The Forest is Not What it Seems: An Ecocritical Study of American Horror Films

No Thumbnail Available
Whitaker, Brandyn
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Middle Tennessee State University
Wilderness horror and cabin horror films such as Antichrist, The Witch, The Evil Dead, and The Blair Witch Project utilize the strengths of their medium—a film’s narrative, dialogue, visuals, and sound design—to reignite seemingly archaic fears of the forest for modern audiences. Simon Estok has documented a subconscious fear of the environment, called ecophobia, that permeates and greatly affects societal practices directed at nature. Wilderness and cabin horror films, inspired by the longstanding American literary tradition of the malevolent dark wilderness, document how film techniques are uniquely able to expand upon and update the wilderness setting for horror as a genre. Films can draw upon their audiences’ ecophobia by utilizing visual, aural, narrative, and extratextual (as well as meta- and contextual) establishing techniques to connect the onscreen forest with that of the archaic and dangerous colonial wilderness. After analyzing how film conveys ecophobia in the first chapter, I use my second chapter to explore how wilderness horror films draw upon the forest’s consistent perception as a bewildering location that can be grouped into three general categories of disorientation: spatial, moral, and social. Each of these three forms of bewilderment likewise draws upon audience ecophobia, largely through depriving a film’s characters of their agency. Lastly, my thesis analyzes the dread caused by the cabin horror genre, where monstrous antagonists, whose ambiguity aligns them with the forest surrounding the cabin, create a scenario in which the cabin becomes representative of safety, order, and control against the chaotic and dangerous wilderness assaulting it. My thesis concludes with a framework for how the analysis presented throughout this study could be utilized for further ecoGothic analyses.
Cabin Horror, Ecocriticism, EcoGothic, Ecohorror, Gothic Studies, Horror Films, American studies, Film studies, American literature