Ellyse Partington: The “lived body” in contemporary horror cinema

Creator’s Statement

The “lived body” in contemporary horror cinema

The thesis for this video essay originated from an interest in the use of sound in A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018). The use of diegetic and non diegetic sound brilliantly portrayed the perspective of Reagan, the deaf daughter, and how her experience of being deaf aided in the family’s survival within the film. A Quiet Place was a success amongst critics and received a fair amount of recognition as a unique and creative horror film. Whilst previous films had experimented with sound in the past, in films such as Dawn of the Deaf (Rob Savage, 2016) and Hush (Mike Flanagan, 2016), others had not been credit for its delineation of deafness to the same extent as A Quiet Place.

Whilst debating the avenues of discussions the horror genre presents, following careful consideration of the themes of mental illness and disability, it was useful to ponder over the influx of films that explored disability such as Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez, 2016) and Bird Box (Susanne Bier, 2018). Disability became a topic that has been present within recent texts, however, deafness and the presentation of sound was a stronger area of study for this video essay to focus the trajectory of the project.

After considering the use of sound within the contemporary horror film to explore the representation of deafness, I began to consider how the use (or the lack of) sound encouraged the spectator to consciously become aware of how they use their senses in their viewing experience. In aid of this contention, Vivian Sobchack explores the notion of the “lived body”.[1] She explores the physiological responses the spectator experiences whilst watching a film. It was this theory that grounded my analysis in which I could explore the stylistic techniques of contemporary horror films, to understand how they represented deafness.

Horror is possibly the first genre to be considering to evoke a physiological response from the audience, through its ambition to insight fear within its audience. The subconscious and immediate response of the audience to the action on screen is the desired response of the filmmaker. However, the aim of this video essay is to explore how cinema can construct a sensory event for the spectator for a larger purpose than a jump scare. The primary ambition of this video essay is to execute how sound encourages the audience to utilise their senses to enjoy the tactility that the contemporary film, and horror as an extension, can present.

Through the analysis of Dawn of the Deaf, Hush and A Quiet Place, this project attempts to explore how the sensorium of the spectator, and their physiological being is called upon to experience the story of the respective deaf characters. Sobchack’s notion of the spectator subjectively experiencing the films through the objective body of the character, positions the audience to the explore a fictitious scenario that they would otherwise not experience. Through the exploration of sound, image, and theory, this video essay explores how the representation of deafness in the contemporary horror film. The provocation of the spectator’s senses through the relationship of sound and image, fabricates an immersive event for the audience to relate to a character.

Bibliography

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Walter Benjamin Illuminations: Essays and Reflections,ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: schocken, 1968), 240.

Miriam Hansen, “ ‘With Skin and Hair’: Kracauer’s Theory of fIlm, Marseilles 1940,” Critical Inquiry 19, no.3 (1993): 458.

Barker, J. 2009. The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience. Oakland: University of California Press.

Sobchack, V. 2004. Carnal thoughts: embodiment and moving image culture. Oakland: University of California Press.

Filmography

A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven,1984)

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018)

Bird Box (Susanne Bier, 2018)

Dawn of the Deaf (Rob Savage, 2016)

Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez, 2016)

Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

Hush (Mike Flanagan, 2016)

Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz,1945)

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

The Exorcist (William Friedkin,1973)

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

The Silence (John R. Leonetti, 2019)


[1] Sobchack, V. 2004. Carnal thoughts: embodiment and moving image culture. Oakland: University of California Press.

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