October 28th, 2021
You might choose to spend Halloween trick or treating with the kids in your life, you may attend an immersive haunted house experience, or maybe you're heading to the clubs for a boogie and a crack at ‘best costume’. However, a lot of us choose to spend Halloween in the comfort of our own homes...scaring the bejesus out of ourselves with spooky horror films. Here at Tell we love a horror film that utilises technology to enhance the scare-factor. In fact, there's even a sub-genre for just that called ‘Techno-horror” which centralises science and technology as the main source of horror using science fiction and fantasy.
An exemplar of techno-horror could be the 2014 film, ‘Unfriended’ which tells the story of a group of friends on a skype call who’s party is interrupted by a user claiming to be a recently deceased peer of theirs. This film utilises social media platforms as the main structure for the horror. However, this type of horror focuses more on content and storytelling than the actual technical production of the film. We find ourselves drawn more to films that walk-the-walk rather than just talk-the-talk and, as the group of production nerds we are, this Halloween I have compiled a list of films, TV shows and more that incorporate innovative uses of technology in production to amp up their spook-factor.
The first honourable mention takes us back to the turn of the century in 1999 with the release of The Blair Witch Project on the 22nd October. In my opinion, TBWP is one of the spookiest films out there due to it's understated, keep-you-guessing structure. This film earned itself a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for "Top Budget: Box Office Ratio". The film cost only $60,000 to make and earned $248 million at the box office. One of the most important factors of TBWP’s success was its outstanding use of found-footage and POV filming. The whole film is captured as if from the perspective of three film students who disappear in a forest while making a documentary. This film proved that million dollar budgets and the highest standard equipment means nothing if you do not have an original idea and innovative way of thinking. This film's use of POV filming was so effective that some audiences even thought it was real.
This unconventional filming method opened a gateway for experimentation, especially in the horror industry. It's almost like filmmakers are challenging themselves to be as whimsical and unconventional as possible. A great example being the 2018 film Unsane starring Claire Foy. In this horror flick Steven Soderbergh took POV filming to the next level, shooting the film in just ten days on the Iphone 7. Though reviews for the film are mixed, Soderbergh swears that working using the Iphone was “potentially one of the most liberating experiences [...] as a filmmaker”. Though Unsane may not be the best cinematic example of using the Iphone for production, it does prove that even some of the most successful director’s out there see it as a viable and effective practice. This has the potential to make the film industry far more accessible to those on the up. In terms of horror, using an iphone for filming gives a very personal and direct experience for an audience. It bridges the gap between the world of the film and the real world to an almost uncomfortable extent...and when it comes to horror, uncomfortableness is good.
When it comes to worlds colliding in horror films then it would be neglectful of us not to talk about the Black Mirror special feature-length film Bandersnatch which aired in 2018. This choose-your-own-story structure provided a viewer an extremely meta and visceral experience. By allowing the viewer to decide if the protagonist should kill his dad, beat up their therapist, or advise their manager to jump off of a balcony, the whole film brings into question your ideals of humanity, conscience and free will. Netflix provided one of the first interactive films to make it big in mainstream media and the results of playing along are truly harrowing.
Finally, looking into the future we have to discuss VR horror. In 2015 Youtube introduced the 360-video support feature which has been utilised by many amature filmmakers to create horrifying short films and clips in which you are placed directly in the centre of the story. You are no longer just looking inwards but the story unfolds around you and with you. VR experiences, with their headsets and haptic gloves, have the potential to provide horror experiences across the 5 senses, and yet, VR horror films have still not broken into the mainstream market. Gergana Mileva , in their article for AR post outlines the limitations of VR horror that come from practicality and high production costs. Despite this, we can’t deny that VR technology is blurring the lines between real and not real, and soon enough, with the rapid rate at which technology develops, there’ll be VR films that make us wet our pants.
It seems that nowadays people are never fully satisfied by the passive act of sitting back and watching a film. More and more viewers need to scare themselves silly. Lucky for them, filmmakers are stepping up to the challenge, utilising technology in the most outrageous ways. Over the past 20 years alone, the way we use technology in the production of horror films has developed beyond a point we’d have even thought possible. In short, horror film fans have a bright future ahead of them...or perhaps I should say a very dark future ahead..