Panel 2: Wilderness, the Environment and the Gothic

The Organism as Environment: Exploring the Material within the Aesthetics of the EcoGothic in Stranger Things and Annihilation
Sladja Blazan (University of Würzburg)

Tendrils and vines and other tentacular plants are once again prominent antagonists in Gothic and horror narratives. This chapter explores plant networks and how they haunt human habitats as represented in the widely popular Netflix series Stranger Things and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. In both examples human and non-human become indistinguishable in the tentacular embrace of root networks. Currently haunted ecologies grow in popularity because of their unique ability to express this notion of interconnectedness, particularly a kin-like relation between human and non-human actants. In addition to analyzing current examples of human-plant intermeshing expressed through the mode of haunting, this article points out that indigenous cosmologies connecting life and death and human and non-human through depictions of haunted ecologies are rather seldom part of the academic discussion in the emerging field of the ecogothic. Using the concept of “Place-Thought” developed by the Indigenous scholar Vanessa Watts, my reading of entanglement narratives exposes their indebtedness to native story-telling traditions and Indigenous philosophy.

 


Elizabeth Robinson (University of Maryland)

Combining historical fiction, fantasy, and Southern Gothic, Alys Arden’s series, The Casquette Girls follows a young coven in their quest to make a post-Storm New Orleans safe from vampires, ghost drinkers, and magically starved witches. In this presentation I argue that the Storm (personified, or perhaps anthropomorphized into a character by use of the capital S), is what brings the characters together in order to form their coven, but also creates a myriad of obstacles from which many different characters either cannot escape, or from which others benefit. I show how the Storm, or its remnants, is the vehicle for the Southern Gothic to exist as such in this series. From abandoned buildings left in the wake of the Storm, broken water fountains overgrown with algae, an unused convent attic (with the exception of the vampires lying there under a slumbering spell), the landscape is left ruined and gutted. The main character, Adele Le Moyne, returns home to New Orleans with her father two months after the Storm, “turned the city into a fishbowl.” The efforts of living this new normal in a place she hardly recognizes that now has limited resources is a heavy burden for the young teenager. Reconciling the past with the present is a kind of living trauma for Adele. In stark contrast to Adele’s trauma is her new boyfriend, Isaac’s trauma. Isaac came down from New York City to help with the clean-up, post-Storm as his father is the acting director of FEMA. His frequent close encounters with death and putrid decay are nothing compared to the trauma he faces in the face of not saving a little girl when the levees broke. Adele and Isaac are able to lean on each other to deal with their respective traumas, and because of what they have each experienced in their attempts to “save the city” in its post-Storm, and almost post-apocalyptic state is a driving force behind many of their actions.

 

“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us”: The destruction of ‘Place’ in the Cabin Horror Genre
Brandyn Whitaker (Middle Tennessee State University)

An essential component within the cabin horror narrative is the eventual disillusionment of the cabin’s safety. Whether torn asunder, secretly infiltrated, or forcibly abandoned, all films in this subgenre end with the cabin no longer standing as the refuge of safety it at first seemed to be. To better understand the importance of the fall of the cabin, and the origination of the ecophobia surrounding this fall, it is helpful to draw from human geography’s terms of ‘Space’ and ‘Place.’ “Enclosed and humanized space is place. Compared to space, place is a calm center of established values” (Tuan, Space and Place 54). The cabin, therefore, is a perfect example of ‘Place,’ with its enclosing walls serving as a strong boundary identifying ‘Place’ from ‘Space.’ By observing the cabin and its surrounding forest as locations of ‘Place’ and ‘Space,’ it allows for a new lens to analyze the ecoGothic conflict between these two locations. Specifically, the goal of my presentation would be to analyze how the Evil Dead franchise, The Witch, and Cabin Fever each construct the invasions of their cabins, how that construction is meant to derive ecophobic horror in the viewers, and what these invasions tell us about our relationship to the natural world.

 

Ghosts of Britain: A Hauntological Approach to Contemporary American Folk Horror
Alberto Andrés (independent scholar)

The film industry is experiencing a revival of a genre closely related to the Gothic: folk horror. Whereas the origins of the folk horror film can easily be traced back to Britain with filmmakers such as Robin Hardy or Michael Reeves, a good portion of the contemporary iterations of the genre come from across the Atlantic (see Robert Eggers’s The Witch, Ari Aster’s Midsommar, or Malgorzata Szumowska’s US-produced The Other Lamb among others). Folk horror is here understood following Adam Scovell’s definition: films, usually set in a rural landscape, in which folklore “plays an aesthetic or thematic function,” and which “display a conflict between such arcania and its presence within close proximity to some form of modernity.” Both British folk horrors from the late 60s and the 70s and their contemporary American counterparts share a similar preoccupation with nature and with the impending threat posed by modernity. This presentation will inspect contemporary US folk horror’s inability to free itself from the phantasms of the old continent. It will survey the different ways in which they pay homage, re-invent, and borrow from British folk horror. Mark Fisher’s writings on hauntology provide interesting points for reflection on these films’ obsession with a past they cannot escape. A writer fascinated by popular representations of the gothic, Fisher’s theories on the weird and the eerie can offer illuminating insight into the aesthetics and politics of film hauntology. Films to be examined include, among others, the above-mentioned The Witch and Midsommar. Critics, particularly those working in non-specialised media, have grouped some contemporary US folk horrors under the so-called term “elevated horror,” a concept that will also be heavily disputed in this presentation. Contemporary American folk horrors will be contrasted with its British counterparts not only by looking at the latter’s past (films like The Unholy Trinity, comprised of “Witchfinder General,” “Blood on Satan’s Claw,” and “The Wicker Man”) but also at its present, particularly at the work of Ben Wheatley.