Wednesday 28 March 2012

Pondering - The Unwatched World

Dark Pondering Image

I think that allot of the best horror writing tends to make good use of the “unwatched world” idea. Certainly, the type of writing that I enjoy reading does, and it branches out into other media like films and video games, anything that is story driven. The unwatched world is basically the stuff that happens when nobody is looking or even present. It’s the writing equivalent of spinning around and around, trying to see the back of your own head. The tricky part is that when someone holds up a mirror so that you can see, it’s no longer unseen or a mystery. Its a delicate balance to maintain.

It’s probably best illustrated by an example. When I was a lot younger, I had a friend who's mother had told him that when he closed his eyes at night, his stuffed toys/teddy bears came alive and moved around the room, protecting him from anything scary or creepy. As a side note, with a bit of reversal, making the cuddly toys evil and giving them sharp teeth and claws, could make quite a nice horror story. At the time, I remember wondering if my own menagerie of teddies came alive too. Then I got to thinking, how would you tell? Even if you set up a camera to record your room at night, the room/teddies are still being watched so nothing would happen.
I realised that allot of the stories that grip me are the ones that use this aspect of “how can you tell” type thinking, even if aimed at the most ridiculous sounding of things. One of my favourite films of recent years is Troll Hunter (a group of students follow a suspected poacher, and are shocked to find out that he is hunting trolls.) The film made good use of the idea that trolls cause a lot of damage that is often put down to natural causes, but if you look close enough and know what to look for, you can see that a troll did it. A couple of examples from the film are knocked over trees on windless nights, and a bridge spanning a river far below, having a large chunk knocked out halfway across as an enormous wading troll bumped his head. I like this kind of thing, where you can see a film and then when you are out and about, see something like a fallen tree and playfully think that a troll might have done it. For a few nights after seeing the film, whenever I closed my curtains at night, I had images of trolls crossing the valley behind my house, making their migration somewhere else when no-one was looking. While not strictly horror, it bases something fantastic inside the “real” world so that it’s a tiny bit harder to separate the two once you’ve finished watching.
I think there are two types of unseen world events, the kind like my curtain pulling example above, where things are happening but they aren’t particularly close or threatening. Then there is the other kind, which happen in your immediate vicinity and you might not realise. I know a lot of classic style horror films use the “it’s behind you” pantomime type scene, letting the audience in on the secret while the poor victim on screen has to find out the long and painful way.

If you are watching this type of film, or reading this kind of book, or playing this kind of video game, maybe just pause and wonder, “what's lurking behind me while my attention is elsewhere?”