Minkowski, “darkness seeps through your body: “It is ‘more material’ than brightness. The space of darkness does not ‘spread out before me’, like the clearly recognizable space of daytime, ‘but touches me directly, envelops me … even penetrates me, completely passes through me, so that one could almost say that while the ego is permeable by darkness it is not permeable by light’” (Bollnow, 213).

When Minecraft starts, players are greeted by beautiful meadows, bright sun, and lively wildlife. The atmosphere is filled with bird chirps, melodic music, and player movement. Day spaces encourage exploration, the player has beautiful music to listen to, and they can see almost anything in all directions. Because there are no present dangers and players are new to the world, they are willing to interact with their surroundings: break blocks, build structures, and craft items. Also, they will likely search for villages to trade with villagers or explore different biomes for a potential place to build a house. This new world is exciting and beaming with possibilities.

However, night spaces in Minecraft discourages exploration. The world is dominated by organized hostile creatures and cave systems that diverge, collaborate, and confuse the player. In fact, the world itself seems to antagonize the player. For instance, players are no longer exploring new biomes, they are anxiously attempting to escape mobs while dodging caves. Players become hyperaware of their surroundings, which was not an issue during the day time. The goal, then, becomes crafting a bed and sleeping to escape night space. Additionally, night spaces have minimal light and sound. Torches are scarce and nowhere as effective as sunlight. Moreover, the nice melodies heard in the beginning are gone. Night space is often silent with sounds of hostile mobs and player footsteps filling the emptiness. Although caves have large echoes and it is riddled with eerie unnatural noise. The cave’s sounds are omnidirectional, and the sounds themselves are completely unrecognizable to any of the characters in the game. 

As a game that has a lot of elements that Bollnow describes, Minecraft also transcends the extremes of day and night space through abandoned structures: desert tombs and mossy jungle temples are riddled with live traps that would kill players in an instant and abandoned mine shafts and hidden dungeons are riddled around the cave tunnels. All of these structures exist regardless of what space is present. Yet, there are no explanations for any of them. None of the villagers (the most autonomous mob in the game) are ever seen breaking or building blocks and their villages are basic in design compared to any of the abandoned structures in the game. As the sole player in the game that can break, place, and craft items, the game’s mystery has no resolution for the existence of previous players in this world. Thus, players feel a creeping sensation of being observed – a feeling that transcends both day and night spaces. 

Film Adaptations of The Turn of the Screw

By Annie

As discussed in class, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is a text of the fantastic genre, and features moments of hesitation that place the reader in a state of eerie uncertainty. Since the novella’s publication, multiple film adaptions of the text have been produced. In these adaptations, directors captured James’ ambiguity and sources of hesitation to varying degrees of faithfulness. Some directors, such as Antoni Aloy, take liberties in presenting the governess as having faced physical abuse in her youth, while others, like Rusty Lemorande, emphasize the governess’ repressed lust for her employer.

In this blog post, I would like to explore how various adaptions were received by audiences, as well as my how well different adaptations maintained the novella’s original ambiguity. In my opinion, adapting The Turn of the Screw to film is limited by the director’s inability to rely on James’ use of unreliable first-person narrative, one of the main ways in which the author created ambiguity in the original text.  I am, therefore, curious to see how various directors attempted to circumnavigate this obstacle.

Jack Clayton’s 1961 adaption of The Innocents is one of the most famous and well received adaptions, currently holding a 7.8 rating on IMDB. Critics’ reviews praised the film’s ability to evoke horror through psychological dread and atmosphere, rather than cheap jump scares and gratuitous displays of gore or violence. I was similarly impressed by this film and found it to be one of the best at making me feel hesitation. For instance, Miles’ overly mature and formal behavior throughout the film made me feel as if supernatural forces were at work. In addition, the film also avoids divulging concrete details regarding Quint and Miss Jessel’s crimes. I think this decision would have been appreciated by Henry James, who stated that he wanted to depict Quint and Miss Jessel’s crimes vaguely so as to ensure “the spectator’s, the critic’s, the reader’s […] own experience, his own imagination […] will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.”

Another technique that Clayton employed in his adaption, that I believe helped to preserve the original novella’s ambiguity, was to focus the camera on the governess. Clayton features the governess in nearly all scenes of the film, meaning that the audience is often left questioning what the children and Mrs. Grose are seeing and doing – the camera creates a similar effect as James’ choice of first-person narration, where it feels as if the audience is being shown the governess’ subjective experience.

In contrast to The Innocents, Antoni Aloy’s 1999 adaption, Presence of Mind, is less famous and less highly regarded, receiving only a 5.5 rating on IMDB. In his adaption, Aloy deviates slightly from James’ text, adding details like the governess’ physical abuse in her youth, as well as increasing the religious dedication of the governess. Aloy depicts this religious fervor by having the Master present the governess with a medallion featuring Saint Christopher – a Saint who is most famous for having carried a child, later revealed to be Christ, across a river. This religious allusion emphasizes the governess’ view of herself as the protector of the children. Personally, I appreciated the greater emphasis on religion in this adaption; I thought it helped add greater depth to the governess’ character, as well created more ambiguity by highlighting the Christian belief in the devil (which supports an apparitionist interpretation) while simultaneously suggesting that religious fervor may be impacting the governess’ sanity (which supports a non-apparitionist interpretation).

Another adaptation that attempts to mimic James’ use of ambiguity is Rusty Lemorande’s 1992 film, The Turn of the Screw. Lemorande’s film, however, includes scenes where the governess’ insanity is heavily implied. For example, in her first encounter of Peter Quint’s ghost, there is a voiceover that states that the governess was entering “a trap” that she was “actually laying for herself” and was sparked by her newfound “space and freedom.” Later on in the film, this voiceover is revealed to be have been provided by an older Flora. Through this use of voiceover, Lemorande is able to mimic James’ use of first-person narration.

Lemorande’s decision to provide Flora’s perspective, rather than the governess’, however, removes some of the text’s original ambiguity for me. In my opinion, James’ original text was so effective because it provided us with a narrator who was, at times, questioning her own sanity;  Flora’s bitter and accusatory perspective (she blames the governess for her brother’s death), however, presents the governess as an insane murderer, removing this element of doubt.

Overall, The Turn of the Screw seems to be a difficult text to adapt to film as Henry James employs various narrative techniques, such as first-person perspective, that assist in creating ambiguity. Various film adaptions, however, have attempted to recreate this ambiguity to varying degrees to success. In my opinion, The Innocents still stands as the most successful and faithful adaption, and I am grateful to have had the chance to watch it in this class.

Will it Film? Lovecraft in Cinema

Wes M.

A staple of the horror genre, H.P. Lovecraft’s influence has reverberated long after his time. Though Lovecraftian themes have made their way into horror film in everything from Alien to Evil Dead, straight adaptations of Lovecraft’s work have yet to find mainstream success to the same degree. Why is this? To many, the answer is that Lovecraft is simply unfilmable. To quote John Carpenter, “Some of his best stories are just impossible to visualize,” (Petley, 43). Still, it seems a shame that such foundational works in horror, steeped in Lovecraft’s distinctive imagery, should elude cinematic adaptation, the consequent introduction to entirely new, contemporary audiences, and the expression of his work in formats (such as IMAX) inaccessible during his time. Breaking Lovecraft’s writing into its constituent parts and examining the “filmability” of each will, I hope, allow us to challenge this notion of Lovecraft as unfilmable, inspiring filmmakers to push against these prescribed notions and employ their creativity to effectively bring Lovecraft’s work to the silver screen.

Perhaps the most essential element of Lovecraft’s writing is “cosmicism,” or, “the aesthetic crystallization of that burning and inextinguishable feeling of mixed wonder and oppression which the sensitive imagination experiences upon scaling itself and its restrictions against the vast and provocative abyss of the unknown,” (Petley, 39). Essential to this cosmicism is a sense of scale, with Stephen King characterizing it as “mak[ing] us feel the size of the universe we hang suspended in,” (Petley, 43). There is something about Lovecraft’s writing that makes the reader grapple existentially with their sense of self scaled against the vastness of the universe. Translating this cosmicism to the screen encounters difficulties, certainly, not the least of which is the variability of screen size. While cosmicism instilled in the imagination is to a degree unbounded (at a certain point, the brain simply becomes unable to conceptualize on this scale), film is inherently limited to the size of whatever it is viewed on. Inevitably, there will be those who watch the filmic version of a Lovecraft story on their TV, or worse, their phone, where attempts at scale will be respectfully appreciable at best and laughable at worst. A viewer will hardly be formally forced to conceptualize their insignificance when comfortably lying in bed watching on a screen roughly the size of their hand.

Simultaneously, however, film provides a unique opportunity to formalize this sense of cosmicism, making it tangible in a way not afforded through text. While reading, the sense of scale is bounded by the reader’s imagination – scale becomes incomprehensible when it surpasses the bounds of lived experience, which is why models of things like the solar system are so fascinating to us. These models allow humans to conceptualize the vast distances of space, making possible a comprehension of just how small we are on the cosmic scale. The Moon already seems so far away when we look at it at night, just wait until you see how far Pluto is in comparison! While screen size can be limiting in the case of TVs, laptops, or phones, the converse is true when considering the cinema. IMAX screens in particular are expansive, providing a unique opportunity to first situate the viewer in the film’s world when they connect with the protagonist or audience surrogate and then impose scale onto the viewer – both diegetically with the audience surrogate grappling with scale within the film, and for the viewer themselves, faced with a screen that encompasses their entire vision. This sense of scale is heightened in the dark conditions of the theater, the black void beyond the edges of the screen (if the edges are even visible from the seat) allowing the viewer to accentuate what is bounded by the screen with their imagination filling in the space beyond, seeded and inspired by what’s displayed. These effects can be further exaggerated with modern tech and CGI – creating monsters bigger than life or tracking, panning, and pulling from the relatable scale to the cosmic – though true scale has existed throughout film history, such as in D.W. Griffith’s 1916 Intolerance, specifically the scale of the ancient cities and crowds.

Another key element of Lovecraft’s writing is reality. As Lovecraft puts it, “To make a fictional marvel wear the momentary aspect of exciting fact, we must give it the most elaborate possible approach – building up insidiously and gradually out of apparently realistic material, realistically handled,” (Petley, 41). The cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s work relies on a slow perversion of the ordinary and known culminating in “momentary” bursts of “exciting fact.” Ostensibly, this slow perversion is easily filmable: these are subjects that are known to us after all. There are challenges, however, in executing this perversion. In Lovecraft’s Colour out of Space, for example, he describes animals’ footprints as, “not quite right,” (Lovecraft, 83). How could this be demonstrated filmically, particularly to an audience that is likely not familiar with what rabbit tracks “should” look like? One solution comes from Lovecraft himself: these “not quite right” descriptions are Nahum’s explanation to others. Nahum “was never specific, but appeared to think they were not as characteristic of the anatomy and habits” of the animals making them “as they ought to be,” (Lovecraft, 83). These difficulties in conveying subtle variations from the norm can be demonstrated through narration or exposition in precisely this way. Another solution is again presented through CGI, editing, and other post production tricks afforded to film. One could tweak this or that setting in post-production to subtly adjust everything from the hue of the shot, to the proportions of a character or object, to the audio range or discordancy, creating this feeling of “not quite right” for the viewer.

But what about more drastic perversions of or complete departures from the norm? Lovecraft is famous for describing things as “indescribable.” He does this many times in Colour out of Space, referring to the meteor as “display[ing] shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum,” (Lovecraft, 81). The eponymous color works its way throughout the world of the story, always referred to in this indescribable way. This by definition cannot be accurately or adequately captured on film, as that would require choosing a known color for filmic representation. Though this approach was abandoned later in the film, Huan Vu initially creatively addressed this issue through the use of black and white in his 2010 adaptation Color out of Space. Simply remove color from the film entirely, have a character remark on its unusual nature, and let the viewer’s imagination serve the same role in film as when reading the story.

Lovecraft described his imagination as it pertains to his writing as “passive witnessing – the idea of being that of a sort of floating, disembodied eye which sees all manner of marvellous phenomena,” (Petley, 38). Lovecraft’s characters’ “sole function… [is] to perceive,” (Petley, 39). The original writing philosophy of Lovecraft is to write from the perspective of a camera capturing a marvelous world around it, a philosophy that pushes towards translation of his works into film. Should filmmakers solve the question of how to represent the necessary parts of Lovecraft’s distinctive style, film becomes a verdant ground for his works.

Sound Design in Video Games and Film

By Erin

Sound design is a crucial aspect of video games and movies. What would Halloween or Jaws be like without their iconic soundtracks? Michael Myers is much less menacing in awkward silence. However, the way the audio of these different types of media is created differs between each one due to differing goals and challenges.

According to Williams, “Aurally, excess is marked by recourse not to the coded articulations of language but to inarticulate cries of pleasure in porn, screams of fear in horror, sobs of anguish in melodrama” (Willams 4). When thinking of the sound design in the games we have played as a class, these stereotypes don’t exactly seem to describe them. For example, in P.T. the sound design was much more minimal. For the most part, all you could hear was your footsteps through the empty house. Occasionally, there would be another sound effect like a door slamming or something falling, perhaps a radio turning on. The sound design, rather than an excess, was marked by an absence. The silence served to accentuate every small sound to draw the player’s attention to it. Because we didn’t play games with a lot of action, the only scenes that seem to fit this stereotype are death scenes, such as in P.T. when you are caught by the ghost; a musical sting plays as she jumps in front of you, accentuating the startling feeling. Sound design in VR horror games doesn’t differ much from traditional horror games in how it is designed or its purpose. However, it does have a different effect. Sound design in VR horror is a very important aspect of immersion in the game. It is much more important to have accurate directionality in sound effects or you lose the feeling of actually being inside the game.

Sound design also differs between horror video games and horror movies. Where the objective of a video game soundtrack is to create a feeling in an environment and add to the setting’s ambiance, movie soundtracks must be much more intentional in their design. A musical sting may accompany a jump scare in order to help startle the audience, or a swell in the music can serve to add tension to a particular moment. However, video games are rarely so scripted. Instead, much of the soundtrack will play on a loop. Every environment has its own unique backing track, but it will rarely have such intentional dynamics to accentuate the story. Instead, there will be shifts to different types of music, such as battle music or a darker soundtrack for a tense moment. Where movies will play with the dynamics of the music itself, games tend to focus more on timing and direction. A sound from an enemy may warn you to turn around. Some new sound effect may hint at a new development in the story. Using P.T. as an example again, when the radio turns on, it hints to the player to go investigate it in order to advance.

These differences in movie soundtracks and video game soundtracks occur in part because a movie soundtrack can be much more scripted and intentional because there is no variability to the experience. Every moment can have its sound design mapped out because there is no possible change to account for. In a video game, every playthrough by every player will invariably unfold differently. It is impossible to map out every second of the sound design. For this reason, video game soundtracks are instead designed to invoke a general feeling and create an ambiance rather than add impact to a specific moment as movie soundtracks do. As such, movie soundtracks require much more meticulous planning. However, this isn’t to say that less effort goes into a video game soundtrack. Due to its nature of being so static, a movie soundtrack only needs to be written and mapped out once. However, video game soundtracks must account for many different variables. Footsteps must start and stop when the player does. The directionality of sounds must shift as the player moves through the environment. Rather than having specific moments planned out, video games plan out all of the possible sounds in one location and program them to play when appropriate and with the correct qualities to seem cohesive with the environment, meaning they may sound muffled, louder or quieter with distance, or come from a different direction.

In conclusion, while video game soundtracks and movie soundtracks do differ, one is not more effective than the other, and both serve their purpose in the form of media they are designed for. Video game soundtracks may even differ in style or purpose from each other, but they are designed in a way that will best accentuate and add to the type of game they are made for.

Tension Between Representation and Tropes of Disability in A Quiet Place

From Friday the 13th Part Two to Relic, we have seen many examples of disability in horror this quarter. In the former, we see a dramatic slashing of Mark, who is in a wheelchair, which features his slashed body rolling down the stairs in his chair. We also see Jason become a villain slasher as a result of severe developmental issues. In the latter, we uncomfortably witness the grandmother use a slur to describe her neighbor Jamie, who has Down’s Syndrome, as a way to portray her mental decline and loss of touch with the present day. The movies play along with what is standard in the horror genre: disabilities are exploited to create fear (as Jason’s developmental issues are what make him scary) while simultaneously used as a punchline (like Mark rolling down the stairs after being slashed and Jamie’s Down Syndrome only included to be made fun of). John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place takes a fundamentally different approach to standard disability in horror by centering the movie on a disabled protagonist. The film follows the survival journey of a family as they attempt to evade monsters which attack and kill things that produce sound. The daughter and oldest child of the family, Regan, is deaf, which greatly complicates things in a world where one must regulate their own sound to survive. Despite at times succumbing to classic problems, the movie is an overall positive step in disability representation in the horror genre and the film industry as a whole. 

There are a few notable ways that Regan and her disability are portrayed which are inherently similar to the tropes seen in the other movies we discussed this quarter that feature disabled characters. In multiple scenes, the viewer is forced into Regan’s perspective. This is not accomplished through a traditional POV shot, but rather a POA (point of audition) where we hear what Regan hears (nothing). One scene in particular features this POA as we see Regan with her back turned to the monsters. While the other characters (and audience) would normally hear a growling of the monsters, we realize that Regan does not. We become fearful for her fate as the dramatic irony builds; we see the monster that she does not, and we are made very aware of the fact that she cannot hear it. While a case could be made that this moment is a positive one, as it forces an assumed hearing audience to truly relate to a deaf character, I take issue with the fact that the moments we relate to her in this way are exploited to make us fearful of her fate. How positive can this moment be if we are fearful every time we identify with Regan? In this way, the attempt to relate to her actually causes us to associate her deafness with fear, similar to how we associate Jason’s severe developmental issues with fear in Friday the 13th Part 2. Though we don’t see Regan as a villain with malicious intent, her very existence in this world scares us. Another issue in the portrayal of Regan’s deafness in this film is the fact that it is her cochlear implant, meant to “cure” her condition, is what saves the family. This critique has been extensively discussed in class as well as on the Canvas discussion board, and is made more powerful when we learned (likely for the first time) from the Berry reading that the cochlear implant, which allows her to overcome her struggles in this world, is very controversial within the deaf community. 

While these elements are in line with problematic portrayals of disability in horror, it would be reductive to speak of A Quiet Place as a movie that simply follows the classical tropes. When we strip away the monsters, jumpscares, and fear of sound in this movie, we are left with a narrative of a young girl struggling to come to terms with her disability, notably in her guilt about how her disability burdens the rest of her family. It is absolutely incredible to see a major film tell this story which is all too relatable to disabled children. We see Regan’s guilt as she feels blame from her parents due to her disability. We see her anger as her hopeful Dad tries to give her a new device when she has already lost all hope. We see a vulnerable moment where she tests the new device, and we realize with her that it does not work through the best use of POA in the movie. We see her realization at the end of the film that her Dad does care for her and that he does not blame her for who she is. We experience all of the emotions she feels as a disabled child. This is powerful even when clouded by some inappropriate portrayals. The use of ASL in the film, which serves as an advantage to the family, is an excellent example of disability accommodation shown as a tool rather than a burden to others. Behind the scenes, we also learned that the crew for this film learned ASL to help communicate with the actress who plays Regan, Millicent Simmons, who is deaf herself. These are incredibly powerful, incredibly important decisions made for this movie that make it one of the most thorough disability portrayals in film. 

All in all, this movie does a good job handling disability. While there are strides to be made, much of the problem comes from the fact that this is a horror movie that needs to both scare people and give them hope in order to be successful. POA to build suspense and the cochlear implant as a saving grace are both a result of those necessities. At its core, this movie tells the story of a disabled child growing up with an able bodied family, and navigates the complex emotions that come with such an experience. The director made special care to ensure accessibility on set, and took major risks in producing a film like this. While there is always room to grow, this movie made excellent strides to fix issues seen throughout the genre and the industry as a whole.

“A Quiet Place”: Defamilarizing the Unknown

When I first heard of A Quiet Place, the movie’s premise—a world in which any sound you make can cause your untimely and gory death—seemed terrifying in a new way. Instead of using haunted spaces, Ouija boards, or serial killers for shock and scare value, this film seemed like it would transform sensory perception into a terrifying thriller. But after watching the film at our screening, I realized that wasn’t really the core of what made this film feel scary.

During my presentation, I asked the class what made the film feel like a horror film. A couple responses referred to the unknown elements of the setting, like the broader world, the origins of the monsters, the apocalyptic setting, and the location of other humans. Several others pointed to the world’s premise itself and its anxieties. I asked this question to see if the unknown elements of the film drove the feeling of horror and terror. As we mentioned in class, Lovecraft claimed that the strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown. I think A Quiet Place challenges this claim by defamiliarizing what the unknown actually is. There are few specific unknown elements in the movie. The monsters and their origin are unknown, yet the film neutralizes this aspect by starting the story well into this post-apocalyptic setting and visually showing how the family is settled into their survival techniques. Perhaps the most obvious evidence that the unknown origins aren’t a source of horror, it’s Evelyn’s pregnancy. Even in this world’s setting, she and her husband felt secure enough to carry a child to term rather than choose to find alternative solutions. The rest of the world is ambiguous and only vaguely touched upon, as shown with the signal fires pointing out other humans around and the random old couple in the woods. A Quiet Place transforms the unknown from literal aspects of missing information into the case of inevitability. What is horrifying in this film is not what’s clearly unknown, but the inevitability of the known, which is creating sound.

I think A Quiet Place beautifully transforms and defamiliarizes this inevitability by presenting it through the lens of parenthood, family, and disability. There is inevitability in the family because children are uniquely prone to making noise. Except for three times (the old man’s suicide, Lee’s sacrifice, and Evelyn’s interaction with the nail), every noise that triggered the monsters was caused by children. Most of these are accidental noises as well. And because children are prone to this, this creates tremendous stress on parenthood—how are parents supposed to impose the grave danger of noise on children? How can parents teach a baby not to cry when crying is all an infant instinctively has to alert their caretaker? And if this wasn’t anxious enough, Evelyn and Lee need to teach Reagan how to be safe in a world that is more dangerous to her than the rest of them. It is the unknown aspects of the children’s behavior and actions that are the underlying thrum of the anxiety and suspense in the film. Rather than exploring the complete unknown like Lovecraft does, the film explores the unknown actions and results of known characters and problems.

Switching gears slightly, I want to address Reagan and deafness within this context of what is horrific in A Quiet Place. Gabrielle Berry’s paper examined the many complicated ways Reagan’s deafness is understood and explored implicitly and explicitly throughout the film. In the above paragraph, I mentioned the anxiety of Lee and Evelyn teaching Reagan how to be safe in this world with her disability. Within the theme of parenthood, this makes sense, but within the context of Reagan and her disability, this is actually quite limiting for her. The film tries to grapple with this by showing the difficulties of Lee connecting with Reagan, but ultimately it does not do enough, in my opinion. The audience does not see what Reagan fears in this world. We see her guilt and her frustration at not being allowed to interact in the world as she wishes she could, but this is not the same as seeing her fear. We do see her afraid of the monsters like everyone else, but her underlying fears are never explored in the ways Lee and Evelyn’s are. (This may also be due to the thin characterization of the Abbott family, but this would be important to demonstrate even in very thin characters.) This reminds me of the biggest fault of Lovecraft’s fear of the unknown claim—it is a claim filtered through his own racism and fear of others different from him. Similarly, A Quiet Place almost falls into a similar pit by overly projecting an unknown fear that is hearing-centric throughout the film.

Given this major pitfall, I had a difficult time grappling why A Quiet Place offered two explicit solutions to the Sound Dilemma. The first solution is hearing and speaking-centric: simply make a louder sound. We see Lee teach this to Marcus at the waterfall and again when Marcus sets off the fireworks to save Evelyn. The second solution is deaf and hard-of-hearing centric by utilizing the cochlear implant (CI). We see this technology develop throughout the film until it gives the family an opportunity to shoot the monsters. Berry’s paper wonderfully examines the questionable representation of the CI as a miracle tool, the CI as a tool that seems more visible than the other aspects of deafness that allowed the family to survive to this point, and the CI’s complicated relationship with Deaf communities and cultures. In the film, the CI solution is clearly presented as better than the louder sound solution. It feels like the film is trying to suggest that our differences are our strengths, but that seems almost too explicit for a film that takes so many measures to be subtle and innovative. Therefore, I’m still not sure what to make of this pairing, especially in the context of defamiliarizing the unknown. Perhaps this tension is expanded upon in A Quiet Place 2, but for a film as creative and intentional as A Quiet Place, I think this connection is worth contemplating further.


Is VR the Future of Horror?

Putting on a headset and opening your eyes to the world of Half-Life: Alyx, Resident Evil 7, or any of the more recent entries into the category of virtual reality horror games, it’s not hard to make a case for the technology providing a golden opportunity for the next big advancement in the genre of horror. Horror is one of the few genres to continuously follow and benefit from the progression of gaming technology. Avid players of shooters and battle royales perhaps have less to gain from their mainstays being made into more immersive experiences. This is to say, VR seems to be the logical next step for those who desire a higher level of immersion with their horror games. Fixed camera perspectives and polygonal graphics, among other antiquated elements of early horror games, have been traded for a level of player integration that blurs the border between player and playable character. Something changes when the headset is put on; something that may be the future for the horror genre, and gaming as a whole.

Virtual reality games work in a way that every other game released, whether on computer or console, past, present, or future, cannot possibly achieve. The screen of the display on which the game is played is a concrete barrier separating the operator, the player of the game, from the playable character, whatever form that takes. Even in first-person perspective, a certain sense of distance is maintained. Perhaps peripheral vision of the edges of the screen or the distortion of depth perception leading up to the screen allows the operator to ground themselves in the real world. This intrinsic knowledge that the game can only be in front of us is excised entirely from virtual reality. The headset is the screen, and the distance between the eyes of the operator and the screen becomes negligible. The controllers become mimicries of the operator’s hands, meant more to imitate the function of a hand rather than serve as a multitool for certain commands or actions. When we turn around playing a virtual reality game, we don’t look away from the screen; we see what is behind us in the game world. Every audiovisual cue that grounds the operator in the real world is stifled; I often found myself unconsciously avoiding running into virtual walls and trying to lean on things that weren’t actually there. 

To that extent, the playable character becomes intertwined with the operator in such a way that it distorts the operator’s ability to distance themselves from the events of the game. Some may feel inclined to pause a game during situations of high intensity. In virtual reality, the ability to pause the game is obviously still present, but not being able to directly or indirectly see the button on the controller that stops the game contributes to its feeling of decreased accessibility. So, when Jeff is first revealed on the other side of the door during the distillery section of Half-Life: Alyx, the first instinct is not to pause the game with a menu, or to run using an analog stick, but to run using our legs. Even with the knowledge that physical movement, beyond that of the head to look around, is rather useless in navigating virtual reality game spaces, I still found myself incredibly tempted to turn tail. 

Part of the brilliance of the distillery section of Half-Life: Alyx, specifically pertaining to horror, was its use of Jeff’s gimmick in conjunction with the level design and the required player actions. The player is required to crouch to access certain spaces, cover their mouth to avoid coughing from spores, and throw bottles to cause distractions, all of which contribute to the nervous terror of being confined in a space with Jeff. Repeated failures and iterations of the level inevitably curtail the feeling of horror and replace it with determination or frustration, but the physical trait of Jeff is smoothly translated into an anxiety-producing virtual puzzle, one that stands out in demanding the operator to take physical action. Resident Evil 7, by comparison, offers very few instances of requiring a unique physical action in order to navigate the game world. It might not be enough simply to throw players into the screen of a horror game; virtual reality, by blurring operator and playable character, also encroaches on sensory perception but, as of yet, fails to capture all of them. In doing so, it may detract from the immersion the operator experiences.

When we play games on a console or a computer, we know inherently that the character that we are controlling on the screen is not us. We see through their eyes and hear through their ears, and the other senses we know we cannot experience through audiovisual media alone. On the other hand, virtual reality removes the distinction of the screen; the operator and the playable character. The eyes of the playable character are now our eyes; the same for our ears. We obviously always have awareness of the fact that we are playing a game, but at the same time, there is an element that makes us unconsciously reject not being able to experience the full extent of the senses. We play virtual reality games, particularly horror games, to be more immersed in the game world; to be integrated with the playable character to become part of the game world. In that sense, when we are unable to fully perceive every sense available to the playable character, such as a hand being sawn off or being vomited on with acid, it conflicts with the immersion we desire out of virtual reality. If true immersion and simulated reality is what we desire in our horror experiences, however, it might not be a stretch to say that the future of horror is merely having the horrific happening to us in real life, whether involuntarily or through a McKamey Manor-esque scenario.

The desire for more immersive experiences may be an involuntary product of the push for higher quality graphics. Many recent, non-virtual horror games have taken advantage of stylistic graphical decisions over trying to attain the most realistic visuals, such as Bendy and the Ink Machine or Imscared. Even the horror games of decades ago retain their ability to inspire fear, with their scares reliant on the limitations of their technology. The best of horror in virtual reality may not be a culmination of what the technology can do, but rather a creative consideration of what virtual reality can and cannot offer. Virtual reality may not necessarily need to be perfect in all regards, including visually, to be the jumping off point for the future of horror. I, for one, would prefer that a hand being sawn off stay untranslated into an immersive experience. 

By Kendrick Lee

A Quiet Place: Adapting to a Silent World – Sabrina Kimble

What would life be like if our silence meant our survival? The horror film (if you prefer to call it that), A Quiet Place, explores this question as it depicts post-apocalyptic family life. While this may seem irrelevant to the main plot of the film, that is, the looming threat of noise-sensitive, man-eating monsters, family life is more central to the horror of the film than it might seem. More specifically, the sounds of family life become the threat to fear aside from the monsters themselves. This is, obviously, quite troubling. Family is where we begin to develop our sense of community and belonging. It is where we learn to emotionally and socially connect with others. What happens, then, when that space is disrupted? What happens when our human inclination to connect, form community, to express an emotion becomes a matter of life or death? 

In our class discussion, we talked about the ways in which the family in A Quiet Place had to adapt to the silent world around them. To travel from place to place to run errands, the family must walk on sand trails without shoes to muffle the sounds of their footsteps. They communicate with each other through sign language, but we can assume that they knew sign language prior to the apocalypse because Regan, the daughter, is deaf. During family dinners, they must eat on large leafy “plates” instead of glass plates and use their hands instead of silverware. The food options themselves must be adapted as well. Presumably, the family eats mostly fish not only because it’s easy to cook quietly but also because it’s to hunt. Fishing is known to be a “silent” style of hunting (i.e. no loud guns). That and the fact that the family catches their meals near a loud waterfall that drowns out small sounds makes fish the safest food source.  Bonding with family over board games is also transformed. We briefly see the kids playing Monopoly with pieces of felt and fuzz balls instead of a metal race car or thumbtack. 

The family must also keep their emotions in check. We see Regan’s anger and frustration towards her father (and herself) must be muted by her punching and screaming into her pillow. When the mother witnesses her youngest child being killed, we see her cover her mouth so she does not audibly scream. 

This is obviously a lot to get used to. And the audience becomes aware of this when the youngest child is killed where his ability to be a child and play with a toy rocket is disrupted. Thus, we briefly see how childhood must be adapted as well. From that point on, the audience, like the family, becomes hypersensitive to sound and must adapt to complete and utter silence (save some background music). In our class discussion, we also talked about the ways in which the audience must adapt to the soundscape of the film in order to connect with the characters, especially when they are expressing emotions commonly associated with the horror genre. In a movie where there is little to no dialogue, one would think it difficult to understand what is going on. However, the film presents emotion in other forms, most notably through body language and facial expressions.

 The film also does something that we have yet to explore in this class until now: it “foreshadows” emotion. How so? The most prominent example that we discussed in the infamous raised nail. While the mother is leaving the basement of the family home with a bag full of laundry, she struggles with the heavy bag up the stairs. As she scales the stairs, the bag snags on a slightly raised nail and pulls it up from the wood with the sharp end jutting straight out. The camera lingers on the nail, a common technique used to signal the importance of the nail to the audience. Because the audience is primed from the beginning of the film to be hypersensitive to sound, the lingering image of the nail not only makes one cringe at the thought of the pain from stepping on it but also at the thought of containing that pain. How can you keep quiet when you are walking around barefoot and you step on a nail?! Here, the audience knows exactly how the mother feels (or how she will feel). Thus, the film uses lingering scenes and other imagery in addition to body language and facial expressions to demonstrate emotions. The audience hones in on these elements because the film forces its viewers to be hypersensitive to sound and hyperaware to visuals. Naturally, establishing this sensitivity is how the film creates suspense. As we discussed, small to moderate sounds become terrifyingly loud and, as demonstrated by the nail, the prospect of a loud sound is anxiety inducing. This is not because the sounds themselves are inherently scary, but because the thing follows the loud sound (i.e. THE MONSTERS) is even scarier. 

From the above, we see how this sensitivity also enables the audience to fully immerse themselves into the soundscape of the film. One major implication of this is that the film invites us to consider how we might tell stories and develop characters through emphasizing film elements other than dialogue such as sound design, music, and camera angles. While the family’s ability to connect with each other and the audience’s ability to connect with the characters is disrupted, the film presents us with ways in which these abilities can be transformed and adapted to a silent world. 

How Resident Evil 7 Startles Us

by Jacqs M.

In Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, a variety of techniques are used to create feelings of horror, but for this post I will be focusing on the startle effect. According to Robert Baird, there are three core elements needed for a film’s startle effect: 

  1. A character presence, 
  2. An implied offscreen threat,
  3. And a disturbing intrusion into the character’s immediate space.

As a video game that’s also been adapted for VR, does Resident Evil 7 follow the same rules for the startle effect as established for films?

[For all the scenes I discuss I will give a timestamp from this video, a no commentary walkthrough of the game. There will also be some graphic images.]

In class we discussed some scenes where the rules applied. Firstly, the scene where we encounter Mia in the Bakers’ house is already unsettling from the “we’re gonna be a family” lines and conflicting dialogue from Mia. When we walk down the dark stairs and Mia comes crawling up and then starts stabbing us (00:29:50), with screeching, tense music in our ears before Mia stops and knocks herself out, we get two of three elements. First, the character’s presence (Mia, coming out of nowhere in a creepy crawling position), and second, the disturbing intrusion into the character’s immediate space (stabbed through the hand). When she gets up and pushes us through a wall before we take her down with an axe (00:32:15), the missing element is introduced — the implied offscreen threat now that we know Mia defies typical logic. So when she comes back and eventually cuts our arm off with a chainsaw (another instance of the disturbing intrusion), we have all three elements (00:36:20). We know she’s out there somewhere, probably getting back up and finding a way to attack us again. However, I feel as though I can argue that even before that official implied offscreen threat is introduced, we still feel startled when we see her crawling up the stairs. Does the general looming threat stemming from just being in the ominous Baker house, as well as the dead birds on the road and the missing persons news articles, constitute enough of an implied offscreen threat? Or do we need to know that Mia is indestructible to be wary enough of her to be startled by her?

Mia cutting off Ethan’s hand.

On the other hand, there is another scene that more closely follows the traditional rules for film. There is a scene later in the game that we did not get to during the screening where we try to get help from a police officer that has somehow shown up outside the garage (00:57:00). When we let him in, we get zero cooperation from him, and after a short conversation, we see Jack loom up from behind him with a shovel and cut his head in half. Here, we know that Jack is somewhere in the house after just being chased by him, giving us character presence and implied threat. Then, the intrusion happens when the officer’s head is sliced and Jack starts targeting us again. This is somewhat similar to the example Baird gives with Alien, where a monster (in our case, Jack) moves towards the main character/camera out of nowhere and we have a “horrified, frozen reaction.” 

The officer being attacked from behind by Jack.

There’s one more scene I’d like to look at that is even later in the game, when we play as a Clancy Javis setting up a “birthday party.” His job is to light a birthday candle and put it on the cake, but there is a leaking doorway that sets out the candle when you go to the room with the cake. You must find a very round-about way to get this done, involving three startling moments. One has an ugly skeleton machine suddenly grab our arm and carve a password into it (3:03:10). A second has a balloon filled with large nails and a quill pen explode and imbed themselves in our hand and stomach (3:02:30). And lastly, when we finally put the candle into the cake, it explodes and kill us (3:05:00). These three moments don’t have the presence of some malicious evil monster or character, and I feel as though the implied offscreen threat is a bit fuzzy and non-traditional. The character knows that the birthday cake challenge is dangerous and has some hidden threat, but the threat isn’t exactly offscreen. We see the threats over and over as we walk through the rooms and see the skeleton, balloons, and cake. In this case, the requirements for the effect are less defined.

The nail-filled balloon moments before it explodes.

This complicates the straightforwardness of film’s startle effect. In VR, we get even further complications. As mentioned in class, not all requirements are needed for a startle when you are not viewing the character and rather being the character. You can be guided to look behind you and have a startle from that. With more advanced VR, you can be startled by anything that you would also be startled by in real life. Baird also mentions that “viewers can be startled by film sound and motion in part because the systems that immediately attempt to judge sound and visual motion make no distinction between real and apparent motion, or real and amplified sound.” With VR, I believe that there is even less distinction between real and fake, and startles are even easier to achieve because there is less to ground players in real life. You can’t just look away from the screen when you’re wearing a headset, and you don’t get constant reminders that the film isn’t real when you’re sitting in a comfy seat and hear someone else in the theater sniffling. (Unfortunately, I can’t talk much about the startle effect in VR for this game, since I didn’t get a chance to play it with the headset.) In all, I think that Resident Evil 7 is an interesting game to study startles in due to the variety of applicable scenes.