A different kind of tension.
The grotesquerie of the subconscious is not what makes nightmares scary. It’s one’s lack of control in their shaping, the manifestation of private, impossible fears tricking the mind and convincing it that this horrible shadow of existence is a genuine reality. A nightmare isn’t really a nightmare unless its host feels completely powerless as it plays out, a slave to whatever torture his mind conjures before his sleeping eyes.
So I never understand some people’s need to undermine a slasher film or a survival horror game by commenting that “I wouldn’t do that” whenever a character makes an illogical move. The whole idea of nightmarish terror originates in these “I wouldn’t do that” moments, when people open doors that they shouldn’t or run into a dark forest with a masked killer on the loose. Fear is not a logical, measured emotion, and its origin can almost always be traced back to a sense of circumstantial powerlessness. A good, scary moment in any story terrifies precisely because it shouldn’t be happening, but the audience is unable to stop the inevitable.
Really, all fiction is a bit nightmarish when you think about it. It finds its base in reality, but abstracts and simplifies its logic, forcing audience members into a passive role where the story subjects them to its whims. Continue reading