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The Difficulties of Adapting Cosmic and Existential Horror to Film

One of the most used descriptive terms for genre folk is “Lovecraftian”, a way of saying that a piece of work has cosmic horror tones and themes that are reminiscent or influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Full of indescribable terrors and incomprehensible monstrosities, Lovecraftian horror gives the audience enough to grasp the edges but leaves them unable to get a firm grip on the greater whole, creating a dissonance that delights in unease. It’s just as hard to describe in no uncertain terms what “Lovecraftian” is as it is to adapt to a visual medium. And that’s precisely what YouTube channel Screened is here to explain.

Using footage from films such as Bird Box, The Thing, In The Mouth of Madness, The Void, and more, the video explains why Lovecraft’s words are so difficult to adapt into something tangible. It’s not just the scope of the creatures but it’s also their undefinable characteristics that no one, not even Lovecraft, can adequately relate. What makes it all the more challenging is that the little snippets that we can hold onto don’t offer enough for even our imaginations to fill in the gaps.

While the above mentioned films, as well as recent titles like Annihilation and The Endless, certainly do a great job at capturing this aesthetic, they don’t come without their own problems. There has to be a certain balance of pulling back the cover but still instilling a sense of disbelief. Perhaps the best example is from Annihilation and its screaming bear. The creature is put on full display but it’s still so difficult for our minds to wrap around precisely what we’re seeing. That kind of disconnect is what makes Lovecraftian horror so unsettling…and so fascinating.

Written by Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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