Before Wednesday, I was unequipped to explain why I felt like Paul Tremblay had pulled one over on me in the conclusion of A Head Full of Ghosts. Isabel Pinedo’s Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film offered a false sense of security. Knowledge that postmodern horror discomfits the reader/viewer/consumer by violating natural boundaries, withholding narrative closure and, more recently, unbinding the experience from the screen or page did not prepare me to discover the “truth” of what became of the Barrett family. All of the aforementioned traits of postmodern horror exist in A Head Full of Ghosts due to Paul Tremblay’s use of the Rashomon effect to cause readers to mistrust all information they are given.
In Robert Anderson’s article, The Rashomon Effect and Communication, he describes the phenomenon based upon Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film which uses character perspective and flashbacks to cause viewers to question the possibility of the existence of an objective truth. Anderson argues the power of the Rashomon Effect is greater than difference in perspective but that it “occurs particularly where such differences arise in combination with the absence of evidence to elevate or disqualify any version of the truth, plus the social pressure for closure on the question ” (Canadian Journal of Communication).
The story of the Barrett family’s demise continues beyond completion reading A Head Full of Ghosts because of this phenomenon. According to Anderson, the absence of truth in any of the different perspectives and social pressure for closure make for a strong case of the Rashomon effect. Tremblay’s twist revelation in the last few pages that Merry is the sole survivor of a homicidal poisoning she was convinced to carry out by her own sister is horrifying. The facts of the case alone are disgusting, but the fact that Merry has been the reader’s only insight into the events fifteen years prior to her interviews. Merry is everywhere. There are multiple versions of Merry’s truth–young Merry’s perspective, “Karen Brissette” analyzing The Possession and her adult rationalization of the events but the only concrete truth of what happened in the Barrett home was captured by raw footage of the camera crew, which ended a month before Merry killed her family. How can the reader trust that anything she has told prior to that revelation was entirely true? Anderson argues that the reader is pressured into believing the least disturbing version of the narrative to find closure, despite Tremblay’s best efforts.