Horror often comes divided into two categories in my mind: Personal Vs. Global. Within these two categories, the horror is then again divided into two sets: Enclosed Vs. Exposed. In the first category divide, we have stories that are personal terrors versus globalized ones—ie a haunted house would be a personal terror and a zombie pandemic would be a global one. This is just based on scale of the horror at hand, since ideally all horror is personal horror or you’d just have a bunch of characters no one cares about getting killed off in creative ways (oh, wait, that is a lot of horror. *raises eyebrow pointedly at some horror writers*). The other category divides between two kinds of how the horror is portrayed on screen: Enclosed horror is the tight spaces of something like The Descent whereas Exposed horror is the expanse of the ocean in Jaws, where the threat can be coming from literally anywhere around you. This edition of HORROR 101 is going to delve deeper into Enclosed versus Exposed, and a later edition will tackle Personal Versus Global more in-depth.
Both of the Enclosed/Exposed horror types with the feeling of isolation and being trapped in different ways. In Enclosed horror, we have the feeling of being stuck and unable to escape easily. In Exposed horror, you never know from where the monster will strike and you are literally an easy target as you’re out in the open. I brought up Personal Vs. Global horror earlier because many times these categories go hand in hand Personal horror is Enclosed Horror and Global Horror is Exposed Horror. Zombie apocalypse films are almost always Exposed, as characters have to navigate across landscapes rife with zombie hordes. Haunted house films are almost always Enclosed with characters trapped inside a house that wants to do them harm.
What do both of these horror types give us and what are the best examples of the form? We’ll start with Exposed as it allows me to bring up a very recent film. Annihilation (which, for the record, I liked a lot and I was glad it didn’t stick to the book very closely) uses Exposed horror to create a feeling of constant tension—the scientists in the Shimmer are always in danger, from all possible sides, as they make their way towards the lighthouse. This allows us to have a duality between the fear of attack, while also building up the way that they are literally being exposed to something beyond their control on a much more microscopic level (as the Shimmer may be messing with their minds or bodies in distinct ways). Other entrants in Exposed horror include films like 28 Days Later which does an interesting turn between Exposed and Enclosed 2/3 of the way through the film (a topic I’ll address more in an individual post on the film later); the aforementioned Jaws; and I’d argue the Nightmare on Elm Street series does this in an interesting way—the horror/danger scenes are all Exposed horror as they are literally dreams that can shift and change the surroundings of the victims, but, in some ways, they are also Enclosed as the horror is happening inside the victims’ heads (guess what? I’m also doing an individual post later on the Elm Street series.)
Enclosed horror uses tightly controlled spaces in order to raise the level of terror and does so often in unique ways. This can be seen in the use of ventilation systems in something like Alien to the sometimes collapsing cave tunnels of The Descent. Enclosed horror also allows every object in a given space to become and object of horror. One of my favorite recent horror films (and one of my favorite recent films, just in general, and why oh why didn’t Daniel Kaluuya win Best Actor at the Academy Awards??) Get Out uses this to maximum effect. Main character Chris is isolated in a house in the middle of the woods, so a common Enclosed horror trope. He’s also trapped within his own mind for part of the horror, enclosed within the already enclosed. This makes a dual form of isolation and raises the level of horror beyond just bodily entrapment. The hypnosis scene in the film is one of the most effective uses of enclosed horror that I’ve ever seen on a screen. Other excellent examples of Enclosed horror include: The Thing, The Others, The Devil’s Backbone, and more.
So, which do you prefer: Enclosed vs Exposed? What makes one better than the other? Join in the conversation by tweeting me @PintsNCupcakes.
POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes