Daily Archives: July 10, 2017

Understanding Horror


Today’s blog post is about two separate yet semi-related things. The first is an independently developed horror title released in February of 2017 (via Steam) known as Husk (courtesy of Undead Scout). The second is the 2016-17 horror-thriller film release known as “A Cure for Wellness.” Although these two have very little in common save for sharing a semi-similar genre and horror trope (as well as a February release), it is what they bring to the forefront of the mind that interests me most in retrospect.

Neither of these projects should be considered as anything remarkable in terms of a commercial success. In fact, due to their mostly mixed reviews and the relatively poor sales and return on investment, it would be hard to call them much of a success at all. However, there’s a reason that I bring two otherwise semi-obscure projects to bear when confronted with thoughts of horror or intrigue and plausible insanity (of the thrilling sort). I could be discussing something infinitely more credible such as ‘Camera Obscura’ or other horrifying concepts, yet I find myself drawn again and again to both literature and film/game content that offers an experience rather than a prodigious service in earnest.

At first glance Husk is a cliche, a tribute to the nineties, perhaps even a blatant attempt to steal the thunder and luster of titles such as Silent Hill, Alan Wake, or Twin Peaks. For all of that, Husk does succeed atmospherically if only to fail in terms of generic gameplay and repetitive plot and progression. Husk is greatest when presenting the promising factors that could come into play but ultimately it fails to impress myself or apparently the others who have played it critically, instead only offering repetition and mundane survival horror elements where many others have trodden before.

Instead of being here to critique a piece of flawed art however I would like to instead recognize the aspects which we have yet to see done fairly well in gaming history. Violence and abuse and alcoholism and addictive personalities are rarely personified in gaming despite being attempted plenty in literature and on the screen. They aren’t the easiest of the core vices to handle and more often than not get a bad rap when they are portrayed at all. It’s rare to see such believable elements attempted or portrayed in thrillers or horror but rarer still to see psychological and intrinsically flawed character feats billed into games- although we are beginning to see more and more of this. Look no further than games such as Condemned or Silent Hill: Shattered Memories if you want to see flawed appeal done right.

This brings me to “A Cure for Wellness” and its reason for existing in the same context as Husk within the confines of this particular post.

The film is at its finest when it’s portraying the twisted narrative setup or the intrinsic flaws of a particular society such as the one that Verbinski ushers into the context of the film. It’s utterly believable that Gore Verbinski was on tap to helm a Bioshock film and the shocking elements of “A Cure for Wellness” lead me to believe that it would’ve had all the makings of the 2007 Irrational Games classic except in film form. Incest has been covered in both horror and film before- look no further than “The Hills Have Eyes” for something truly horrifying and cinematic in its appalling nature. Kudos to you if you can sit through both the originals and the next generation versions. If you want shocking revelations or horrid discoveries then plenty of films exist for that but few cover it so well as “Soylent Green” or perhaps the political intrigue of “Three Days of the Condor.”

What I’m trying to imply here is simply that “A Cure for Wellness,” without ruining the enticing merit of its plot, offers plenty of shock value and gruesome appeal as well as all of the hitherto expected insanity of a Verbinski or perhaps a Bioshock-like project. Everything always comes back to either literature, film, or games with me. And perhaps sometimes it’s an eclectic mix of those. Neither Dane DeHaan nor Jason Isaacs characters are immune from their struggles with insanity and calamity and once the film has run its bloody course that ugly fact makes itself well known to audiences.

Pushing beyond the horror state of mind and into furthermore uncharacteristically bleak territory, the whole concept of happy endings and at the least optimistic endings in video gaming and film and literature has always bugged me. Shouldn’t we be realistic in our expectations and note that statistically it is improbable that so many endings just…well end? That so many aren’t left potentially unresolved or don’t end with characters much worse for their antics and wear? Perhaps the most poignant and fresh attempts at this will always be the classic Chinatown, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” and the 1999 Schwarzenegger film ‘End of Days’ in my mind. Particularly when it comes to gritty, realistic and gruesome ends for key contributors to the plot.

I’ve been jumping all over the place with my jumbled thoughts here but let’s boil them down to a few simple points at the end.

I look forward to darker tales in the future such as The Last of Us Part Two- it must, after all, be something much angrier and darker and grittier than the first which all things considered ended as best as it could at the time. I hunger for such tales sometimes and that sick feeling inside isn’t sated by gruesome images such as those visceral attempts in psychological horror or thrillers such as Twin Peaks and A Cure for Wellness. I don’t enjoy what I often see or read but instead have some unique sense or taste for it at times, even to the point where I can appreciate the otherwise unnerving and undervalued merits of independent projects.

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