Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Environmental Terror

A few weekends ago, I lived a nightmare. I was deep-sea diving in shark-infested waters with no way to defend myself against them except hiding myself in patches of seaweed until they passed by. Of course, sharks weren’t the only things I had to worry about; there were moray eels waiting to leap out of hiding and bite me and jellyfish floating in my path to navigate around. I had no diving suit or even an air tank, but had to go into barrels with air pockets in them to refill my lungs before going off into the dark unknown and wondering if that gulp of air would be my last.

Okay, to clarify, that didn’t happen to me in real life. It was something I experienced playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. (Yes, I’m aware that this game has been out for a year, but I like to get games late when the price goes down or when publishers inevitably release the Ultimate Edition with all the extra add-ons.) Regardless, it touched on a very real terror that doesn’t seem to crop up as much in fiction: that of being in a hostile and very lethal environment cut off from anything comfortable and familiar to any regular person.

That really is a shame because there’s something very powerful and terrifying about having an environment as your enemy rather than some psychopath or monster. There’s no central thing that can be destroyed, yet everything about the scenario can or will kill you. Now it’s true that the jungle, desert, and tundra have harsh climates and deadly creatures to worry about. But with the deep sea, it’s a much different story.

In the ocean, as in space, the environment is literally toxic to a person’s wellbeing by nature. You are surrounded by a foreign element that will lead to your demise if it penetrates you. The only thing keeping you alive is an airtight suit, a piece of glass over your face, and a very limited air supply. Take away any ability to reconnect with an environment you can survive in and the suit becomes a slow execution chamber. Your heartbeat mingles with the noises from the outside as paranoia starts to set in. You try to control every breath that you take, keeping on the lookout for any danger that might speed up your demise, whether it’s a hungry barracuda or, in the case of space, a wayward meteorite. Your hearing becomes extra-sensitive, listening for any telltale pops or cracks that would indicate that your personal life line is beginning to come apart. And all the time, you’re keeping an eye on that slowly-dropping gauge on your air tank, praying between ragged breaths for something to either save your life or end it quickly…

Sounds pretty terrifying, right? So why don’t more works of fiction capitalize on this option? Well, apart from the fact that most Hollywood audiences like seeing the hero triumphantly vanquish a foe, most of the ones that have attempted this… sucked. The first Open Water movie, focusing on two people stranded in the middle of the ocean, may have pleased some critics, but audiences didn’t seem to warm up to it and the sequel got torn apart by both. Apollo 18, following two astronauts trapped on the moon, got ravaged on all sides for being boring, suspense-free, and just downright goofy in some areas. Gerry, which was about two people walking through the desert… and nothing else… for over a hundred minutes… yeah, it was as boring as whale shit and didn’t even break $300,000. Suffice to say, people don’t seem to know the potential of the environmental menace. It’s true that Gravity was a successful movie with a similar idea and Buried was able to deliver the terror of being trapped in a small box underground, but most people seem to eschew it for drama, found-footage, or attempted artiness.

That said, there really is a goldmine of terror just waiting to be mined in such a scenario. Perhaps it wouldn’t be something for a summer blockbuster or a novel you’d pick up at the airport bookstore, but if someone really wanted to run with this, it could be a classic in the making. Something like that could revolutionize the world of horror and open up new venues for people to explore. Granted, this would give rise to a lot of pale imitations as a lot of successful movies do, but I’d rather see more of that than Found Footage Haunting the Seventy-Billionth. Don’t be shy, writers; take the plunge.

Posted under Musings

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