Sadness screenshot. © 2006 Nibris. All rights reserved.
In 1999, the Pet Shop Boys put out a great lyric in their song, Happiness is an Option (which you can listen to here). This part of the song is about aging. One day, you wake up and don't recognize yourself in the mirror and you find yourself contemplating death. The image they conjured up hinted at the rise of a Retro-Futuristic Slavonic Gothic style, which has been slowly gathering steam over the past decade.
I can wake up in the morning
and not believe what I see
Look in the mirror
And think if that's really me
I don't think I suit my face
It's not a catastrophe
it's more a philosophy
like the Russians wondering why
we're born under a blue sky
but die in a dark forest.
Völkerschlachtdenkmal, I encountered a strange, Baba Yaga-type house nestled in the trees at the end of a gated lane. I don't remember the details about it. It's not the witch's cabin, and there weren't any chicken legs, but it did look capable of walking away at any moment!
Perhaps the Slavic horror films that have attained widest mainstream attention abroad in recent years are the Russian films Night Watch (Ночной дозор, Nochnoy dozor: 2004) and its sequel Day Watch (Дневной дозор, Dnevnoy dozor: 2006).
These are slick, gritty CGI-laden films that are heavily dosed with traditional Slavic superstitions, spooky rituals and apocalyptic predictions. They play with the familiar Millennial idea that a cataclysmic conflict between good and evil will catapult the deep past into the far future. Recent mainstream films that tried less successfully to pick up on modern Russian Gothic include Moscow Zero (2006), Transsiberian (2008) and Babylon A.D. (2008).
In the mid-2000s, I also noticed some very promising videogame teasers for the horror game, Sadness, from the company Nibris, which is based in Cracow. The core concept for this game turned on the idea that melancholia and madness could derive from the awareness of the imperfections and evil in all of us, from youthful disillusionment.
Sadness: Videogame Trailer (2006). Nibris.
Sadness, is set in the Ukraine at the turn of the last century, and has an interactive Wii platform where the player moves through a landscape populated by monsters from Slavic legend. From the Nibris site:
"The study of fear and the borders of human imagination... A trip to the darkest corners of consciousness, in all of us... A trip to the hell of the subconscious and not necessarily to return...
This gothic horror (atmosphere) is not the game of the action. If you're counting on shooting, litres of blood and piles of dead bodies then unfortunately you won't find this here. We are preparing for a mood which will not leave you till the very end of the game. An irregular scenario decides on such issues as schizophrenia or narcolepsy. Apart from an extremely complex and rich-in-the-shocking-factor scenario, the power of our production is innovative use of the Wii controller.
Sadness is black and white psychological horror game in which you control Maria - Victorian age aristocrat trying to protect her 8 year old, blind son from monsters trying to get him. Action is set on the verge of XIX and XX century, in ruins in woods of Russian Empire. Entire game focus on psychological aspects of fear and player interactions with Alexander."
The game's designers had very innovative concepts for interactive game play, suggesting that if the game could ever leave development, it would be one step closer to a Virtual Reality horror environment, based on historical settings, fin-de-siècle psychological illnesses, and traditional superstitions. In other words, the game player would directly experience a new kind of Retro-Futurism, based on a sense of temporal transference and psychological interactions inside the game.
Wiki on the storyline and characters: "Set in pre-WWI Ukraine, Sadness follows the story of Maria Lengyel, a Victorian era aristocrat of Polish-Hungarian origin who has to protect her blind son Alexander after their train to Lviv derails in the countryside. Their subsequent adventures are inspired by Slavic mythology. The game would focus on psychological horror rather than violence: according to Nibris head Piotr Orłowski, the game contained 'associations with narcolepsy, nyctophobia and paranoid schizophrenia' and promised that it would 'surprise' players. The game's visuals were planned as black-and-white stylized gothic horror, differentiating it from other horror games."
The game seems to now be cancelled, with claims that development on it folded in 2010. There are no confirmations on the Nibris website, and it would be great to see this game actually produced. In April 2010, the game's composer, Arkadiusz Reikowskiego, released some of his music for the game to the public. His releases can be found on youtube here.
Credits: All Sadness screenshots are © 2006-2010 Nibris. All rights reserved.
Click to read my related post on the Slovak film, Báthory.