I remember this as my first memorable horror story. My friend was telling the story. We were at Twin Islands, and our surroundings were suffocated by darkness. We could only see a single light shining onto my friend’s face. Late at night, surrounded by wildlife we couldn’t see. Hours away from the closest town. Though I don’t remember what the story was called, it was terrifying for 10-year-olds.

But what did we choose to verify ourselves?

People enjoy horror for a variety of reasons. Some people like the thrill and excitement of being scared, while others enjoy confronting their fears in a controlled environment. For me, it was experiencing fear as a group of friends, all terrified of the possibilities of what could happen to us. The unknown!

Horror movies can also serve as a way to provide social commentary on current events or societal issues. Many horror movies contain themes or symbols that reflect the fears and anxieties of the time they were made. For example, horror movies from the 1950s often featured themes of nuclear tension and Cold War paranoia. In contrast, more recent horror movies may explore climate change, technology, and social media issues. Read more about how the 1950s influenced horror here. In this way, horror movies can serve as a way for filmmakers to comment on and explore deeper issues in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.

The horror genre allows us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Controversial topics are present through symbolism and metaphors, allowing people to safely explore and critique cultural norms and values. As a class, we watched some of the most popular horror movies to figure out how they made them scary and what message are they portraying. For example, in the film Get Out, Racism is openly discussed. Jordan Peele highlights that people of colour are seen by white people as objects rather than living themselves. It shares the experience of many people in America. (Read more about my Get Out review below).

The most influential part of my learning came when we went to Seattle. Though I couldn’t experience the haunted house, I did make it to the Museum of Pop Culture, MoPOP. At this time, they had an exhibit dedicated to horror called “Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film.” From slashers and serial killers to zombies, one thing stays the same; everything has a message. The exhibit featured videos from many directors sharing the meaning of their movies and how each film took a different take on the genre. Filmmakers frequently push the envelope to produce genuinely terrifying experiences, using tools like tension-building lighting and sound. “Psycho” is an excellent example of this altering the genre by using music to heighten tension and shock viewers with a quick shift from sympathy to pity for a character.

The biggest takeaway from this exhibit was the iconic sound of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” It serves as a reminder that even the slightest sensory cues can cause terror. The universal fear of the unknown allows us to experience the horror together. These cues of music that essentially indicated when to be scared were vital in creating a horror film ourselves and initiating the fight or flight response using music.

Loon Lake:

Leading up to the shoot, we had a week and a half to write, plan and organize our movie. Our idea was to have a group of influencers, tainted by their extreme beliefs, invited to a resort where each one is picked off one by one. The killer has previously been “cancelled” and is now taking revenge, cancelling others that she thinks are worse than her.

Having everyone in the same place was a blessing, as we had 18 people working on the film simultaneously. We only had three days, so we had to have multiple things happening simultaneously. I was the post-production supervisor, cinematographer assistant and, most importantly, the drone operator. Experimenting with a new filming role, I used my knowledge from researching online through videos. Filming was a fun experience. I think I did an excellent job for the first time. It was also great to be there to manage how we shot to help the post-production process.

I brought my drone, and it did not disappoint. It was a journey with many bumps, a story to be retold. We first tried it at night, and it spun around uncontrollably. Owen and I figured it was the light, so we chose to try again in the morning. The morning arrived, but it still did not work. We reconfigured the drone, downloaded flight calibration and ensured clear skies. And as we pressed the liftoff button, it finally flew. After all these events discouraging us from filming, we finally did it. However, we still managed to break a few propellers and were close to crashing many times.


My Favourite Shot:

Loon Lake has this special pulley dock to get across the lake and is isolated from the cabins. As it got dark, the scene built itself. No lights except for the distant cabins, too far to see anyone. As Owen and I were down there, we imagined what if you were on the dock and you suddenly were being pulled against your will to the other side. Though the filming of the night scene did not turn out to what we had imagined, what came after was my favourite shot. 

The morning after, Rhiann is lying on the dock dead. Using the drone travelling upwards in a spiralling motion, we see the body drenched in blood and the dock in the middle of the lake. There was nothing around her but the fallen trees in the water. The shot was extraordinary. We had to be quick as there was slight rain, and my drone could not fly in the rain, but it was well worth the risk.

Though we did not execute everything flawlessly, I enjoyed filming and learning a key creative role. I have put in some, if not the most, hours into this project, combining all of my roles. In editing, Angelo and I had difficulty sorting through 600+ clips and putting together a comprehensible movie. We had to fill plot holes creatively by rearranging, splicing and cherrypicking audio and clips. It is a form of problem-solving trying to add a scare factor and utilizing the b-roll in transitional moments.

For my PLP world intro, I used a 3D render program called Blender. I spent tens of hours creating the model and over 100 hours rendering it. To find out how to do it yourself, watch this video. Unfortunately, I didn’t compose this shot as well as I could, but for my first time using the program, I thought it looked amazing, adding a great touch to the movie.

This horror movie allowed us to improve on our previous film, fixing our old mistakes. In addition, I had the chance to learn new skills and polish growing ones with my roles as the post-production supervisor and cinematographer assistant. While our continuity was substantially better being at Loon Lake, we were hampered by our ambitious goal to fledge out eight characters fully. As a result, our story was rushed, making it look like a kill montage with no breathing room. I tried my best to allow for some downtime editing in breaks, but there is only so much you can do with few coherent, usable clips. Having fewer characters, we could have done a better job exploring the social commentary of cancel culture and the fear of being “cancelled” in its literal sense of being killed. But, despite all our mistakes, we finished a 20-minute movie that was enjoyable to watch.

From this project, I’ve realized that horror allows us to comment on controversial societal topics. By tapping into our universal fear of the unknown, death and loss, the genre creates a safe space for exploring these topics in a way that allows for reflection and contemplation.