Get moving, jumpscares – there’s a new fear tactic in town and they are fear and the creepy valley.
Horror films have become predictable. There is a formula designed to evoke a response from the audience and we are addicted to that rush of adrenaline. Without a doubt, I knew that when I watched movies like, I loved that feeling Carrie and Halloween at an age perhaps too young – thank you, Dad!
As I’ve gotten older, I’m less scared of horror movies. The more you see, the more you know when to prepare for jumpscare. Then directors like Ari Aster and Robert Eggers come in and change the horror genre a bit, creating the awkward feeling throughout the film from the weird and unnatural.
But how do you do it? Spikima films breaks down the anatomy of this fear that arises in Japanese film, Cairoand why the uncanny valley creates fear. Check out his video below.
In order to find out how and why anxiety is so effective, a brief summary is needed.
The movie is Cairo, or pulse in English speaking markets. In the film, ghosts begin to haunt people across the internet. In 2001, the uncertainty of this relatively new window into the big wide world and the dangers lurking in the dark corners of the Internet were a ripe setting for horror.
In this particular scene, a man finds an apartment with the door sealed with red tape. Attracted by his strange energy, the man removes the tape and enters the apartment. The place is dark and cold and the man investigates the apartment until he reaches a dead end street with red markings on the wall and a couch. As he stands there, he realizes that something feels wrong. As if something could be behind him. He slowly turns around and there, at the other end of the hall, is a woman hidden in the shadows watching him.
The crippling camera and sound
Now that we’ve set up the scene, let’s narrow down why the woman standing there is already creating terror. Before the man turns around, a threatening piece of music enters the scene and builds up tension before the woman is revealed.
The design of the woman should also be carefully considered. It’s framed as if it’s part of the background – off-center, away from the lights and away from the camera. You have to look to see them, which then forces you to discover the horror in the scene.
Of course, the scene works better in the context of the movie, but it’s still terrifying on its own. The camera defies the conventions of horror by engaging in the moment and staying there. It is true in his portrayal of woman and her threat to man. The woman’s appearance could be dull and boring but is surprising when the audience’s eyes spot her before she reveals itself. It is the ambiguity of the threat and the uncertainty of the threat’s motives that creates fear. We, the audience and the character in the line of threat, are unsure of our safety. There is nowhere to hide as the camera fixes us on the threat and creates tension rather than surprise.
The sub-bass sound effect also plays a role in creating tension. The sound takes over the surroundings and drowns out any other noises that might be present in the scene. The sound catches us in a nightmarish state in which the camera won’t let us escape.
After the woman has approached the man, the camera cuts in on the man and frees us from the fear of seeing the woman approach. The problem is that the woman is also free. The camera follows the man as he tries to hide from the woman and the woman is no longer in the picture. She’s gone and the audience is preparing and wanting a jump in hopes that we can escape this awful feeling. Only when the camera shows that the woman’s pale hands are grasping the couch do we know that there is no way to run away.
It’s very similar to the opening scene Midsummer when The camera and sound create a distorted feel as they reveal the horrific double homicide-suicide. It is fear that creates long-lasting horror.
Present as others
The way in which the woman is portrayed is as “other”. She doesn’t rely on a mask to hide her face or wear white to look like an angel of death. Instead, she wears a simple dress that makes her look human.
Where she is “other” is stated in her presentation. When she walks, she moves in slow motion and stumbles inhumanely. Kiyoshi Kurosawa could have taken the easy route and teleported the woman across the room or quickly crawled towards her victim, but we saw that. Instead, Kurosawa choreographed a stumble with a professional ballerina to make the movements seem weird and as unnatural as possible.
Logic is out of the window because there is no explanation why the woman is wobbling. Is it to see the man better or because women cannot imitate the human walk?
We are immersed in the eerie valley – the point where something is almost human, but not entirely. (This is why so many people hated the look of the cast in the 2019s Cats.)
The moment the woman wobbles, the lighting reveals her face. Her face is normal, but this woman’s unexpected normality creates a sharp sense of fear. We almost want something out of a nightmare to escape the creepy valley. It would be easier to accept what is happening in the scene.
Scenes full of uncertainty are now becoming the force behind the horror genre. Sure, there’s nostalgia in a good old slasher movie, but this new wave of horror creates a new nightmare that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. So we come back to films like Midsommar, get out, and The lighthouse. Even if they aren’t perfect films, horror fans appreciate the persistent fear and sadness that the camera, sound, and visual representation of fear have in the world of film.
Remember, it is the slow burns that last the longest.
What do you think of this new wave of horror? Let us know in the comments!