The Anarchy and Absurdity of ‘Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared’

Becky Sloan and Joe Pelling have made music videos for Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and while those creations aren’t exactly conventional, the series for which they are best known is far stranger. Back in 2011, they created a 3-minute short called Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. After it became an internet sensation and was re-released on Youtube (where it has now reached over 35 million views), Channel 4’s Random Acts commissioned a second episode. Eventually they took to Kickstarter, where they raised over £100 000 to complete four more episodes without having to compromise their bizarre vision. The sixth and final episode was released on 19th June this year, and has already reached 9 000 000 views in just over two weeks. I’d be impressed that any set of short films would acquire such a monumental viewership, but I am pleasantly surprised that the series in question is one so unusual and idiosyncratic.

If you haven’t seen the series before, it has the appearance of a children’s TV show, where talking puppets (and costumed actors) are taken on a musical journey to learn a basic life skill or moral lesson. Across the six episodes various anthropomorphic objects and animals teach the three main characters of Yellow Guy, Red Guy, and Duck; touching on the subjects of creativity, time, love, technology, healthy eating, and dreams. Sounds harmless, right?

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Lynchian Horror

At some point you have probably come across the term “Lynchian.” It’s often used thoughtlessly to explain away weird imagery and seemingly ineffable behaviour in film, but it’s in the popular vernacular for a reason. David Lynch’s particular outlook and cinematic approach has made him the authority on dream-like ambience. The distinct sense of unease in his movies often comes from his interest in the uncanny; a “disturbing unfamiliarity in the evidently familiar.” The abstract concepts he puts on screen inspire fear because they are uncomfortably close to our own reality. In Twin Peaks, the ceiling fan on the landing of the Palmer household is shown at a low frame-rate, as if asking us to focus on the mundane, the ordinary, and wonder what is wrong with the picture presented; objects and behaviour normally associated with normalcy, stability, and positivity are corrupted.

In The Philosophy of Horror, Noël Carroll attributed feelings of horror and the uncanny to apparent transgressions of cultural and conceptual categories. The most effective horror is often that which pushes us beyond the boundaries that give us stability. Even the most intelligent viewers carry their own preconceptions of what a narrative needs to achieve, and what the right emotional response is for a given moment. Examples Carroll provides of these categories are “living/dead,” “me/not me,” and “flesh/machine’,” dichotomies that are common in the horror genre because they challenge the principles that give us comfort, and make the world comprehensible.

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Let the Right One In Review: When Horror Isn’t Horror

Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), bullied and craving revenge, meets Eli (Lina Leandersson). Eli is also twelve, but has “been twelve for a long time”. Set in the suburbs of Stockholm in the early 1980s, Tomas Alfredson brings us a tale of childhood loneliness, love, and revenge. Continue reading →