Entering Hyperpostmodernism Through Self-Reflexivity

While Scream (1996) and The Cabin in the Woods (2011) both fit Isabel Pinedo’s definition of postmodern horror, these films surpass her examples of Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Nightmare on Elm Street because of their intertextual references and dissection of horror movie conventions. Scream and The Cabin in the Woods are examples what Valerie Wee calls “hyperpostmodernism,” which she identifies as a new phase of postmodern horror. The evolution of this new phase shows that in order to continue providing the experience of fear Pinedo identifies, the horror genre must reject its exhausted tropes and invent new surprising and terrifying elements that do not rely on familiarity with the genre.

Scream and Cabin fit Pinedo’s guide of postmodern horror in places. Her general definition of postmodernism is a system in which “traditional (dichotomous) categories break down, boundaries blur, institutions fall into question, master narratives collapse, the invetibality of progress crumbles, and the master status of the universal (read: male, white, monied, heterosexual) subject deteriorates” (18). Nick Chandler’s article “Subversion of Genre Conventions in Scream & The Cabin in the Woods” offers an analysis of the meta postmodernist characteristics of self-awareness and echoes Pinedo’s ideas. He writes, “The term ‘meta’ is a post-modern idea that a piece of work is self-aware, and subverts mainstream conventions, or in this context subverting horror tropes, all the while making/implying to different texts, otherwise known as intertextual references” (Chandler par. 1). Another term for this is self-reflexivity. Both movies are overtly aware of horror genre conventions and manipulate them so that the movies engage in hypermediation and remind the viewer that they are watching a movie, breaking some of the tension and sometimes becoming comical. Both movies focus on five teenagers that fit stereotypes of the Jock, the Whore, the Virgin, the Nerd, and the Clown/Stoner and have versions of the haunted house where the characters are partying and then the slasher action occurs.

Scream’s self-reflexivity explicitly discusses horror conventions in the script, often through the nerd character Randy. The scene below takes place between Randy, Billy, and Stu – the latter two are revealed at the end to be Ghostface.

Randy says that the cops let Billy go because they don’t watch enough horror movies. He says, “There’s a formula to it. A very simple formula.” The irony of this scene is that Randy maps out exactly what the movie plot is because he knows what to look for. The formula Randy is referring to is the combination of horror clichés, such as the final girl, the cell phone excuse, creepy kids, found footage/diaries, and much more. Some people think they have even calculated a mathematical formula for horror movies based on suspense, realism, and gore. The characters in Scream directly refer to the audience’s expectations and also mention specific horror movies throughout the movie. My personal favorite manipulation is about the trope that the virgin, usually “the final girl,” always survives. But in Scream, the final girl, Sidney, is not a virgin and the virgin is Randy. This scene is an example of how the movie plays with the balance between terror and comedy.

Cabin’s self-reflexivity does not explicitly discuss horror conventions, but instead assumes the audience is aware of the worn-out tropes and weaves in references to a long list of horror movies through the monsters in the movie. This video by GoodBadFlicks explains the references in the movie.

A point that is mentioned in the video and in Chandlers article is that the ancient gods that the ritual is seeking to appeal to is symbolic of the audience. Chandler writes, “It can be interpreted that the ‘Gods’ are in fact the movie viewing audience, and the actions of Hadley and Sitterson are in fact the writers trying to please them, through genre conventions and themes that are universally recognized, e.g. ritual” (par. 6). The following clip is an example of horror movies feel for the necessity of nude shots.

And when they get the shot of the girl’s breasts…

Cabin writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon chose to relate the audience’s desire for these conventions to a ritual sacrifice, a relationship that has even been explored by Shakespearean scholars. Derek Cohen’s article on King Lear explains how early modern drama and sacrifice rituals both require an audience, a vulnerable participant, human conflict, and resolution. (385-386). The writers are commenting on how that by including expected and familiar conventions, horror movie creators are sacrificing creating a movie that influences the genre and our culture. Cabin is a pretty boring movie while you are watching the characters get killed one by one, and it is not until the expectations are broken with Marty’s, the Clown/Stoner, survival that the movie becomes interesting. The scientists controlling the ritual explain that Dana, the Virgin, must be the last to die and if she dies before Marty then she is not final girl and the ritual will not be complete. The movie becomes engaging when the horror formula is disrupted. At the end of the movie, Marty and Dana decide not to kill each other and to let the ritual be incomplete. As a result, the gods break out from their dormant state beneath the earth and begin to destroy the world.

Because the movie does not give the audience the horror clichés it wants, the movie as a whole is actually refreshing and blatantly questions the ways our culture crafts horror. Cabin has “changed the way we watch and think about horror movies by treating metaphor as text instead of subtext: It’s an undisguised horror movie about horror movies, much as The Babadook is an undisguised horror movie about being a single parent or It Follows is an undisguised horror movie about adolescent sexuality” (Crump par 4). Speaking about Cabin’s influence on our culture as a whole, Phil Hoad writes, “Whether it’s Cabin’s redneck zombies, or J-horror’s “dead wet girls”, or Indonesia’s pocong (a ghost wrapped in a Muslim burial shroud that often features in its low-budget spookers), they’re expressions of the violence, shame and isolation that underlies whatever collective traumas those cultures are shaped by” (par. 4). The expressions of violence in Scream examines “the issue of trust in romantic relationships, using slasher-film conventions to explore the turmoil of female adolescence” (Wee 57). This is the same idea presented in Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” – “the monstrous body is pure culture” (4). Movies and the culture they are presented in connects back to Wee’s article on hyperpostmodernism, in which she states the Scream films were “specifically created for a generation steeped in pop culture,” and the same is true of Cabin. And as generations and culture adapts, technology also advances, an aspect of late postmodern horror.

Wee writes that “the films reemphasize the vital role that media play in their lives” (52). In Scream, the media take the form of Gale Weathers, a journalist whose career takes advantage of the murders, and the development of new media technologies such as cell phones, cable, and video. The video rental store and the group watching Halloween together represents the community the genre provides. Horror movies are especially important to Billy and Stu since it motivates them to begin the murders – “watch a few movies, take a few notes.” The media presence in Cabin is represented by the constant eye of the science lab who has cameras and microphones all over the cabin. Marty even finds a camera at one point and makes the connection to the lab’s monitoring to reality TV.

In the section on irrationality, Pinedo writes “the trajectory of the classical narrative is to deploy science and force to restore the rational, normative order, whereas the postmodern narrative is generally unable to overcome the irrational chaotic forces of disruption” (22). Cabin plays with this statement directly in the role of the science lab to perform the ritual to restore order to the gods. The scientists use their control of the property to influence the characters decisions, such as releasing pheromones in the forest to prompt a sexual act and increasing the lighting when a character complains that it is too dark.

The technology the scientists have implanted in the house is a sharp contrast to the eerie antique cabin, and the power that the technology has over the teenagers is scarier than the cabin. The lab is symbolic of the classical horror narrative, but the teenagers present the chaos that disrupts the scientist’s deployment of horror tropes. Because of their refusal to behave according to the scientist’s plan to appeal to the gods, they cause an apocalyptic ending. A crucial rule violation in each movie is the refusal to give one final girl. Scream gives two, Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers, and Cabin gives one final girl, Dana, and one final boy, Marty. This is the final attack on genre conventions and a re-writing that questions the biggest horror cliché. Scream suggests the overall importance of female survivors in the face of male suppressors and Cabin seems to suggest that gender and genre conventions as a whole should not matter to the goal of scaring audiences. Cabin continues the conversation that Scream started, and as our culture, youth, and technology continues to progress, horror conventions must also adapt.

Works Cited

Chandler, Nick. “Subversion of Genre Conventions in SCREAM & THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.” Medium, 21 Aug. 2016.

Cohen, Derek. “The Malignant Scapegoats of ‘King Lear.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 49, no. 2, 2009, pp. 371–389. JSTOR.

Cohen, Jeffrey J. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1996, p. 3-25.

Crump, Andy. “Why Didn’t ‘Cabin in the Woods’ Change the Horror Genre?” The Hollywood Reporter, 5 Sept. 2017.

GoodBadFlicks. “Every Reference in The Cabin in the Woods.” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Oct. 2014.

Hoad, Phil. “The Cabin in the Woods Shows Horror Speaks an International Language.” The Guardian, 10 Apr. 2012.

Pinedo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31. JSTOR.

Wee, Valerie. “The Scream Trilogy, ‘Hyperpostmodernism,” and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 57, no. 3, 2005, pp. 44–61. JSTOR.

Pledged: LMC

The Haunting of the Postmodern: A Comparative Analysis of Postmodern Horror

It’s a late fall night in 2012 and I’m walking out of a movie theater while wearing a banana costume. As my costume-clad friends and I head to our cars to go home after an excitement-filled day, I couldn’t help but feel let down with how it ended. Spending time with friends is always amazing, of course, but the way we decided to finish our night was to pay $15.00 admission to watch (what I would consider to be) a sub-par horror movie that we all knew was coming. I don’t mean this in a bad way, because Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) thoroughly entertained me for its hour and a half runtime; the problem I had with the movie was that I spent exactly zero minutes of it being scared. Unsurprisingly, this was also the sentiment of audience members and critics alike. Many people looked down on this installment of the series for having no point or lesson to the story, but there are still ideas to unpack and lessons to be learned, especially when put in comparison to other works within the genre. As the 2010’s progressed and the era of Netflix was ushered in, many more of these types of horror films came out, hoping to capitalize on the online platform that provided them more creative freedom when it came to what they were allowed to show on screen.

A few gems have stood out, however, with one of them being Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House (2018), based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 postmodern-gothic horror novel of the same name. Flanagan had his work cut out for him in bringing a critically acclaimed classic into the twenty-first century, yet was still able to produce content that was critically acclaimed in its own right. In contrast to the Paranormal Activity franchise, The Haunting not only kept me enthralled through each of its 10 one-hour episodes, but it also made me feel truly scared every time. Although both of these works deal with a haunted house, they do so in very different ways. The shared aspect of a haunting provides a great starting point to examine how each series uses the supernatural to explore aspects of the natural world.

Image 1 above

Image 2 above

One of the most distinct differences between the franchises is the type of horror that it is able to produce for its audience. Viewers of The Haunting have likely witnessed the eerie visuals that seem carefully yet casually placed in the periphery of shots. Statues, figures, and even ghosts will appear, disappear, or change between shots of the same scene. Two examples have been provided above, try to find the creepy ghosts! Out of the dozens of times this happens throughout the series, the majority of them are never even acknowledged by the characters. They are not irrelevant to the plot, but they are also not an immediate concern either. They are simply there to act as Easter eggs full of suspense. This is all partnered with the actual plot that deals with psychological traumas of childhood hauntings and the demons of the real world. Paranormal Activity, on the other hand, became riddled with jump scares in order to maintain its scary yet safe status as a horror blockbuster. In a film that seemed to be experiencing franchise fatigue, some of these jump scares almost appeared ironic as they called back to earlier installments of the series or made fun of the fact that a jump scare was being used in the scene.

So why is any of this important? These two films represent the difference between surprise and suspense, something that Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, has exemplified and explained masterfully throughout his career. This is also representative of something bigger than directing techniques, however, as it represents a distinct cultural shift in the way we utilize technology. Paranormal Activity’s use of sudden and intense jump scares is indicative of the shortening attention spans among people during the rise of smartphones in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. Production companies appear to have thought that the audience needed to see something scary more frequently than before, or else they would lose interest in the movie. It utilizes technology heavily as laptops and smartphones are the “found footage” which we are supposed to be watching. Furthermore, having an invisible antagonist meant the directors could not directly show the ghost creating a suspenseful scene—they effectively limit themselves to scares that involved either no setup or very little setup. The Haunting, however, comes after the wave of smart technology invading everyone’s lives, but at a time that is still dominated by online media consumption. Because of their distribution platform, the directors knew their audience was not limited to a one-time theater viewing that had to be constrained to a maximum of two hours. Instead, they recognized that people were now using the internet to cope with internalized struggles and had an entire season of a show to draw out these conversations in order to create a subtler sense of fear that lasts well after the credits roll.

Isabel Pinedo states “Horror is an exercise in recreational terror,” as she explains how postmodern horror films explore the “terror implicit in everyday life” and the repression of this terror in everyday life (Pinedo, 24-25).  For The Haunting, this is the entire premise of the show. Mike Flanagan has revealed in interviews that his adaptation was essentially a show about characters of a horror movie after the film ends (Flanagan). As each of the main characters grows up in Hill House, their experiences and tragedies there haunt them later in life. They are not scared of those monsters anymore, but they are scared of their own lives due to the lasting effects of their own traumas. Their inner demons during adulthood (like drugs, depression, and unhealthy repression) are clearly connected to the literal demons and spirits that ruined their childhoods. This is how the show really sets itself apart from others, as it deals with very serious and terrifying topics that many will face in their own lives, while connecting everything to what seem to be classical horror monsters that could never be defeated. The main conflict of the show is exactly what Pinedo says postmodern horror is about: the terror implicit in everyday life.

Conversely, Paranormal Activity’s use of technology is what reveals the horror in everyday life. The movie is essentially a “found footage” film, with all of the footage being recorded by iPhones, MacBooks, and XBOX Kinects. After the film’s release, many people simply did not see an overarching message that the movie was trying to convey. This is a sin that can be forgiven due to the film’s lack of surviving characters or unsatisfying character arcs. What most people failed to consider, however, was the medium through which they were viewing the characters. In the movie, technology is what forces the audience and the characters to see the horrors present within their own home. The ghosts may be invisible and nobody believes anecdotal evidence of supernatural events, but the Kinect and laptops cannot be ignored when they capture the silhouette of a small boy or objects being thrown across rooms. This kind of presentation exemplifies the terror in everyday life by connecting the idea of violent supernatural beings to the common technology that audience members likely already posses. As clichéd as the “found footage” trope had become by 2012, this use actually seemed a little refreshing as the medium was an integral part in making the horror of the movie seem more real. It wasn’t the content itself that made the film scary, but rather the media through which we are presented the film’s contents.

These two franchises represent two completely different kinds of postmodern horror. The versatility of the supernatural horror genre is on full display here, as it is used in original Hollywood blockbusters and adaptations of old classics. Each film was also subjected to its own unique societal understanding of horror as a genre, thus forcing the production teams to approach their topics in interesting and creative ways. These series also also exemplify the most important aspect of horror films: their relationships to society and each other. Horror films are products of their time and are representative of topics or problems that societies face. Every film brings something to the table, so each film will have the opportunity to remain relevant in the realm of horror film. To simply overlook a bad scary movie because it is not scary enough is to miss out on an opportunity to learn about the people that made it. Furthermore, it is important to remember that these films can bring ideas out of each other, too. In this case, the two works highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s method of horror, while still covering two completely different sets of ideas. This is simply one of the major advantages that came with the advent of postmodernism and the explosion of the internet.


Works Cited

Flanagan, Mike. Interview by Simon Abrams. Vulture Magazine, 12 October 2018. https://www.vulture.com/2018/10/haunting-of-hill-house-netflix-mike-flanagan-interview.html

Hitchcock, Alfred. “Alfred Hitchcock Explains the Element of Suspense.” Keynote Speech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md6folAgGRU&frags=pl%2Cwn

Image 1. https://pixel.nymag.com/imgs/daily/vulture/2018/10/22/hill-house-ghosts/hill-house-3-the-face-in-the-door.w700.h467.2x.jpg

Image 2. https://pixel.nymag.com/imgs/daily/vulture/2018/10/22/hill-house-ghosts/hill-house-5-under-the-piano.w700.h467.jpg

Image 3. https://media0.giphy.com/media/pN1kyZvUveog0/source.gif

Paranormal Activity 4. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Performances by Stephen Dunham, Katie Featherson, et al. Paramount Pictures 2012.

Pinedo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20688091.

The Haunting of Hill House. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Performances by Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, et al.  Amblin Television and Paramount Television 2018.

The Horrors of Humanity: A Comparative Horror Analysis of “Hated in the Nation” and Split

Black Mirror’s season three finale “Hated in the Nation” and M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 film Split are perfect examples of popular works of postmodern horror. Although both are extremely different in various ways, they examine some of the same tropes of postmodern horror while confronting them in vastly different ways which when put side by side allow each work to illuminate the other. Whether it is from the presence of technology, the disconnect between people and their online personas, the questioning of good and evil within the story, or simply the lack of narrative closure, both Black Mirror’s “Hated in the Nation” and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split are truly effective examples of the postmodern horror genre and the ways it affects and challenges audiences.

“Hated in the Nation” sees swarms of robotic bees being hacked by an unknown assailant with the purpose of orchestrating mass murder. This premise is very technologically loaded which helps it to fit right in with its postmodern horror counterparts. The episode is set in the near future with very advanced artificially intelligent robotic bees which serve as a replacement for the natural species who had died out. It is through this overwhelming presence of this technology that the main antagonist terrorizes society, creates mass hysteria and ultimately murders masses of people. The overabundance of technology is completely vital to the plot line of “Hated in the Nation”. The fear of this robotic technology and its raw power is the driving force of the narrative as characters are racing to combat it. In “Hated in the Nation”, technology is the horror and the fear and is the physical obstacle which the protagonists must fight against.

One of the more interesting notions that the episode tackles is the popular disconnect that people tend to have regarding their online profiles. In modern society, most people live on the internet in some way through various social media sites where they post certain things about themselves that they want the world to see. Yet, while people actively post and engage with their own profiles, there appears to be a certain disassociation between true people and their online personas. People often post things online but feel no responsibility or ownership of their words because they feel like there is no accountability. As Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin put it, “The elements of perceived anonymity on-line . . . aid in freeing individuals from traditionally constraining pressures of society, conscience, morality, and ethics” (134). “Hated in the Nation” directly attacks this idea because the hacker selects his victims via a twitter hashtag #DeathTo.

The victims are those who have been targeted by the mass public with this hashtag and yet those who have tweeted the hashtag feel no liability or responsibility in that they aided in another’s death.

Following with this same premise of the targets being chosen using the popular hashtag, “Hated in the Nation” offers up a very popular postmodern horror trope in which the line between good and evil is blurred. Near the end of the episode, the villain reveals his true motive in that everybody who tweeted the hashtag were the real targets and all hundred of thousands of them were exterminated in a single day with the swarms. This is a very devastating ending that renders a great portion of the population lifeless, but it still challenges the viewer through the question of whether this was a just ending.

All of those who were killed actively involved themselves in selecting other people to die in a weird cyberbullying sort of way yet, does that mean that they too ought to be punished to the death? On top of that the villain’s manifesto explains that he was once witness to a friend’s suicide attempt driven by cyberbullying. This entire plot was a concoction of somebody in severe emotional pain on behalf of a loved one and it was his way of getting revenge and teaching all a lesson in the horrors of cyberbullying. “Hated in the Nation” presents an extremely rich situation in which there are so many sides the story as the lines between good and evil are brilliantly blurred.

Throughout the episode, “Hated in the Nation” presents numerous different plot lines and characters that apply to its postmodern horror genre and its ending scene solidifies this. The episode ends with one of the lead detectives who served as protagonists going out on a frantic search to find the culprit for such a deadly catastrophe. The final shot of the episode is the detective informing the other that she has finally found their man and it ends with her perusing him on foot.

This end leaves things very open which Isabel Pinedo cites as a popular trait of postmodern horror in her paper Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film (24). The lack of narrative closure is one that is readily felt in “Hated in the Nation” and it helps to leave a more lasting impact in viewer’s ends as the story has not fully completed itself. This open ending leaves things on a hopeful note that justice will befall the villain and that some will achieve closure.

In Split, Casey Cooke and two other high school girls have been kidnapped by a man named Kevin Wendall Crumb who is living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) where he has twenty-three separate personalities occupying his mind. A small group of his identities referred to as the Horde have gone rogue ensnaring these girls leaving them to fight for their survival. As part of their being held against their will, the girls are locked away without any communication from the outside world meaning that they have no access to any form of technology. The very lack of phones and other communication devices is highlighted extraordinarily well in a scene where Casey convinces one of Kevin’s identities, Hedwig, to show her his stolen walkie talkie. When she discovers that the device is real and is a legitimate form of communication with the outside world you can physically see the change in her eyes.

To her, this old-fashioned device represents a chance to reach those outside the walls but more directly it is hope. The chance to call for help is so tantalizing that against Hedwig’s wishes she turns it on to speak with the person on the other end. Although the people on the other end fail her, this scene does an extremely effective job in highlighting the importance of technology to a trapped person with no escape. It calls to the viewer’s attention the sheer lack of technology that modern day viewers are not used to and thus only intensifies the fear and horror that Casey and the other girls experience.

At one point in the film, Kevin’s therapist, Dr. Fletcher, receives multiple emails from one of his identities, Barry, who requests emergency therapy sessions.

When the sessions occur however, it is no longer Barry in control of the body but rather Horde member Dennis and thus he waves off the emails as mistakes and something that should not have occurred. Pulled off through incredible acting, this scene interestingly tackles the idea of technology hosting false personas. This film examines it from a unique perspective because in this case it is truly two separate people sharing one online persona and yet it is akin to the disconnect often present between ourselves and the personas we put out online through technology. It is an interesting thought in Split because there are truly multiple identities controlling this singular profile and thus there is true discrepancy rather than a falsehood created by erroneous societal consciousness.

The most striking postmodern horror characteristic that Split takes on is its challenge to the viewer as to what true good or true evil is. As an audience you are led to believe that the Horde as characters are the clear source of evil as they have kidnapped three young women and are holding them against their will for the purpose of cannibalistic sacrifice. That is an indisputable evil act and yet, throughout the film one is also exposed to Kevin’s own pain and trauma which has led him the broken man that he is. DID is understood to be a direct result of childhood abuse from both doctors and scientists (Ellason 256). Viewers see Kevin’s abusive mother savagely torture him as a child leading his mind to completely fracture into the numerous identities that are encountered throughout the film). The Horde as well as the Beast view themselves as protectors of Kevin having been forged in the fire of pain and suffering. Their cause is one motivated by fear and love of their own body which is admirable and yet they are committing horrific acts. They are clearly part of a broke collective living inside of Kevin Wendall Crumb and their broken aspects are committing atrocities, but does that make them evil? Split forces audiences to dig deeper and think harder about the questions of good and evil which aids in its complete effectiveness as a work of postmodern horror.

The second of Jeffrey Cohen’s theses of his paper “Monster Culture” is the idea that the monster always escapes (4). In Split, Kevin Wendall Crumb’s Horde fit right this thesis to a tee in that they completely elude capture. The film ends with them inside a broken-down house talking to each other in the mirror proclaiming their plans for the future. They conclude that the power of the Beast is true and that by putting faith in him they shall be protected. This scene not only fits into Cohen’s thesis that the monster cannot be stopped which induces fear and horror, but it also ties into Pinedo’s thoughts on postmodern horror’s use of open endings. Split is able to match both descriptions perfectly which only increases the level of fear in audiences because they know that the Beast and all of his violence and brutality is still roaming around free.

The role of technology and the way that it is addressed in both “Hated in the Nation” and Split is extremely interesting as they are virtual opposites. In “Hated in the Nation”, the world is enveloped by technology and ultimately it is the vast power of robotic bees that are used to create fear and panic. There is simply too much technology and the public is forced to deal with the horrors that it produces. Meanwhile, Split has a distinct lack of technology and to the trapped girls, it is a sign of hope to dispel fear and panic. The main difference in the way that technology is used can be attributed to the fact that “Hated in the Nation” is a much more public and massive story while Split is a very personal and isolated one. In the Black Mirror episode, technology is prevalent because of the way it can affect masses of people which was the scope of the horror. Meanwhile the scope of the horror of Split was directed solely upon three terrorized girls who were completely isolated. Technology has a way of bringing people together and thus in “Hated in the Nation” it is used on a mass scale to spread mass hysteria whereas Split was about breaking people apart and kidnapping them away from society, thus leading to a reduction in its presence. The ways that technology was used in both of these works only serve to further highlight the scope of the horror that the works were attempting to create.

Another common theme that both works inspect is the idea of disassociation between technological profiles and the people behind them. “Hated in the Nation” tackles this topic in the more conventional way with people utilizing social media platforms and attempting to deny any and all credit for what their post may have resulted in. These characters fall under the common issue that society finds with accepting responsibility for their online actions. Meanwhile, Split confronts the topic through the tool of email in which one identity sends an email, but another is the one who acts upon it. This is unique to the story and characters of Split, but it does attack the thought of their being a disconnect between technology and people. The issue here however comes from the disconnect of the identities within Kevin’s body and the way they interact with one another rather than a disconnect between a single person and technology. This is a very effective move on the part of the filmmaker as he draws attention to a technological disconnect which is popular as evidenced by “Hated in the Nation” but does so only to subvert your expectations and reveal more about the characters and their own disconnect. When examining both cases, it further highlights that the disconnect in “Hated in the Nation” is that between people and technology whereas the disconnect of Split comes from DID.

What appears to be the most important and significant trope of postmodern horror is that of challenging notions of what true good and true evil is. Both “Hated in the Nation” and Split blur the lines of good and evil respectively to only further improve their works. Both antagonists, the hacker and the Horde/Beast, are acting out of what they perceive to be desperate circumstances. In their minds, the atrocities they are committing are done so for a noble cause, one to expose cyberbullies and the other to protect a broken soul. Throughout the narratives, both are shown to be vile creatures with little regard for their victims and yet, viewers are shown the trauma that was suffered by them to create such monstrous personalities. In “Hated in the Nation”, the antagonist was traumatized by finding his flat made in a state of attempted suicide induced by cyber bullying and in Split, the Horde was formed from the abuse suffered from Kevin’s mother. By showing the dichotomies in their villains, both “Hated in the Nation” and Split fully represent real life in that things are not black and white, and that people are never fully good or fully evil. This realistic representation on screen certainly allows both works to be received more positively allowing audiences to connect on deeper levels.

Finally, the endings of both works are left slightly ajar without ever having completely closed the story. In each case, the use of an open ending is for different reasons and has vastly different effects. In “Hated in the Nation”, the story is left on a positive note with the antagonist being tracked down. While the viewer never gets to see the capture of the hacker, one is left to surmise that had the story continued the villain would have received his comeuppance. The mere thought of that is disputably more effective to leave with a viewer rather than to visually show it. Meanwhile, Split has an open ending for one very important and distinct reason: it is part two of a trilogy. In the post credits scene, it is revealed that Split is a secret sequel to an earlier movie from Shyamalan called Unbreakable. The reason that it was a secret sequel may be found in the paper: Dynamic Effects Among Movie Ratings, Movie Revenues, and Viewer Satisfaction. This paper from Sangkil Moon, Paul K. Bergey, and Dawn Iacobucci states that “sequels tend to leave their viewers less satisfied in the early weeks” (118). For Shyamalan, who was attempting to make a comeback after falling from grace, the idea of making his sequel secret must have been appealing given tendencies for lesser viewer satisfaction. Split had an open ending because the Hollywood machine was not yet finished with the story and it had plans of being revisited in a third movie where the Kevin would play a prominent role. Both works make use of a postmodern horror open ending effectively to best suit their narratives. It just so happens that “Hated in the Nation” ends its story best with its ending while Split simply awaits a sequel.

In the end, both Black Mirror’s “Hated in the Nation” and Split tackle many of the same issues and address many of the same popular postmodern horror tropes though in different ways. Whether it was in their uses of technology, confrontation with online personas, the blurring of good and evil or simply the use of an open ending, when contrasted with one another, certain things stick out which reveal more about the individual pieces themselves and only serves to elevate both as works of entertainment.


















Works Cited

Bergey, Paul K., Dawn Iacobucci, Sagkil Moon. “Dynamic Effects Among Movie Ratings, Movie Revenues, and Viewer Satisfaction” 2010.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” 1996.

Ellason, Joan. “Lifetime Axis I and II Comorbidity and Childhood Trauma History in Dissociative Identity” 1996.

Patchin, Justin W., Sameer Hinduja. “cyberbullying: an exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization” 2008.

Pindeo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film” 1996.

Possession and Existential Dread in “Oxenfree” and “Get Out”

Although the first thought someone has when they hear “possession” might be “demonic,” contemporary horror has expanded the definition of possession to include ghosts and other people. Two stories, the video game Oxenfree and the film Get Out, both explore what it means to be possessed by other people. Oxenfree is about a group of teenagers who unwittingly open a portal to another dimension using a radio and must face a group of ghosts that want to possess them and get a second chance at life. Get Out follows a young Black artist as he meets his white girlfriend’s family. Chris’s life plans are thrown into chaos when he discovers that his girlfriend and her family replace the minds of Black people with brains of rich white people. In both stories, the use of technology creates a record of the present and a connection to past victims that forces the audience to consider our own existence and impact on the world. Possession and the use of technology to break free from that possession represent our existential fears of repeating past mistakes and being erased from history.

In Oxenfree, the possessors take the more traditional form of ghosts. The ghosts are the spirits that were aboard the submarine USS Kanaloa when it disappeared into an interdimensional pocket in time. Their sudden disappearance, inability to escape, and direct contact with time itself has both made them angry and caused a mental regression so they function and process information like children instead of the adults they were on the submarine. Their child-like tendencies emphasize their selfishness. These beings feel that they deserve to live again because everyone forgot them, and it doesn’t matter to them that possessing the main character, Alex, and her friends will prevent the teenagers from living full lives. In fact, if the teenagers are possessed, it is implied that they will be erased and overwritten even more thoroughly than the ghosts, though their bodies will still exist. The ghosts’ faulty logic can be exploited if the player collects researcher Maggie Adler’s notes from around the island, which prove that the people of the USS Kanaloa were not forgotten. In one of the final scenes, Alex can speak directly to a single spirit instead of the amalgamation of every soul; in doing so, she lets the spirits know that they are remembered and do not need to return. I argue that this is a comment on how the past affects the present. Ignorance of the past forces Alex and her friends into a time loop of their own, whereas acknowledging the pain and suffering of a previous generation convinces the ghosts to move on, release Alex and her friends, and, on a second playthrough, can end the loop entirely [See video below from 35:05 to 37:20].

History has a strong presence in Oxenfree due not only to the presence of the ghosts but also the analog technology presented in the game. Alex’s radio is the only form of available, visible, and functional technology, and it operates as the primary mechanism of the game. The radio opens the portal in the beginning of the story, freeing the ghosts, but is also the mechanism through which the player can access information about the island and the disappearance of the USS Kanaloa. Dotted around the island are plaques that indicate installments of the radio tour, which offer kind, gentle, and whitewashed versions of the island’s history. The radio tour is in direct contrast with the “anomalies,” which are strange signals created and corrupted by the presence of the tortured souls of the Kanaloa. The anomalies often reference real and horrifying events, such as the atrocities committed during the American-Indian war of the mid-1800s and the bombing of the USS Arizona. Radio in Oxenfree is an excellent example of Ewan Kirkland’s theory of how analog technology corrupts the digital in horror films and video games (Kirkland 122). The static-y sounds of the radio eclipse the ambient music in the game, and occasionally the anomalies interject recordings of big band music from the 1940s, the same time period in which the fictional Kanaloa sank. Visual static further contributes to the corruption of the player’s screen during time loops and any ghostly interference. The computer itself and therefore the player becomes haunted, just like Alex and her friends. [The video below illustrates visual, sound, and time distortions in Oxenfree.]

Paired with the radio are several cameras, which create a visual record of the ghosts throughout the game and can change depending on the player’s actions. Part of the game aesthetic is the 80s nostalgia-type group of artsy teenagers who stumble onto something horrible, and the polaroid photos taken throughout the game to create a record of the teens’ time on the island are significant contributors to the aesthetic. One of the characters, Nona, specifically states just before Alex goes to confront the ghosts that she wants to take a picture to prove that the group existed, in case someone comes looking for them. The teens have proof of their existence in a way that the ghosts did not, and the visual record offers the audience hope that the teenagers will be able to free themselves from the dangers of the island. [Below: the last photo taken before the final confrontation.]

Get Out also uses photos as a mechanism with which to free characters, but the need for freedom and the way the camera frees its users differs from Oxenfree. In Get Out, Chris first uses his phone camera to take a picture of the odd Logan King, and the flash sends Logan into a fit. Chris’s friend sees the photo and identifies the man not as Logan King but as Andre Hayworth, who had disappeared months earlier. For Chris, identifying Andre is the last straw, pushing him to flee Rose’s house. As he packs, Chris finds pictures of Rose and her previous boyfriends, about a dozen other Black men, one of whom is Walter, another possessed Black man living at the Armitage house. Rose previously stated that she had never had a Black boyfriend before and thus denies the existence of these photos; when Chris finds them, he finally has evidence of something strange going on in the Armitage home. The pictures are printed, offering physical proof that these people had real lives before their possession, and they convince Chris that he must leave or become just a body like Andre. [Below are the pictures Chris finds, framed on the wall behind Rose.]

Although the possessors in Get Out are arguably more human than the supernatural ghosts of Oxenfree, they share a similar selfishness and desire to live a different, better life. The rich white people seek to possess Black bodies for several canonical reasons, including physical ability and being labeled “cool” [See video below from 2:40 to 3:20].

In Get Out, it is the possessors who are ignorant of the recent history of prejudice and its effects on the lives of Black people in the modern day. They believe that Black people have better lives, or at least that these white possessors would be better at living and appreciating the lives of Black people. In taking possession of a Black body, the possessor erases the original person’s cultural identity as well as their personality.

Stuart Hanscomb explores the idea that existentialism and questioning of self drives the horror within horror films (Hanscomb 1). He argues that the feelings of fear and disgust are inspired by depictions of the abject. In psychological horror, however, the abject augments fear and disgust rather than causing them outright; most of that fear and disgust is inspired by the ideological values of the evil characters. In both Get Out and Oxenfree, the abject takes the backseat, appearing late in the story if at all. The possessors in both stories feel entitled to the bodies of others and are willing to go to extremes to live again, even though they do not deserve a second life at all, especially when compared to the rights of the possessed to finish their own lives. The audience’s fear comes not from jump scares but from the idea that forgetting the past and making mistakes in the present will erase us from the future. The connections to Alex and Chris and their proximity to nonexistence throw the player/viewer into existential anxiety (Hanscomb 12).

Possession in horror films is in a unique position to offer a deeper view into our perceptions of ourselves and our existence. Technology allows us to delay our disappearance but does not prevent it; after death, we can exist only in the memories of those who come after us. No matter how many photos we take, our lives will still eventually end, those photos will decay, and we will be forgotten. The possessor has a second chance at life, but at the cost of another’s first chance; to have one’s identity stripped away during that one chance at making a mark inspires a more psychological fear, one that allows a deeper look at how we view the past, its legacy, and our own potential.


Works Cited

Get Out. Dir. Jordan Peele. Perf. Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams et al. Blumhouse Productions, 2017. Web.

HANSCOMB, STUART. “Existentialism and Art-Horror.” Sartre Studies International, vol. 16, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1–23. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23512850.

Kirkland, Ewan. “Resident Evil’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and Its Remediations.” Games and Culture, vol. 4, no. 2, Apr. 2009, pp. 115–126, doi:10.1177/1555412008325483.

Oxenfree. Apple iOS version, Night School Studio, 2016.


Dead Space vs. Doom (2016): Different Kinds of Postmodern Horror

If someone gave a quick overview of Dead Space and the latest Doom game, it’s not unlikely that the two would seem relatively similar. Nonspeaking, male main character? Check. A near-future setting with new technology? Check. Scary monsters whose only goal is to kill the main character? Check. A wide variety of weapons to kill these enemies that pop out of nowhere? Check. Brutal character death animations? Check. Blood and gore as far as the eye can see? Definitely check. Despite these similarities, however, the games feel and play completely differently. Dead Space is a slow moving, deep psychological horror that sets out to disturb and unnerve the player through its nearly cinematic experience. Doom (2016) on the other hand, starts fast and moves even faster, throwing the player into the fire (literally, since much of the game is set in the depths of Hell) and telling them to shoot their way out.

This essay focuses on a select group of characteristics of both Dead Space and Doom that I believe differentiate them from each other, but also from much of the rest of the video game market. The goal here is to highlight these differences and with that, show how these games achieve similar results with their different methods.

Aspect 1: Speed

One of the first things a player will notice about Dead Space is just how slow Isaac Clarke really is. Practically everything about him is slow, his default walking pace, his sprint, his melee attacks, and even the lethargic speed at which he aims his weapons. Admittedly, part of that is because of technical challenges the game had when converting the game over from the Xbox 360, but this makes sense, since Clarke is a regular mechanic who presumably, isn’t trained in complex combat techniques.

Doom, however, blows all of these ideas out of the water. Doomguy (you are never given an actual name) is fast. Everything from his movement to aiming his weapon is done at a blistering pace. This speed creates moments of chaos as you sprint around the arena (something we’ll get to in the “Maps” section) where the player has to make split-second decisions, lest they be torn to shreds by an oncoming demon horde. Doomguy even can double-jump, turning him into an insanely mobile, demon-hating death machine wearing a suit of armor.

So how do these different styles play into how the games convey horror? In Dead Space’s case, it makes the player feel weak and vulnerable, since they are no more capable of fighting off the enemy in the game than they would be in real life. Players feel an unconscious connection to Clarke, as there is no confusing him for some superhero-like character who can run and jump around enemies with ease. Doom obviously takes a different approach to this entirely. By turning the movement speed up to ludicrous and adding in the ability to double-jump, the creators of Doom created a clear line between the player and the game. This will become a common theme throughout Doom, as there is a self-awareness and hypermediation that permeates everything the game does.

For reference, watch this brief comparison of the two.

Aspect 2: Storybuilding

Dead Space is a story-driven game. From the very beginning, the player is treated to cutscenes, strategically placed audio logs, and well-timed video chats to keep the player in touch with the plotline, directly relating to the methods used in the Resident Evil series as Ewan Kirkland describes in his paper Resident Evil’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and Its Remediations, which makes sense, since Dead Space was based directly off of the Resident Evil series[1]. These are all used to build the world of Dead Space, to build tension, and to drive player investment into the game.

Doom is not a story driven game. In the very first scene of the game, this becomes abundantly clear as Doomguy throws the monitor in which one of the few other characters in the game is using to try and convey the plotline to you. The game does have a story though, you just have to find it.

Again, we see the difference between Dead Space and Doom, and their approach to the story. Since the story important for the world of Dead Space to be created, the story is forced upon the player, so that they’re always informed of exactly why they should be scared. Doom, on the other hand, doesn’t care. The previously mentioned self-awareness of Doom plays into this again shows itself as it puts gameplay first. The player can go the entire length of the game without ever really listening to, reading, or experiencing the story of Doom. That’s the postmodern part of Doom coming through. Hypermediation applies here as well in a convoluted sort of way, as the hyper-awareness of Doom being a video game allows players to shamelessly avoid the typical elements that create “buy-in” into a video game.

The following video should give a good idea of the differences between each game’s storytelling.

Aspect 3: Perspective

Dead Space puts the player into a third-person, behind the shoulder viewpoint as they control Isaac Clarke and trudge through the desolate spaceship that is the setting for the game. The camera shifts around Clarke and allows for some level of corner-peeking, letting slightly nervous players to get a few moments of advanced warning and letting the player look behind them in case a pesky necromorph tries to sneak up on them.

Doom places the player front-and-center, using a first-person perspective to carry the player through the hectic levels. There is no separation between the player and the action, allowing the player to witness firsthand the brutal and bloody evisceration of the demons that dare tread near Doomguy.

Dead Space is an excellent example of cinema verité as described in Barry Keith Grant’s paper Digital Anxiety and the New Verité Horror and Film[2]. While Dead Space may lack the first-person, shaky camera that other works of cinema verité may have, the player is drawn in and involved in the experience, with subtle additions like Isaac Clarke’s breathing (which changes depending on the state he is in) creating a feeling of almost a violent voyeurism as the player forces Clarke forward into the unknown. Doom uses the first-person perspective to draw the player in and make them experience the game exactly how the developers wanted the player to experience it. Doom’s first-person perspective also allows the player to experience aporia and epiphany, something that Jeff Rush describes in his paper Embodied Metaphors: Exposing Informatic Control Through First-Person Shooters as a moment in the game where the player is presented with a situation that they cannot immediately figure out, and must try multiple times before having an “epiphany” and finding a solution to the problem[3]. This first-person perspective restricts the amount the player can see at a single moment, forcing these roadblocks to present themselves to the player.

Aspect 4: Maps

While Dead Space and Doom both have linear maps, ferrying the player character along a designated course with specific landmarks the character must pass for the game to progress, each game drew the line from A to B a bit differently.

Dead Space used narrow hallways and curving corridors for much of the level design, creating natural points where enemies could spawn to surprise the character as they turned a corner. While Doom does have hallways and various paths, for the most part these are just to get the player to the next section of the game. The true gameplay of Doom occurs in large arenas, with a large amount of verticality built in, allowing Doomguy to jump up and down to his heart’s content in order to bounce around the demons.

Aspect 5: User Interface

Dead Space refuses to clutter the player’s screen with various bars and meters and counters to tell the player the information they need to continue playing the game. Instead, the developers decided to integrate all this information into the game itself. The health bar is placed on the back of Clarke’s spacesuit, along with his ability meter, hiding these player stats in plain sight. Ammunition is displayed on the weapon itself, a simple numerical value that follows the weapon as if it were an optic attached to the weapon. When the player examines Clarke’s inventory, Clarke follows along, looking at whatever item is currently highlighted in the menu as if he were rummaging through a backpack, looking for some medication.

As is probably expected by now, Doom takes the opposite approach. Health, armor, and ammunition meters reside in the bottom portion of the screen, with a minimap tucked away in the corner at the top. Menus and various screens are plentiful in Doom, despite Doomguy not actually having an inventory to gather found items in.

Dead Space wants to keep the player engaged in the game as much as possible, and the user interface shows this perfectly. Everything (even saving the game!) is incorporated into the gameplay so it all feels like one contiguous cinematic experience, from game beginning to end. The developers actively sought to meld the player and Isaac Clarke together as tightly as possible, something that the developers of Doom most certainly did not try to do. This is neither a good or bad thing, just different game design. The games both flex their postmodern muscles in opposite directions, with Dead Space trying to blur the lines between player and game, while Doom points out the breaks in reality with a gleeful, gory energy.

Aspect 6: Shooting Mechanics

This time, Doom will come first. Doom is blessed with one of the greatest developments in gaming history, the weapon wheel. Simply hold down a button, and you can choose between any weapon you have picked up so far, transferring from a shotgun, to a laser rifle, to a full-sized Gatling gun in less than a second. The player can choose from various modifications to each weapon at the press of a button while moving, keeping the pace up and the player engaged. When the time comes to use these weapons, Doom delights in the chaos. Loading screen hints openly admit to the player that they should aim for the head whenever possible to inflict as much damage as possible. As the player whittles down the health of the demons surrounding them, the demons become bloodied and stumble backwards. Once at low enough health, enemies stop moving, wobbling in place, allowing the player to go for a “glory kill”, a brutal and quick contextual animation of Doomguy (sometimes literally) tearing the unfortunate demon apart. If the player hits an enemy with an abundance of damage, the enemy will ceremoniously explode into various bits of gore, accompanied by the sound of crunching of bone and flesh.

Dead Space’s combat is a bit more subdued. While yes, there are many weapons available in Dead Space, Isaac Clarke can only carry a paltry four at a time, forcing the player to run back to an equipment bench to replace their weapons if they want to try a different strategy. Melee attacks are slow and cumbersome, making getting up close and personal with an enemy a tenuous affair. What is special about Dead Space’s combat is the fact that the game encourages you to tear off the limbs of enemies, as that is the only way to inflict enough damage to kill the necromorphs once and for all.

Combat is really where Doom gains its horror chops. From the very beginning, the player is forced to confront the demons that are chasing after them with intense and brutal ferocity. Paired with the first-person perspective, the player sits in the front seat of something akin to a demon snuff film. The spectacle that is Doom’s combat is what makes it postmodern horror, as it laughs in the face of typical first-person shooters as they try to become more and more realistic. Dead Space uses combat more as a method to build suspense and depict the horrors of the world that is being created.

Final Thoughts

Overall, what can be seen by comparing Dead Space and Doom are two very different strategies to accomplish a similar task. Dead Space went the suspenseful route, building tension through careful world building and making the player feel vulnerable as they progress through the game. Doom took the opposite route, choosing to shove violence and gore into the player’s face to excess, gripping the player in terror as they must determine how to defeat the swaths of enemies that are closing in around Doomguy. These games break barriers in very different ways, but they succeed in the main goal of these broken barriers, drawing in the player and forcing them to face their fears.

Works Cited

[1] E. Kirkland, “Resident Evil’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and Its Remediations,” Games and Culture 4, no. 2 (April 1, 2009): 115–26, https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412008325483.

[2] Barry Keith Grant, “Digital Anxiety and the New Verité Horror and Sf Film,” Science Fiction Film and Television 6, no. 2 (June 27, 2013): 153–75.

[3] Jeff Rush, “Embodied Metaphors: Exposing Informatic Control Through First-Person Shooters,” Games and Culture 6, no. 3 (May 2011): 245–58, https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412010364977.

A Captivated Audience: The Manipulation of Sense in ASMR and Shintaro Kago’s Manga Abstraction.

In the above clip, what you just heard is a whispering sound that cultural analysts, scientists, and media talking heads find difficult to categorize. I have just reduplicated to the best of my ability sounds that are meant to generate a physiological response. Though the above was an example of a human voice whispering, other sounds such the sounds of paper shredding, the tapping of metallic objects, the brushing of skin against skin, the tracing of fingertips on soft wood, are currently being listened too across the globe as part of an emerging cultural media trend. First we must define what these strange sounds are called and why they are intrinsically important to an analysis of Postmodern Horror before we embark on an analysis of the specific subcultures related to this trend. (Poerio 120).

This is ASMR, the title now given to these diegetic “tingly” noises, which has for the last ten years or so, grown into a community of online users, and which has pervaded the mainstream with its, well, “weirdness” (Poerio 119-128). ASMR as a community has staked a claim that it potentially alleviates “insomnia,” “anxiety,” “depression,” and the list of scientifically unproven benefits goes on (Poerio 119-128). Given that ASMR seemingly aims to sooth its viewers from their individual waking stresses and nightmares, how is that a horror sub-genre of ASMR videos exists and is, dare I say, pretty popular?

 In order to identify the various subcultures within this subculture outgrowth of YouTube, we have to define ASMR as best as is possible with a terminology that may yet exist to do so. ASMR at its most brief of descriptions is an internet phenomenon in which content creators speak and look directly into a camera while addressing their anonymous viewer with soft repetitive, sounds, ranging from tapping to lip smacking to brushing a microphone (Poerio 119-128). Some of these videos are “simulated” experiences as Dr. Gilula Poerio notes in one of the only current scientific studies of the internet phenomenon (Poerio 120). Users who engage in these  roleplay-style videos can choose any narrative situation they please, ranging from makeup tutorials to hair appointments to freudian psychoanalytic style scenarios. However, there is a subsection of ASMR in which relaxation and self-servicing sounds are generated by simulations that one could hardly characterize as “relaxing.”

A number of ASMR videos are now devoted to serial killer roleplays. Imagine Ted Bundy calmly whispering into your ear pre-murder. Some of these are done in the vein of parody such as content creator “IamCYR,” in others such as those kidnapping and quasi-American Psycho-esque videos produced by ASMRtist “Ephemeral Rift” and “Crinkleluvin ASMR” appear to be an earnest attempt to satisfy viewer requests. The discomforting content of these videos (including the licking of knives, the tapping of other various torture objects, rope sounds, and the gentle, but threatening whispers of a murderous captor) seemingly do not detract from the “ASMR-ness” of the videos. As multiple users argue these serial killer roleplays are, unnervingly, “relaxing,” even pleasing (Poerio 119).

These serial killer roleplays self-reflexively distort the genre of ASMR videos, which mainly deal with obviously relaxing or soothing environments such as Reiki healing, hair brushing, nail painting, etc (Poerio 119). As with Ephemeral Rift’s video “The Insomnia Killer” (the first linked video) in which audiences are drawn into a state of captivity that plays on their desire to rid themselves of their insomnia is an exact example of the postmodern, nearly parodic, tone that some of these videos employ. However, despite the potential irony of these videos, they still generate for users like me an actual physiological response to the sounds generated. 

(Though this paper won’t analyze the clearly parodic serial killer ASMR videos, Ephemeral Rift’s is worth giving a listen). 

CrinkleLuvinASMR, a female ASMRtist,  has similarly produced a series of these “kidnap” style ASMR videos in which the suggestion of violence jars against the relaxing, physiological comfort we as viewers are induced to feel through the sonicity of the ASMR experience. 

As we are confronted by CrinkleLuvin’s gaze, resting just above a medical mask, and told that we are the subject of her psychopathic medical machinations, we are disoriented. We feel calm, we want to keep watching, but wait is that a blood spatter behind her? The comments such as by Rapunzel ASMR laud the video, exclaiming

In the video we see the suggestion of blood on the walls, an “abject”  promise of what’s to come after the ASMR part of the video ends, and we are no longer in a state of lull or false security (Pinedo 21). Crinkle Luvin’s murderous character at times yells off camera to her daughter to quiet down. Viewers are fed the illusion that we aren’t alone with our computer, someone else is around. The believability of this is compacted by the sensation of fatigue, of inesacapability that the gentle tapping of medical tools and the rustle of plastic have generated within us. The viewer-captor is told that they’re going to “need a paralytic” and the tingling sensation we requisitely feel in our scalp seems to turn this suggestion into a reality. The manipulation of senses has betrayed us as viewers, our agency is called into question as consumers. CrinkleLuvinASMR tells us we are being made “into dolls.” And for a moment, as our body’s become entranced by the soothing sounds, we almost believe her. Seemingly, what we are experiencing is both “inside” the video and “outside” of the video itself.

Therefore though violence is only suggested by these serial killer ASMR videos, we anticipate said violence to come and feel the affects of the personal, if psychopathic, attention we are receiving. Therefore the experience is metaleptic in that our sense of discomfort and disorientation only occur after the video ends. The experience exists outside the text in the sense that we carry this sensation long after the video concludes. Though no violence or shock scares occur, what is horrific about these ASMR videos this is our lack of control over our own physiological reactions. What we have just experienced is what Isabel Pinedo claims is one of the major facets of postmodern horror. Pinedo claims that “horror is an excercise in recreational terror, a simulation of danger not unlike a roller coaster ride… the conviction that there is nothing to fear turns stress into a pleasurable experience” (Pinedo 25). 

Pinedo offers us a theoretical framework by which we can understand just how are viewers ostensibly led to feel secure, even soothed, in the pretend, virtual arms of a serial killer, so much so that there’s a demand for content creators to serialize (pun intended) said videos as CrinkleLuvinASMR has. However the answer potentially also rests in the way that ASMR videos construct “subjectivity” through sound (Bennett 134). 

Let’s look briefly at a user-generated anecdotal analysis of ASMR that narrates in real time this subjectivity. In “ Relief from a Certain Kind of Personhood in ASMR Role-Play Videos,” Emma Bennett relates her experience of viewing popular “ASMRtist” Olivia Kissper as one in which technology approaches a distinct kind of intimacy, one which situates Bennett “between object-hood and personhood” (Bennett 134).

Bennett writes,

“It is not only her performance, it is mine, too. I have to go along with it, even just a tiny bit, for it to work. I have to receive these recorded, mediated attentions as if they were really directed at me, personally, in the here and now. And it works: when Olivia says, I’ll just gently touch the area of your jaw, my jaw responds, it feels noticed. It’s sort of like it blushes, flinches ticklishly at the mention of its name” (Bennett 131).

Olivia’s page (URL: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=olivia+kissper+asmr)

Here Bennett narrates the way in which ASMR breaches category distinctions between the virtual and the real. Bennet’s interactions with Olivia’s content creates an experience in which real feeling is felt through a technological conduit . The uncanny ability to make a virtual interaction feel physiologically real through sonic response is perhaps one of the reasons the trend has gained popularity. In his analysis of horror video-game Resident Evil, Ewan Kirkland defines this attempt at a seamless reality as ““immediacy”  which “aim[s] for … the impression of an encounter with the real” (Kirkland 117). Content generators often attempt to be as vague as possible in order to seem realistically addressing the unique millions who tune in. Though the level to which we are directly addressed creates a kind of immediacy, we are also aware of the microphone and camera which are the conduits that allow us to experience the sounds emanating from our computer as Bennett notes (Bennett 131). Therefore ASMR engages additionally in a kind of “hypermediacy.” (Sample). ASMR’s ability to generate a physiological sense of tingling, using props that aid in crafting an alternate world through these roleplay environments makes serial killer style roleplays all the more terrifying as a medium of “relaxation.” since they actually sonically feel real. 

However, this use of the sonic to engender fear without presenting visually anything that is actually “scary” has been done in horror films such as The Blair Witch Project. In his book Terror Tracks Phillip Hayward describes the way The Blair Witch Project creates terror through a manipulation of sound.

Hayward writes,

 “The anticipation and suspense is enhanced by the fact that those images designed to scare us are not overly horrific: piles of rocks and stick figures in trees. Rather these are used cumulatively to establish a spooky context. The dim lighting, black-and-white footage and scenes featuring intermittent and lengthy moments of black screen or almost total darkness all rely on sound and sonic reaction to create an effect (Hayward).”

Therefore a constituent part of postmodern horror seems to be a concern with form over content. As with The Blair Witch Project, ASMR’s horror content never shows real “horror” and yet it is unnerving and disorienting in its manipulation of genre and medium.

Such is the case with Shintaro Kago’s nine page one shot manga Abstraction. In Abstraction readers are first presented with six seemingly normal frames of a young couple at the beach. We  know there are six predominantly because unlike normal manga the frames are numbered. This is the first indication of the piece’s metatextual nature and therefore of hyper-mediation as the numbered pages call our attention to the form of the manga genre.

In the top left hand corner of the second page we the subtle bend of the first frame, implying the page is being turned by a hand, a clear prod of self-awareness that points outside of the text to our reading experience. However by the second page the entire form is shifted to a four dimensional block.


As the frames turn, the couple’s bodies too become transformed, sometimes melding together, and at other times turn into pieces of machinery such as cars.

By page seven the frame of the manga zooms out to reveal several more empty text boxes gesturing to concurrent narratives. On page eight the young couple has been completely fragmented from both the confines of the graphic frame and from their bodies.

As the comic climaxes to a surreal peak, the couple’s seemingly engaged in a sexual act, divide into horrifying malformations of their former selves. Sex is accompanied with unexplained and absurd gore. Pinedo would attribute this as a tenet of postmodern horror, claiming that “the fusion and fission figures of postmodern horror assume overtly sexual proportions” (Pinedo 21). 

The most postmodern elements of this particular work are its metaleptic manipulation of manga’s actual graphic form. We are made to question the closed nature of each text box as they are literally distorted and its characters become disembodied from a “bounded” frame (Pinedo 26). This distortion becomes inflicted upon the character’s own bodies, and the mediums fragmentation translates onto the horrific gore that the character’s begin to experience without another causation. In Abstraction, the medium is the murderer.  

This manipulation of form creates a kind of visual vertigo that toys with it’s audience as much as it does the character’s embodiment. The reader’s eye, trained to read comics left from right find themselves struggling to pinpoint the beginning and end of the page. This disorientation becomes exemplified too in the “self-reflexive” nature of the text, which plays on the common subject of romance manga, known as Shoujo, to make more absurd the sudden violent sexual scenes that follow the seemingly mundane romance that Abstraction begins with (Pinedo 28). 

Kago’s piece however is part of a larger genre of Japanese horror manga. In an analysis of one of the most salient horror manga artists, Osamu Tezuka, Suzanne Phillips describes a similar genre-style of Japanese horror manga,

“the action now unfolded in an alternate reality, typically in dreams, nightmares, or fantasies that blurred the distinction between what is real and what is not. Without warning, the plots might suddenly veer into the realm of the fantastic and the absurd, sometimes without providing any clear resolution at the end” (Phillips 82).

This description of Tezuka’s work almost perfectly maps on to Kago’s Abstraction and perfectly describes the way Pinedo characterizes postmodern horror as  that which “asserts that not everything can or should be dealt with in rational terms” (Pinedo 22)  The “absurdity” of Abstraction however relies specifically on the audiences anticipation of a quotidian romance. Kago bases the  surrealism constructed in Abstraction through the “ironic” disavowal of this genre (Pinedo 28).

Like with the serial killer roleplays of ASMR, the content of Abstraction does not use visual horror tropes or even methods as the main means which to convey terror. Nothing that objectively terrifying occurs. We see a relationship deteriorating in Abstraction; though the gratuitous anal bleeding scene, the disjointed non-linear narrative (if this can be called a narrative at all) make it hard to discern what’s actually going on in the manga. The locus of horror in these mediums is instead their manipulation of senses which divert attention away from the fact that, as Pinedo says, by the end of their narratives “the outcome is uncertain” (Pinedo 25).  In Abstraction, readers experience visual vertigo that is underscored by the text’s “self awareness” of its medium’s genre (Pinedo 25). In horror roleplay ASMR, the content generators awareness of the genre codes appeals to the disorienting sensation the video produces. And while no particularly violent or gory action is purveyed in these roleplays, viewers are instead discomforted by their comfort– a relaxation generated by their involuntary physiological response to sound. In essence, we are held captive not by the virtual captor of the roleplay, but by the computer echoing the quasi-addictive sounds users are drawn back to repeatedly.

Both of these examples highlight that the predominant mechanism of postmodern horror is no longer content, or even plot, but the manipulation of media. As Pinedo concludes for us ” the horror film is an exercise in mastery” and to a degree these slights of comic frame and of soft voice are indeed performing both a “mastery” of the medium and a “mastery” of the the audience (Pinedo 26). This results in disorientation of sensory experience, as our eyes and ears strain to adjust to the surreal phenomenons set before us,  and thus puts the consumer’s conception of reality into a state of vertigo. 




Work Cited:

Bennett, Emma. “Relief from a Certain Kind of Personhood in ASMR Role-Play Videos.” Felicity Callard, et al., editors. The Restless Compendium : Interdisciplinary Investigations of Rest and Its Opposites. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Worldcat.org.  Accessed 19 Feb. 2019.

ASMR, CrinkleLuvin. “ASMR Horror Story: Medical Kidnapping Role Play.” YouTube, YouTube, 29 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCc3ATU66Qo&t=442s.

Hayward, Philip. Terror Tracks : Music, Sound and Horror Cinema. Equinox Publishing Ltd, 2009. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.davidson.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=639872&site=ehost-live.

Kago, Shintaro. Abstraction. 2000. Mangago.com. http://www.mangago.me/read-manga/abstraction/.

Kirkland E. “Resident Evil’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and Its Remediations.” Games and Culture, vol. 4, no. 2, 2009, pp. 115–126., doi:10.1177/1555412008325483.

Pinedo, Isabel. “RECREATIONAL TERROR: POSTMODERN ELEMENTS OF THE CONTEMPORARY HORROR FILM.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20688091.

Phillips, Susanne. “ Characters, Themes, and Narrative Patterns in the Manga of Osamu Tezuka.” Mark W. MacWilliams. Japanese Visual Culture : Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Routledge, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/davidson/detail.action?docID=1900027.Created from davidson on 2019-02-18 18:12:01

Poerio, Gilula. “Could Insomnia Be Relieved with a YouTube Video? The Relaxation and Calm of ASMR.” Felicity Callard, et al., editors. The Restless Compendium : Interdisciplinary Investigations of Rest and Its Opposites. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Worldcat.org.  Accessed 19 Feb. 2019.

Rift, Ephemeral. “The Insomnia Killer (ASMR).” YouTube, YouTube, 9 Nov. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8qzhcK7ZdQ.

Sample, Mark. “Comparative Horror Analysis.” https://courses.digitaldavidson.net/death19/wp-admin/post.php?post=585&action=edit.


Transgressing the Boundaries of Mental Health

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense, directed by the famous horror/thriller director M. Knight Shyamalan, follows the journey of a distinguished phycologist, Dr. Malcom Crowe, and his interactions with his patient, Cole Sear. This film is famous for blurring the lines between the living and the dead along with reality and unreality. In the middle of the film, we discover that Cole has a sixth sense, where he can see dead people.

Throughout the film Cole interacts with his phycologist and the audience assumes that he is alive and simply doing his job, however, in the final moments of the film we discover, along with Dr. Crowe, that Dr. Crowe has actually been dead all along and was simply one of the dead people that Cole was seeing and helping. In this analysis of The Sixth Sense, I will explore one of the main characteristics of post-modern horror and it manifests in the film to blur the lines between the living and the dead and how it reflects on mental health.

Transgression of Boundaries in The Sixth Sense

In The Sixth Sense, the lines between who is real and who is dead are blurred throughout the movie. Throughout the movie, the audience believes that the director has made it clear and obvious about who is real and who is dead. At the end of the film the audience questions everything that they have seen when they find out that Dr. Crowe was actually dead during the entire narrative, even though he looked alive and well, just like Cole and Dr. Crow’s wife who are still living. This film is a great example of the postmodern element of horror, a transgression and violation of boundaries, because there is a complete violation of the boundaries between the living and the dead. In Isabel Pinedo’s article, Recreational Terror: Postmodern elements of the Contemporary Horror Film, she describes how the transgressions of boundaries is an essential element in postmodern horror. She explains how “the post paradigm blurs the boundaries between… normal and abnormal, and the outcome of the struggle is at best ambiguous” (Pinedo 22). In The Sixth Sense, this element is manifested through Shyamalan’s muddled and indistinct portrayal of the living versus the dead.

This transgression instills fear and horror on the audience throughout the film because of Cole’s interaction with the dead/ghosts. For example, when Cole is going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he stumbles upon a dead woman in his house who died from suicide, cutting her wrists specifically. In this scene we specifically see the living Cole with the dead women who is haunting his living life. This lack of separation of the dead and the living is a great example of the blurring paradigm that Pinedo explains in her article. A narrative is created where both Cole and the audience become fearful when the dead crosses over and interacts with the living/Cole.

Another example that represents a transgression of boundaries is when we witness Cole’s interaction with the young dead girl in his house one night. We see her physically get sick through the process of vomiting the organic matter that we shed in the process of living. This violation of the interior and exterior along with the crossover of living traits to the dead, also blurs the lines between the living and the dead.

Reflection on Mental Health in The Sixth Sense

It is notable that the transgression of boundaries also reflects on Cole’s mental health. Many of his classmates call him a freak and everyone, including his teacher and mother, think that something is mentally wrong with him. The movie portrays what is occurring in Cole’s head in a negative light through the way that others treat him. In John Goodwin’s article, The Horror of Stigma: Psychosis and Mental Health Care Environments in Twenty-First-Century Horror Film (Part II), he reveals that 18.18% of psychosis-related films feature clients that who were telling the truth. This statistic is important because it discredits those with a mental illness and takes away their credibility. While it is debatable that Cole has a mental illness (mainly because seeing dead people does not fit in a specific category), other characters treat his behavior as a mental illness and their actions toward him reflects negatively on his mental health.

M. Knight Shyamalan’s depiction of Cole’s mental illness is concerning throughout the film. He portrays Cole’s peers negatively reacting to him being different and having a mental illness, which illuminates the tone and the lens towards mental illness in this film. Goodwin explains that this is important to recognize because it is common for people to refuse treatment of mental disorders because of the negative stigma created in horror films (Goodwin 230)

Shutter Island

In the film Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese takes the audience on the journey of a federal agent, Teddy Daniels, and his partner auditing a Mental Health Care Facility (MHCF) on an isolated island, referred to as “Shutter Island”. Throughout the movie, the audience receives snippets into Teddy’s past through several flashbacks or hallucinations that make the viewers question his personal narrative and story. It is not until the end of the film that we completely realize that Teddy is actually Andrew Laeddis, a patient at the MHCF. In this analysis of Shutter Island, I will also explore how a transgression of boundaries manifests in the film. Additionally, I will analyze the way that he depicts mental health and how it reflects on how the public views and treats people with mental health.

Transgression of Boundaries in Shutter Island

There is a transgression of boundaries between the living and the dead in Shutter Island, mainly through Teddy’s hallucinations throughout the film where he interacts with his dead wife and three dead children. While Scorsese does indicate when a hallucination is occurring mainly through the use of lighting, there is still a lack of separation between the dead and the living as we see Teddy’s dead wife, interacting with him on Shutter Island and in other scenes from his past.

Pinedo would describe Scorsese’s tactic of the surprise ending in Shutter Island as “nothing is what it seems to be in postmodern horror… it operates on the principle of undecidability” (Pinedo 22). The audience discovers that Teddy is not who he says he is because of his multiple personalities’ mental illness. He has created the identity of Teddy Daniels to cope with the pain associated with remembering that he murdered his wife who murdered his children. This tactic transgresses boundaries because in the last moments of the film, the viewer finds his or herself questioning everything that he/she was told during the film.

Goodwin’s article also highlights that horror films use a specific geographical frame/boundary to prevent the mental health patient from returning to normality (Goodwin 227). This transgresses the boundary of the mental health patient because even if the patient does show signs of improvement, there is a physical barrier that prevents them from leaving, and in this example it’s miles and miles of ocean. The poster of the film even says “some places never let you go” which reinforces the geographical limitations on the patients and the characters of the film.

Reflection on Mental Health in Shutter Island

The theme of Mental Health in Shutter Island is prevalent and noticeable throughout the entire film. Similar to the depiction of mental illness in The Sixth Sense, Scorsese also frames mental illness in a negative light which ultimately stigmatizes mentally ill patients as problematic, dangerous, violent, and incapable of contributing to society. In Shutter Island, the setting itself stigmatizes mentally ill patients by exiling them on an isolated island where the most ill are kept essentially in cages as if they are wild animals that cannot control themselves.

The portrayal of these patients in cages as animals that cannot control their actions, discredits and creates a false representation for people who are actually mentally ill in real life. This film will ultimately deter them from getting help because they do not want to end up locked away on an isolated island with animalistic treatment. As Goodwin recognizes, film is an influential form of media, therefore, when a film misrepresents the field of mental health, it is essentially creating a negative stigmatized belief of the mentally ill (Goodwin 230).

Comparison of The Sixth Sense and Shutter Island

Similarities and Differences of Boundary Transgression

As I have explained in the context of both films, they both use the post-modern element of a transgression of boundaries to instill horror and fear between the living and the dead. Additionally, both films transgress the boundaries between what is real and what is unreal. One flashing similarity is that they both have surprise endings that make the audience reconsider and rethink everything that they have spent the past two plus hours believing and accepting. After watching both films once and then re-watching them knowing what the ending will be, the film is completely reframed, and the ending does not come as a surprise as it is easier to notice and recognize the subtle clues that were hidden underneath what we believed to be real. This tactic of blurring what is real and what is not real manifests horror in both films in a very similar light that makes the audience self-reflect to the point where they are questioning if they are living amongst the dead and are not event aware of it, just like the characters in both films.

Both films transgress the boundaries between not only reality and unreality, but also between the living and the dead, however, the way they do so differs. In The Sixth Sense, the living and the dead are interacting in every scene even though the audience is not aware of that until the end of the film. They essentially interact in the same world with no barriers between them as we see Cole and his psychiatrist interact. In Shutter Island, there is still a blurred boundary between life and death, however, it is easier for the audience to recognize it due to the directors use of lighting. For example, Teddy Daniel’s Hallucinations where he interacts with his dead wife and children, are well lit and brighter than the dark and stormy island where there are only those that are alive. I think the light hallucinations represent the common theme of “stepping into the light” that directors commonly use to represent someone dying or entering into the afterlife.

Similarities and Differences of Depiction of Mental Health

Both films also address mental health issues through the way that they depict the characters that have mental “illnesses.” I also noticed that they both depict the mentally ill as ostracized, violent, temperamental, and disruptive to society. This negative portrayal affects both mentally ill people but also how society is going to treat them. This situation is problematic and should be addressed by leaders of the horror industry along with leaders in psychiatric care.

It is important to recognize the time gap between the two films, which makes them distinctly different in content and in context. The Sixth Sense, released in 1999, addresses mental health in a subtle and discrete manner without explicitly talking about Cole’s mental illness in every scene. Shutter Island, released in 2010, approaches mental health in an upfront and invasive way, where mental health drives the whole narrative. In Shutter Island, the audience also witnesses mental health impact and affect the characters physically through the way they behave and how they are treated on the island by the staff. The 11-year gap between the two films is partially responsible for this difference. Our society is constantly shifting how mental health and even recently celebrities and public figures have spoken about how mental illness has impacted their lives. Therefore, since Shutter Island was released later, it would make sense why they are more open and upfront with the way they approach and discuss mental illnesses. If we have seen this big of a difference in just eleven year, I wonder how the film industry will change in their approach to addressing mental health and illness.

Works Cited

Goodwin, John. “The Horror of Stigma: Psychosis and Mental Health Care Environments in Twenty-First-Century Horror Film (Part II).” Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 2013, pp. 224–34.

Pinedo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, Spring/Summer 1996, pp. 17–31.

qu0tes. I See Dead People Quote from The Sixth Sense. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YppxEYkqTU.

Scorsese, Martin. Shutter Island. 2010.

“Shutter Island.” FILM ART Dreams – a Series of Thoughts, Images or Sensations Which Occurs in a Person’s Mind during Sleep., 16 Mar. 2016, https://dreamdocumentaryas.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/shutter-island/.

Shyamalan, M.Knight. The Sixth Sense. 1999.

Comparative Horror Analysis: Dying Light and Black Mirror, Men Against Fire

The horror genre is an extremely nuanced literary, cinematic, and electronic game genre that has evolved incredibly quickly, literally before our eyes, in the last 40 or so years.  The more recent works of horror are often categorized as postmodern, or late-postmodern horror, and can be defined by a few key characteristics as described by many academics and critics.  Isabel Pinedo, one such academic, lists some of these characteristics in her work, Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.  Her work functions based on five notable points, including “violent disruption[s] of the everyday world…” and “transgression[s]… of boundaries,” (Pinedo, 20).  I will borrow these two, as well as focusing on the role of technology and the implementation of media to analyze and compare two works.  First, I will take a look at Dying Light, a survival horror video game released in 2014 by Techland in conjunction with Warner Bros.  After providing some introductory information, I will detail some examples in which Dying Light can be seen to clearly fit the category of postmodern horror.  Next, I will do the same for Black Mirror, season 3, episode 5, Men Against Fire, available on Netflix.  Finally, I will compare and contrast some of the major aspects of each ‘text.’  We will come to see how these two ‘texts’ intersect, overlap, and fit the same genre, despite their obvious differences.

Dying Light, published in 2014, in some ways rides the coattails of some very influential works in the survival horror video game arena, including classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but no doubt holds a light of its own.  The game is played in first person perspective, and opens to your character, named Kyle Crane, booting up some augmented reality heads-up-display in the back of a military aircraft.  You are informed that there is a virus outbreak in the fictional city of Harran, and that an agency called the GRE has hired you to extract some information about the toxin, ostensibly in order to engineer a cure.  The virus outbreak, you quickly learn, has turned most of the population of the city into zombies.  One of the very first things you hear is that your GRE-provided radio is “your lifeline, do not lose it,” else face isolation in this apocalyptic city.  This is the first instance we see of technology being equivalent to safety, to an advantage that is too valuable to lose.  This trope will be continued, as we will see later on.

When you parachute into the city, your parachute gets caught on an awning and a group of thugs finds you, injuring you badly and leaving you to the zombies.  This opening scene violently disrupts whatever expectations either the player or the character had of typical opening sequences in video games, as well as the orderly, tactical, composed feeling you get from the military aircraft and careful parachute ride down to the ground. 


(Watch to 4:45)

Being immediately attacked by groups of both “normal” humans and zombies right off the bat “violates our assumption that we live in a predictable, routinized world by demonstrating that we live in a minefield” (Pinedo, 21).  Lucky for Crane, he is saved by a group of survivors that happen upon him just at the right time.  However, to reinforce this violent upheaval of the norms of the civilized world, the creators of the game remind us quite vividly that no one is safe in this world- though the zombies don’t kill Crane, we see one of his rescuers tackled and eaten by three zombies as Crane and the other survivors narrowly escape out a back door.  Right from the beginning, Dying Light pulls no punches whatsoever.  It is important that the player be shocked as they are thrown into the thick of things with very little warning, as this contributes greatly to both the horror and survival aspects of the game.

Eventually, Crane makes it back to the headquarters of this group of survivors, a place called The Tower.  In The Tower, people feel safe.  The doors, windows, and walls are all barricaded and the fortress can only be accessed by a series of acrobatic jumps and climbing that the zombies are incapable of.  Unfortunately for the group, there are infected left in the building, and we are reminded once again of the fragility of safety in such a world when several more survivors are infected within the walls of The Tower itself.  Not only do we see the borders of one of the few remaining sanctuaries being literally and metaphorically torn down, we get to watch characters conversion from human to zombie.  The newly infected are aware of their fate, which necessitates some difficult actions on the part of Crane, including killing his new friends before they have fully transformed into the zombies that plague them all.  The psychological aspect of being forced to kill something that is not entirely your enemy, and that you remember only as an ally in your struggle to survive is a significant factor in the horror and drama players experience.  Zombies, being the monsters, “violate the boundaries of the body through the use of violence against other bodies and through the disruptive qualities of [their] own bodies” (Pinedo, 21).  Further, to see this disruption of the human and the natural only builds upon this violation and transgression of boundaries, “dissolv[ing] binary differences” (Pinedo, 21) between the proverbial ‘us’ and ‘them.’

Now that we know how we are hunted and haunted by these zombies that fill the streets, there must be a way to combat them.  Indeed there is, but the suggested strategy in Dying Light is not to fight your way through endless hordes, beating them back or gunning them down by the dozens or hundreds.  Instead the game focuses more on the survival, scavenging, and crafting side of things.  Rather than finding a machine gun with a thousand bullets in every building, Crane is forced to loot the world for materials to build more tactical weapons with.

As the game progresses, Crane uses his intellect, military training, and tips from other survivors to combat the zombies with various technologies, from electric spike traps to toxic knives.  Furthermore, the zombies are significantly slowed and weakened by ultraviolet light, including from the sun.  Crane uses this knowledge as well as his technological prowess to make use of powerful lights to slow the zombies that are inside buildings or out at night.  Here we see again the role of technology as a savior, as a weapon against the darkness to help the hero complete his quest.  Technology, as demonstrated in Dying Light is an important part of postmodern horror, but can take very different forms as we will see in Black Mirror.

Last but not least in Dying Light is the implementation of the medium itself: video games.  The game is presented in first person, and offers the player lots of choice and freedom, as the game is open world and guided only by markers on a map as well as voices over the phone.  The inherent nature of such open world, first person games is that they use immediacy to help the audience participate in the horror of the game.  Everything you see, you see through Crane’s eyes.  Not only are you controlling Crane’s actions and choices, he is also controlling the bounds of your perspective and experience of this open world.  By removing the lens of a camera floating over Cranes shoulder, the game employs immediacy and “dictates that the medium itself should disappear and leave us in the presence of the thing represented: sitting in the racing car or standing on a mountaintop” (Bolter, 64).  In this way the player is dragged further into the game, immersing him or her in this violent and strange world,  and enhancing their experience of fear and horror.

Black Mirror more often than not toys with these same principles of violent disruption, the role of technology, transgressions of boundaries, and immediacy to more fully captivate the audience with horror.  In Men Against Fire, we follow Stripe, a soldier in a semi-dystopian future.  Stripe and his fellow soldiers are all equipped with a neural implant, called MASS, that provides augmented reality and facilitates communication amongst the military.  Early on, we see Stripe and his squad hunting for “roaches,” which are said to be mutated humans with diseases, disfigured genes, and monstrous appearances.

Furthermore, the military is far better equipped, with high-tech guns, drones, and other tech such as “the boomer” which uses sound to quickly map the house they plan to infiltrate.  Technology is presented at first as equivalent to power, control, and superiority in this battle between the established and funded military and the underprivileged roaches.

In his first encounter, Stripe kills two roaches, one with a quick, cold shot to the head, and another in a much more intimate fight which ends with a knife in the chest of the roach.  However, in this struggle, the roach is able to produce his own technological weapon, one that uses light and sound to apparently disorient the soldiers, and Stripe clearly is affected by this device.  It turns out that this device actually impairs the function of the MASS implants, which has massive implications.  Stripe’s orderly, military world in which he follows orders and gets his job done is violently disrupted when he encounters more roaches.  At first, Stripe sees the roaches as he did before: disfigured, unable to speak, and enraged. However, Stripe feels the effects of the device from earlier and the roaches transform into normal looking humans right before his eyes.  This makes Stripe hesitate, as the boundaries between ally and enemy, between right and wrong dissolve.  No longer is Stripe set out to systematically kill an enemy he cannot relate to.  Instead, he is faced with helpless civilians, scared and wanting nothing other than to be left alone.  It’s revealed to Stripe that his MASS implant is abusing its augmented reality capabilities, that roaches are not in fact monsters, but are instead targets of genocide following a world war that broke out ten years ago.  All of a sudden, right becomes wrong, wrong becomes right, and Stripe’s entire world is flipped on its head.

One of the most effective ways this episode immerses the audience in the story is immediacy.  Similarly to how video games are often inherently immediate (first person perspective, agency of action, etc.) Men Against Fire employs first person perspective and intimate shots of tense scenes to remove the filter of the media itself between the story and the audience.  Stripe’s dreams are seen through his eyes; we never get a glimpse of him or anything else, and are equally rudely removed from these dream states alongside him.  When Stripe is fighting his first roaches, we see most of the encounter, and most importantly both deaths through his eyes.  As Stripe’s MASS implant begins to glitch, we get to experience the visual and auditory errors that he does.  Throughout the episode, we, the audience, are very intentionally shown this world and its events through the main character’s eyes in order to bring the story more directly to us and to help us empathize more deeply with Stripe’s confusion and disorientation.

As time progresses, new technologies allow for expressions of common literary themes to be developed upon and introduced to the consumer in fascinating new ways.  Video games, being one of the newest forms of media available, is a fascinating avenue down which to assess and analyze the employment of defining characteristics of genres, especially as they compare to more conventional media such as television.  Postmodern Horror relies on shock value, psychological terror, and immersion into the story to scare the audience, to make them think, and to make commentary about the world we live in.  Both Dying Light and Men Against Fire share many of these commonalities, and yet utilize them in differing ways.  In Dying Light, technology serves as a connection to allies and especially as a tool for survival.  However, technology also serves as a reminder of the constant struggle and conflict Crane finds himself in: nothing and nowhere is safe, but technology can be employed to at least diminish dangers.  On the flip side, In Men Against Fire, technology is the deceiver, altering reality and hiding the ugly truth, helping soldiers avoid the ethical dilemma of murdering innocent civilians based on their genetic makeup.  Though these two ‘texts’ make use of technology in nearly opposite ways, they reinforce the danger and abnormality of the horrific world in which the audience finds itself.  Finally, immediacy is crucial in both works.  Without the implementation of first person perspectives and intimate portrayal of violent and life-threatening situations, the audience might feel more of a disconnect between them and the characters, diminishing the sense of fear so central to these narratives.  While video games afford much more autonomy and thereby greater connection to the character, Black Mirror surely doesn’t miss their opportunities to achieve “a similar effect: the impression of an encounter with the real” (Kirkland, 117).  Both of these works conform with many of the typical characteristics of great postmodern horror texts in their own ways to create thrilling, immersive experiences of terror within a compelling narrative, and both deserve to be played and watched long into the future.


“Accelerated Ideas.” Accelerated Ideas, 2014, www.accelerated-ideas.com/news/dying-light–crafting-and-blueprints-guide.aspx.

Bolter, Jay David. “Remediation and the Desire for Immediacy.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 6, no. 1, 2000, pp. 62–71., doi:10.1177/135485650000600107.

Booker, Charlie. “Men Against Fire.” Black Mirror, season 3, episode 5, Netflix, 21 Oct. 2016.

Kirkland, E. “Resident Evil’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and Its Remediations.” Games and Culture, vol. 4, no. 2, 2008, pp. 115–126., doi:10.1177/1555412008325483.

Pinedo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31., www.jstor.org/stable/20688091?seq=5#metadata_info_tab_contents.

TheRadBrad, producer. YouTube. YouTube, YouTube, 10 Dec. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLHR5smxbsc.

Technology and Humanity in Cell and Pulse

Stephen King’s 2006 novel Cell and 2006 American horror film Pulse (a remake of an earlier Japanese film) both focus on apocalyptic technology-borne diseases that threaten to destroy the human race. In Cell, the central blight is a cell-signal broadcasted across the world that turns anyone using a cellphone into a zombie, referred to as a phoner throughout the book. Phoners are radically violent, targeting and attacking the unaffected, and as the novel progresses, they develop supernatural psychic powers which allow them to communicate telepathically with one another and with non-phoners. The central scourge of Pulse is somewhat less defined, seeming to be transmittable through most forms of technology. Via internet, cell-phone, and radio, primarily, victims are possessed by a sort of virus that drives them to kill themselves. The virus manifests as ghostly, human-like figures outside of its technological hosts, so it is able to chase and force itself upon its victims. While the form of illness, spread of the disease, and method of destruction are different in the two works, the real power behind both Cell and Pulse lies in the successful blurring of the line between human and technology.

The first hint of this blurring is apparent even in the language of both texts. The word ‘pulse’ is used consistently throughout Cell to refer to the signal that causes the zombification of cell-phone users. The first line of the novel is, “The event that came to be known as The Pulse began at 3:03 p.m., eastern standard time on the afternoon of October 1” (King 3). While the characters in Pulse don’t use that specific word, it is wired into the mind of the viewer as linked with Pulse’s technology disease as well, being the title of the movie. The word ‘pulse’ is an interesting one because it has both biological and technological associations to the modern audience. ‘Pulse’ can refer to an electrical current or other wave vibration, or it can be a synonym for heartbeat. Cell plays explicitly on this crossover with its cover art; below are two different editions of Cell’s cover, both of which incorporate blood or blood imagery into the scene with a cell-phone, suggesting that the phone itself can bleed.


The subtle linkage in both pieces of the fundamentally human with the fundamentally engineered paves the way for more confusion between the categories as the works progress.

This kind of “category crisis” lines up with Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s third theses in his Seven Theses on Monster Culture. He writes that monsters “are disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structuration” (6). The ambiguity of ‘pulse’ and similar words like ‘virus’ contribute to this defiance of classification for the monsters in both works.

In his essay “Terminal Films,” Steen Christiansen uses the concept of a virus to support the point that Pulse explores the boundary between man and machine. ‘Virus,’ like ‘pulse,’ is a word imbued with both technological and biological connotations. It can be a disease spread between computers, or between creatures, but in the normal world, there is no crossover. Christiansen writes that in Pulse, “we see that a digital virus can infect a biological human, suggesting that the boundary between human and code is permeable. Such permeability questions the usual concept of a human being as a bounded entity” (272). Cell and Pulse both wear this boundary thin, but reach slightly different conclusions about the relationship between humanity and technology.

Though the Pulse virus comes from technology, it gets outside of itself in order to infect. The virus takes the shape of ghostly people (as seen below) to gain contact with its human victims; it takes a corporeal form which allows it to run, attack, and hurt those it seeks to infect. In a sense, the technology becomes humanity in order to corrupt humanity.

This becomes a very internal attack. First the virus becomes human, but then it infiltrates another human as it starts to take root. Virus-people get very close to those they want to infect and there is a strange energy exchange between them, like in the picture below. It resembles the soul-sucking of dementors in Harry Potter. Then, the virus enters the body, causing bruising of the skin and dark thoughts, which drive victims to suicide.

So the arc here is that the Pulse virus becomes human, infects a human, and then destroys the human.

Instead of adopting and polluting humanity like the Pulse virus, the Cell pulse robs humans of their humanity. As the phoners develop their psychic abilities, they become pack-like creatures of habit. They share a hive-mind, sleep at the same time, and work towards common goals. They are more like insects, bees, than like humans. The phoners shift to working more and more like technology or primitive lifeforms, like they are following a code that tells them what to do and when to do it. While in Pulse the virus becomes like a human, in Cell the virus makes humans become like technology.

Norah Campbell and Mike Saren, in their essay “The primitive, technology and horror: A posthuman biology,” discuss a concept they call “dirty technology.” “Dirty technology,” they write, “is an aesthetic which combines the sterile, pristine and inorganic efficiency of technology with the visceral, leaking decaying disorganization of animal life” (167). Watching the disintegration of technology when it is linked with life, they say, implies also a disintegration of the borders between technology and humanity. We see this technique at work in Cell in two capacities. First, there is the descent of the human to the sub-human under the effect of the technological disease. Second, there is the decay of the technology itself.

Towards the end of the novel, it becomes apparent that some of the phoners are behaving differently, less threateningly, than others. The characters theorize that there has been a mutation in the pulse which makes its corruption of the mind weaker. This is a prime example of dirty technology: like something organic, the technological villain of the story mutates and changes so much that it could eventually put an end to the threat it has been causing. Cell closes with a quote directing the protagonist how he might save his phoner son,

“Johnny was different from [the original phoners]. Why? Because the worm was still munching, the Pulse program was still mutating? Probably. The last thing Jordan had said before kissing him goodbye and heading north was If you set a new version of the program against the one Johnny and the others got at the checkpoint, they might eat each other up. Because that’s what worms do. They eat” (447).

The protagonist, Clay, then dials 911 and holds his cellphone up to his son’s ear in the hope that the now-corrupted pulse will reverse the effects of the pulse his son endured before. Cell ends on a note of desperate inevitability, then: technology is a problem that, like any human problem, should eventually take care of itself. It might come close to destroying us first, though.

The feeling created by the end of Pulse is a much bleaker sort of inevitability. About 20 minutes before the close of the movie, the two main characters think they have figured out a way to stop the virus with their own technology. Their friend, before his untimely death, was working on a computer program to stop the virus, which he had stored on a secret memory stick. The protagonists race to the computer lab where the virus began to plug in the flash-drive, and for a minute, they think they’ve been successful. The system seems to crash, but then it reboots. As the virus-humans start to take form again, the protagonists get in a car and drive far away, somewhere with no cell-signal or wireless internet, free of the technological blight. This is the final scene of the movie:

“The will to live never dies. Not for us, and not for them.” There is nothing we can do but let our technology come for us. Our will to live is what makes us human, but because we program our technology, it has that same drive.

Pulse does not offer the same hope of eventual triumph for humans that Cell does. Cell seems to wrap up with a conclusion that technology has a sort of life to it that keeps it beyond our control, but it is just sub-human enough that there is hope for us after all. It is like a parasite that can invade us and change the way we act, growing and changing in an almost organic way, but it does not quite get the best of us. Pulse seems to reach the conclusion that someday, we’ll be locked in a stalemate with technology that is just as human as we are. It will take over our cities and drive us away. Both works play with the boundary between humanity and technology, and though both reach eerie conclusions, the scariest part may be that we don’t really know what the technological apocalypse will look like. The humanity of our machines could still surprise us.


Works Cited

Campbell, Norah, and Mike Saren. “The Primitive, Technology and Horror: A Posthuman

Biology.” Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization 10, no. 1 (2010): 152–76.

Christiansen, Steen. “Terminal Films.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 25, no. 2/3 (91),

2014, pp. 264–277. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24353028.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, “Monster Theory : Reading Culture”, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/davidson/detail.action?docID=310376.

King, Stephen. Cell. Simon and Schuster, 2006, Ebook.