Somewhere in the 1970s Martin Stockdotter is an experimental musician tasked with making a Halloween sound effect album. His ambition was to make it the scariest one ever recorded and he would succeed all too well.
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Primal Screen, (Episode 1, entitled The Wooden Boy) attempts to explore some of the more haunting imagery of pop culture influences that children have been exposed to and examines how it affected their growing minds. By focusing on a couple of very specific pop culture references experienced by three individuals growing up in the 70's, the documentary persuades the viewer to look back into their own pasts and examine the pop culture artifacts that may have left some dark impressions on their youth.
The 1978 movie entitled Magic, starring Anthony Hopkins, is heavily concentrated upon throughout the feature, as its television aired preview was something that stuck out in the minds of the young people who saw it. Specifically, the experiences of three individuals are shared with us through the narrative and visual reenactments. Ventriloquist dummies, and dolls in general, provide some of the narrative focus in addition to the movie, Magic. The movie's ultimate psychological premise is paralleled with the inferences made throughout the documentary, leaving us with a chilling conclusion that only begs further contemplation.
What I personally found most interesting about this Primal Screen short is the commonality of experience for children of the late 70s. What the narrators describe in their personal accounts is sharply similar to my own, which only adds to the overall impact for me. The main focal element of this brief study is the creeping fear associated with insentient human forms. It even highlights the phenomenon as it is represented in terms of psychology and sociocultural concepts.
The concepts touched upon here include automatonophobia and what is referred to in the field of aesthetics as the uncanny valley. Automatonophobia is the morbid fear of replicated humanoid forms, such as ventriloquist dummies, animatronic creatures, wax statues, or any inanimate object that simulates a sentient being. What the uncanny valley refers to is that eerie, uneasy feeling that occurs in a person at the moment a humanoid figure is perceived to be unreal by its observer. The uncanniness is the unease and feelings of dread that builds in a person when they notice the strangeness of an object that is all at once both familiar and detached. The valley refers to that moment between recognition of a thing that seems familiar and the understanding that it is somehow not right, which leads to a dip in positive emotional response.
While taking us into the the three narrators' own experiences with the onset of this specific phobic reaction through the perceptive point of the uncanny valley, we are drawn into a better understanding of how pop culture and social interactions through childhood can affect our lives in very formative ways. It is therefore, a vivid psychological and sociocultural observation of how fear may shape us.
I think so much more could be touched on and explored on this topic, so I do hope that Shudder decides to make more episodes - though I don't hold out much hope for this since the one and only episode was released in 2017. That being said, though this episode is only 27minutes long, it does a really good job of drawing the audience in and leaving you to ponder your own fears that have come up through childhood and pop culture. I highly recommend this one.
As a side note, The writer of this documentary short, Rodney Ascher , is also the writer and director of the 2012 documentary Room 237, which explores various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's horror film, The Shining (1980). I've seen that one also and believe it to be really well made. It's a lengthier production than Primal Screen at 103 minutes and really highlights the creative documentary talents of Ascher.
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