Yesterday was one of those days where I just wanted to relax and watch a movie. I haven’t done any of my chores, yet I felt no guilt. It be like that sometimes.
A bit longer intro, but I must touch on this film!
I have a loooong list of movies, like really long (that hopefully one day, when my blog is automatized and my earnings are stable, I’ll be able to see entirely) and I was in luck to see this animated movie.
I have a harsh appetite, and I’m hard to please when it comes to TV shows and movies. I look for well-developed characters and a good story, and not many can deliver. But I was in luck.
Yesterday I saw Away. It’s an animated movie, written and directed by Gints Zilbalodis. I found it strange, to begin with, yet the animation style has drawn my attention. It starts with a boy, whose parachute got stuck and he’s hanging from a tree. He awakens, only to see a huge, dark figure approaching him. At one moment, it looked like the figure has swallowed the boy, yet he unties himself from the parachute, falls down and starts running.
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The creature starts following him, and that’s when I knew – I will watch this movie until the end!
Not to go into spoilers now, but I had to analyze the situation. What was the creature? Did it want to save the boy? Why doesn’t it let the boy go, but it stands in front of the gate like a massive gravestone? Because that’s what it was – death.
During the movie, I felt the well familiar feeling of running in a dream, but getting nowhere.
No matter how far the boy went, no matter how beautiful the nature was around him, it was always there. Even when it almost reached him on the bridge, and the boy destroyed it – literally stopped death on its way (but not for long), there was no escape. At least that’s how it seemed.
The faceless spirit got me thinking – what is it that makes the creatures in movies and books scary?
And what is it that makes humans react in a specific way to certain looks or descriptions?
Whether we read a book or watch a movie, I like to believe all our senses are involved. While we perceive the world around us, we soak in as much as we can via our hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste.
That’s why Hitchcock’s silent films keep us on our toes. Books can cause the same effect, with sound description – or the lack thereof.
In Still life with Crows, (Preston and Child’s Pendergast novel) the creature emits the ‘MuuuuuuuUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHH’ sound while chasing their victims, before committing the gore murders.
It’s the association of the sound with something non-human that terrifies us.
In Away, it’s the silence that is making us want to run away, as neither the boy or the spirit speak or give off any sounds. It’s the surrounding that we hear, it’s the sounds of life that’s around us. We hear the motorcycle, we hear the birds and the water splashing. It’s nature, used as a contrast to the menacing thing waiting to take a life. There’s no need for the boy to say anything and there’s no point.
Both books and movies can show us things that we can perceive as scary via our sight. What descriptions are in books, those are the scenes in movies, and both can equally impact the audience. Personally, I don’t react to blood. I watch SAW and I don’t flinch. But place the character on a high surface, with a big potential for them to fall, and I’ll be close to covering my eyes or I’ll stop reading that part. Not all of us react the same.
In Away, the spirit has no face, only white budging eyes, and I believe it’s imperative to create a thing that doesn’t look like a human. That’s why aliens are scary. That’s why faceless creatures are freaking us out. It’s also the association with the ‘other’ and their connection to the unknown that’s freaking us out.
‘Cause it has to be related to something out of this world if it has no face, right?!
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”
- H. P. Lovecraft Quotes
Another thing about faces, or better yet, faceless creatures. We can’t see the emotion they have (I promise you, they probably don’t even have any :D) therefore we find ourselves trapped in trying to understand and possibly communicate with them.
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Making a thing faceless makes the audience uncomfortable as we are so used to seeing the emotion on the human face that we are haunted when we can’t “read” it. The simplest example I have for this is the CreepyPasta Expressionless story. (Have you read it? I love that they featured the mannequin photo with that story!)
Yet, it’s not enough for them to look like the monster, or not look like humans. It must show us that it’s the monster. It must do something that humans find vile. In Away, the creature simply squats over a living thing and engulfs it. No sound, no suffering. It’s quick and seemingly painless. Still, it’s death. And it’s the basic fear of all people, along with disease and unknown.
On another note – did you know our minds connect colors and odors? And not only the people who have synesthesia do this. This is why monsters are usually described/shown as dark/black, gory, disgusting, overall not pleasant to the eye. Not to mix disgust with fear, even though they are closely related. Disgust can serve to additionally amplify the fear in the reader.
Next time you see a bug, analyze your emotional reaction. While fear is primal, disgust is secondary, and let me uncover the secret of why we are afraid of bugs – bugs used to kill us before we evolved to Homo sapiens (among other stuff). It’s the touching a bug that you fear, not the bug itself. Why? Because if our ancestors were to touch a bug, they would most likely die. It’s the fear of contamination that we suffer from today. Plus all the poisonous bugs and bugs that sting. Ugh.
Touch is a sense that helps us knowing both our body and the outside world. As the skin is the largest human organ, we are so used to the touch that if there was a way for it to be taken away, we would probably go crazy. It’s also why we flinch when we see or read about someone touching a body, or infected blood, or a threatening, inanimate object. Same as for the bug – we are afraid of contamination. It directly affects our well-being and health.
In Away, the creature needs to touch to kill. But it’s the animation of the touch that was freaking me out. The massive thing just dropping down on top of a tiny living being, taking all in, sucking the life out of it, looking almost deformed while doing it.
We don’t like to think that death must touch us to take our life.
And finally, the last sense – taste. Have you ever read a book where the character ate something so awful that you had to pause? For example, describing the cannibalism in Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors. Even though it’s not a horror book per se, the mere fact that they were forced to eat another human makes us feel awful. It’s via the sense of taste that sometimes a writer can affect you. It doesn’t matter that the sense of taste is so 'mediocre'. It can be used as a vessel to implement fear in a reader.
To sum it up
What’s common for all these descriptions? They threaten the personal safety of a person. They wake up the primal fears by placing us in danger of some kind. It’s the unknown in that danger that pushes the need in us to run, just like the boy did in Away.
Do you write horrors? What’s the worst thing you’ve described? Have your readers complained?
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