Guess it won't be a surprise when I say I don't think I have it in me anymore. Writing, I mean.
All photos courtesy of A24
When the family comes across the clearing at the edge of the woods, they fall to their knees and pray, mother and father holding their hands aloft. Pious exiles, this Puritan clan—father William, mother Katherine, and children Thomasin, Caleb, Mercy, Jonas and, soon, baby Samuel—has found true salvation far away from both oppressive England and their compromising Puritan community. It will be a hard life, but a pure and righteous one.
But someone else has already staked a claim on this wilderness. She lives by herself in a shack deep in the thicket, occasionally wearing a red riding cloak that looks lifted directly from the pages of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. She is a witch, but not the cackling, green-skinned variety of The Wizard of Oz or a verbose, compassionate intellectual in the vein of Hermione Granger. There is something much more primal and elemental to this crone, and when she’s done working her unspeakable magic the family at her doorstep will be at each other’s throats.
The Creative Assembly
(Originally published on The Robot's Voice.)
My name is Daniel, and I suffer from a mental disorder. Specifically, I have severe anxiety, which often manifests and renders me useless in social situations and leaves me afraid of everything up to and including my shadow. It’s more than a little ironic, then, that I love horror in all of its mediums: film, literature, comics, take your pick. While I might avoid anything remotely tense in everyday life, I enjoy the primal thrill of being scared by a movie or book. Consider it a form of exposure therapy.
With Alien being my all-time favourite film, I was extremely pumped for Creative Assembly’s video game sequel, Alien: Isolation. Though overly long and—I should impress this—ridiculously stressful, Isolation is by far one of the best games I’ve ever played. Not simply for its mechanics or extreme faithfulness to the source material, but for how it allowed me to better understand the disorder that has plagued me for most of my adult life.
If you’ll bear with me, consider…
Horror is as varied and multifaceted as rock music. You have your slashers, you have post-apocalyptic horror, you have zombie horror (which often goes hand-in-hand with post-apocalyptic), and psychological horror. Hauntings and possessions are two forms of supernatural horror, and they occasionally mix as with James Wan’s The Conjuring. There’s torture porn, monster movies, experimental/abstract flicks and, my personal favourite, sci fi horror. And god only knows how many of those have been shot as found footage or mockumentaries.
Each subgenre has had its moment in the limelight—zombies are popular at the moment, coming on the heels of the Saw-driven torture porn craze. Found footage has been immensely successful twice in the last decade and a half thanks to The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity series. And I’m hoping—really hoping—that the good old haunted house film makes a comeback in the next few years. But there’s another class of horror you may not have noticed, in large part because it’s often disguised as other subgenres or completely different genres entirely. I wonder if their creators are actually aware they’re contributing to this largely hidden category. I call it moral horror, and it’s been on my brain the last little while.
Hi, yes, still alive, still writing. I won't bother you with the particulars of my absence, only tell you that I'm back and I have something y'all might find interesting. So let's hop to it.
Leigh Alexander is one of the best game critics in the industry right now. When I say "critic," I don't mean the usual games press shorthand for "someone who tells you if a game is good or bad," but someone who actually examines and analyzes our experiences with games: how they make us feel, how successful the mechanics are at relaying its goals and themes, what these tell us about ourselves, and so forth. In the last half year, she's become one of my go-to sources for nuanced games criticism alongside Cara Ellison and Patrick Klepek. Leigh is originally from Massachusetts, currently living in New York City, and often pops in and out of London for conferences and the like. She also, I must impress, has an incredible voice, as evidenced by the "Lo-Fi Let's Plays" she occasionally posts on YouTube.
Leigh recently took time out from her critical work to write and self-publish Mona, a short story with illustrations by Emily Carroll, whose horror comics like "His Face All Red" often leave me feeling more than a little disquieted. It is part homage to the landmark horror game Silent Hill 2 and part fan fiction of it. I know I've written at length about the awfulness of fan fiction, but Mona is a fine exception to that rule, a character piece that emulates the dread of its source material rather than aping its characters and setpieces. Rather than following in SH2's supernatural footsteps, it's a work of what I call "moral horror," where fear or terror is derived from the characters' actions, as with YellowBrickRoad. It's at once a commentary on that game and a part of it. And Leigh was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about it.