Caitlin Duffy deposited “Live or die, make your choice”: American Survival Game Horror in the group Gothicists on Humanities Commons 1 year, 10 months ago
From the 2007 remake of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games to Adam Robitel’s Escape Room (2019), the survival game has become a recurring sub-genre of American horror cinema in the last twenty years; however, its haunting presence has yet to be fully analyzed.
The American survival game horror film is uniquely able to render neoliberal conceptions of agency and endurance visible. Following Theodore Martin’s call to explore the “historical drag of genre,” I first provide potential early American foundations of survival game horror, including seduction narratives and gothic novels which dramatize the struggle to survive in a nascent democratic nation. Next, through a close examination of James Wan’s Saw (2004), I illuminate the ways in which contemporary survival game horror films provide a particular brand of torture porn that transmits horror to audiences through what Jane Elliott terms “a combination of abstraction and extremity” and “situations in which individuals make agonized choices among unwelcome options.”
I argue that the American survival game horror sub-genre is a vital component of late capitalist culture with deep roots in the American gothic tradition. These films render everyday methods of survival and suffering visible through depictions of violent excess and abstraction. This presentation will also claim a radical potential for the survival game horror in its ability to provide an escape from the spectral terrors of neoliberal networks through a hyper-focus on horrors of the material body.