The Shining is creepy. Other than a detailed exposition that sets up the film’s premise in its first 20 minutes, the audience is engulfed in a creepy and eery vibe for two entire hours. I watched it for the first time with a few friends last week; we were screaming by the film’s climax.
A huge part of The Shining‘s success as a horror film is due to its masterful camera work. Take the scene where Danny rides down the hallway on his bike for an example. The shot starts out very far away, giving off an uncanny feeling that something is watching the boy from a distance. As we follow Danny, the camera is staged on a wheeled platform, shooting Danny at the same speed he pedals his tricycle. As he turned around the corner of the hallway, we were met with this image:
Now we see the hallway from Danny’s perspective.
The camera work mattered not only in this film, but in all cinema work since its the medium in which the film creator communicates his or her message. David Fincher, for an example, prefers to make his films look almost omniscient; you won’t be able to tell whether a shot was filmed on foot, on a tripod, or altered in CGI. The cinematography in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining functions in a similar way. We can never tell if we’re looking at the horror in front of us through the eyes of a cameraman or another bystander in the Overlook Hotel. We feel like we’re slowly and physically following Jack Torrance’s family’s descent into chaos, one fearful step at a time.
This is exactly where Virtual Reality can excel. While we pretend to be the victims in good horror films, we ourselves are the victims in VR horror. No longer can you look at a film’s protagonist and shriek, we ourselves are the ones screaming when the strange and unexplainable are placed before our eyes.
This is not a wholly new concept. As discussed in a previous post, the horror subgenre had already been a big deal in the video gaming world. Early attempts at the genre includes the Silent Hill series and various games under the Resident Evil franchise. The genre went through a big break with the arrival of Amnesia in 2010, a game that featured an amnesiac protagonist who must find his way out of an 18th century castle.
The difference between Virtual Reality and contemporary gaming is one of emotional and physical barrier. Although we are already the victims ourselves in these horror video games, there is still that separation between us and the screen; no matter how terrifying we feel as victims in these debilitated tales of horror, we are still sitting in our living rooms, screaming our faces off, with our friends one phone call away.
This is what you look like with a Virtual Reality headset on:
In an environment completely engulfed by Virtual Reality, it’s possible to forget where you are for a brief moment. As the xenomorph from Alien stalk towards you, as the monsters from Cloverfield run over your beloved city, you can’t just simply turn your TV off and leave the room; you struggle to untangle yourself from the VR headset as more of the horror flashes before your eyes. If you wanted the full experience, you can simply sit down and while you weep and scream.
This is not just speculation. Production companies in industry far and wide have been investing in the possible adaptation of horror in VR. Veteran video game series Resident Evil developed VR plans for its latest release, while the long and successful Paranormal Activities franchise is planning its next installment as a horror VR experience.
As a fan of horror, Hollywood had pumped out way too many poor excuses of horror films as of recently. Cheap gimmicks are used instead of creating terrifying atmospheres, and audiences today have associated horror so closely with jump scares that the lack of jump scares could be detrimental to the box office. Hopefully, the introduction of this new technology to an old and beloved genre will spark up the creative’s interest in making true horror again.