Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Quick Sips - The Dark #36

The Dark Magazine gets, well, really fucking dark for its May original releases. Examining death and horror as ideas, as characters, and as modes of telling stories, the pieces look at situations made possible because of cruelty and pain. In both, powerful characters play with their victims, trying to learn from them, to perhaps hone their craft through their victims. And yet there is a sense that what might be happening is just more of the same, different in setting and style but still, at its core, the same as ever. Still, sadly, very human. And it’s a fascinating and difficult issue that I’ll just get to reviewing!

Art by Abigail Larson

“The Pine Arch Collection” by Michael Wehunt (6242 words)

No Spoilers: Framed as a series of emails, most of them between Aly and Bobby, two friends and filmmakers, the story takes a very interesting approach to the horror film “found footage” trope. Aly is contacted by a mysterious group, and from there things descend as she and Bobby both are brought into a world they very much don’t want to be a part of. As the piece is told entirely as emails, the narrative elements come piecemeal, but like a movie the piece is edited in such a way that a cohesive story is told. And fuck is it creepy. The piece is dark and gripping, focusing on the horror not only of the unknown, but of the stranger that in some ways a person lets in to their home. Like a vampire having to be invited in, the darkness here has something to do with the characters’ pasts and something to do about their attraction to horror, but also their perceived distance from it. It’s not exactly a happy piece, though, nor does it focus or reserve punishment and pain for those who “deserve it.” Instead, the narrative comes filtered through an outside lens that is unsettling and cruel, and makes this one a hard piece to read at times.
Keywords: Found Footage, Films, Monsters, Emails, Uncertainty, Meta
Review: This is a strange horror story for me, not just because of the frame and structure of it, which is rather innovative and neat. I like how the piece unfolds, how it both comments and complicates the idea of found footage and horror fiction. It’s a story about movies, intensely visual while still being entirely text. And the visuals that it described are weird, dark, and twisted. But there is something viral about them, something creeping. The way that the cameras seem to function and yet the capture is so much different, revealing something completely different. The way that the story refuses to have any of the characters meet each other. Their only contact is through emails, through textual means, which means that even inside the space of the story we only have this record to go by, one that can be manipulated and distorted (as the piece is also a conscious manipulation, like all fiction) to the will of the “filmmaker,” in this case a woman named Brit who has some unfinished business with Aly and Bobby. And that’s the aspect of the story that gave me the most pause, that in some ways this is a revenge story, where Brit is seeking to get back at those who “wronged” her by getting her kicked out of school for plagiarism. And...it’s not that this twist isn’t interesting or creepy, but rather that in some ways it grounds this very weird and magical horror in something if possible even more ugly. The torture that Aly and Bobby endure stops being chance, and becomes something almost worse—a perversion of justice. Because here Aly and Bobby really did no wrong, committed no sin. Brit did and was punished, and then became twisted by that in order to lash out. And she does. And she wins. And there’s just something so visceral about that. That goes against “traditional” horror where the monster is normally banished in the end. Where “purity” is often the saving virtue. This is a different kind of horror, and one that doesn’t care about redemption or comfort. And I’m not sure how much I like the story, but it is a very interesting work of horror very much worth checking out!

“Our Mortal Undressing” by Hamilton Perez (2182 words)

No Spoilers: This story seems to swirl around the dead and the dying, focusing on one figure who takes many different forms. They are hungry for knowledge, for companionship, for an understanding that they might never be able to achieve, a lust they might never be able to sate. The stories is framed as different times, from the dawn of humanity to its far future, and always this character remains, flitting through it, taking and seeking, never still. The language of the story is evocative and sensual while at the same time carrying with it something unsettling and polluted—something alien. The voice of the story is one that is attracted to humanity, never bored, but also seemingly incapable of really seeing humans as people. The motivations and inner workings are always distant as the narrator retains a curiosity maintained, it seems, by the complete failure to pierce humanity’s shell. And yet in that there is something about humanity, I think, a commentary on our own nature and impulses.
Keywords: Death, Decay, Courtship, Knowledge, Hunger
Review: Stories that take (or seem to take) on Death as their protagonists are often a bit trippy. Here the story opens as the narrator slips into the body of a dead woman in order to try and get to know humanity better through an individual. The narrator moves from person to person, always seeking to know more about humans, and yet the story does carry something much heavier and creepier than that. Because here the narrator isn’t only the messenger of death, they’re an architect of it as well. Death here isn’t benign and isn’t reserved. They are hungry, and lusty, and curious, and selfish. This death doesn’t just collect lives but actively takes them, setting things up to take as much as possible, manipulating people to try and learn from their reactions. And yet a part of them also never learns. From any of it. Despite how much time passes, they don’t learn, and their hunger doesn’t shrink. They want more, and more, and in that Death as a personification reflects humanity, here is one that captures the cycles of human violence and conflict, the ways that peoples develop only to fall into the same traps over and over again. Here is the ever-present Death, alien and cold and sadistic and yet familiar and compelling. It’s another rather disturbing read but it has a lot to say and an interesting take on Death very much worth spending some time with!


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