Natural Horror/Ecological Horror

19Jul10

Natural horror has become an unremarkable part of the larger horror canon – giant animals terrorizing humankind has been part of horror film for almost a hundred years. The films generally fall into Hadot’s Orphic/Promethean split: either nature or one element of nature is ‘unbalanced’ by humanity or it centers on scientists playing god with nature. In both cases humans are set apart and we reap the disruption of our existence in, yet separate from, nature due to our lack of understanding or our over-understanding of it.

Ecological or nature horror would seem to center on the interconnectivity or nature in the larger sense and would negate the formalized difference (which is non-ontological) between humans and nature. Shyamalan’s awful eco-horror film The Happening would ostensibly seem to embrace this large theme as vegetative nature attempts to kill humans because we’ve threatened nature on the whole. But The Happening fails and Eco-horror/Nature horror fails (or has failed) because it maintains the artificiality of the human-nature separation to ensure salvation, a salvation which simply is the reaffirmation of the false split.

Eco-horror/Nature horrror has happened only diagonally, mostly in sci-fi horror or horror proper. Silent Hill for instance, despite the heavy religiousity particularly towards the end, has an odd ecological trend. The film contains three simultaneous realities the green world, the gray world (or post-apocalyptic world of industrial ruin) and the third world of demonic revenge. The plot involves a woman bringing her troubled daughter to the town of Silent Hill – a place she has talked frequently about in a kind of fugue state. When she arrives her daughter is lost and the town is under ash rain from a unquenchable coal fire. After an air raid siren sounds the town turns into a dark nightmare, a nightmare caused by witch trials several years prior. What’s interesting about the film is that the border between these worlds becomes less and less clear, worlds which are the originary serene pastoral world of normalcy, environmental ruin, and one of the phenomenal stain – where everything becomes the hauntological.

Silent Hill unintentionally shows the messiness of the ecological mesh not only in terms of various objects of disaster but also via our separation from doomful nature which is artificial at best. While these worlds are all in the same conceptual world  one can lose the connection between them simply through the denial of strange ontological possibilities. By mashing the phenomenal and hauntological into the ecological, ‘nature thinks’ takes on an even darker meaning – affect, trauma and so forth cannot be taken as closed loops of the psyche but as nature tripping over itself in its inability to cast a stable consciousness.

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