Friday, January 6, 2012

Freaky Friday #3: Survival Horror

Often in horror, a nemesis isn't a singular being, but rather the cumulative pressure of a situation. Survival horror exists when a protagonist is placed into a situation far beyond their control; Something so foreign to the character, that the world they knew is ripped irreparably from them.

Now, I know what you are saying, that sounds like most of the horror stories out there, but there are two main themes that separate it from standard horror.

The character needs to be a survivor, not necessarily a bad motherfucker.

This is the difference between 30 Days of Night and Blade. Both movies are dealing with vampires, but at the beginning of Blade, we watch as he rips through a nightclub with dozens of vampires. It is so easy that he might as well be making a sandwich with his free hand. While things get desperate for Blade, he never seems to be in the sort of peril the survivors from 30 Days of Night are in.

30 Days of Night is a much more sinister movie, and the whole time, the tension is crushing the survivors. They are completely isolated, surrounded by horrid monsters that care only about consuming them. The main character may be a cop, but his weapons are nearly useless, and all the training in the world could not have prepared him for what he was facing. An average man, surrounded by other average people in an environment of terror. This brings up the next point:

The story must be highly oppressive to be effective.

A survival horror staple is a lack of supplies, be it ammo, food, water, or any other MacGuffin you need to throw in. Add in an environment that cannot be ignored, such as zombies at the gates or an incessant spirit that will not let you leave the house, and it locks the protagonists into an unavoidable confrontation. Usually, it is a situation of “nowhere is safe” or “getting out of the only safe place would be suicide.” In The Mist, the characters are pitted with a choice of staying with the lunatics who wish to lynch them, or taking their chances with the unknown that lay beyond the grocery store. Either way, there was no hunkering down, no waiting for the situation to pass. They had to go, and well, I won't spoil it.

Cloverfield is another dire situation where the characters are as much up against the environment as they are the monster. They are powerless to kill the beast, but they have to rescue the girl, then get the hell out of there. Army of Darkness is the opposite of survival horror, because, well, Bruce Campbell is probably immortal, and more badass than I ever will be.

These two traits aren't the be all end all of survival horror, but seem to be the main themes behind the sub-genre. Do you have any good examples of survival horror? Or have you noticed something I've left out? Hit up the comments section and let me know.

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