Out of Time: Anachronism and Ambiguity in The Guest (2014), It Follows (2014), The Void (2016)

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While recent strands of genre screen media have increasingly engaged with retro aesthetics, this has overarchingly been via either period pieces (Stranger Things, Rent-A-Pal, The House of the Devil) or references to obsolete media formats and past objects which return to haunt characters in contemporary settings (Archive ‘81, Deadwax, Rings). However, there is a discernible cycle that instead takes a retro approach by occupying indeterminate and ambiguous eras. This article analyses films including It Follows, The Guest and The Void, and explores how they use anachronistic styles to uncanny effect.

Whereas a text like Stranger Things encourages nostalgia via a clear 1980s period setting, these films blur the line between past and present, refusing to acknowledge either a recognisable temporal location or the audience’s desire for spotting uncomplicated pop-cultural references to a specific moment in the recent past. It Follows and The Guest employ a dreamy, ethereal quality which evokes a period setting, while the aesthetic of The Guest and The Void appear indebted to the work of popular genre filmmakers from the 1970s and 1980s such as John Carpenter. All three films adopt narrative and genre conventions of popular past horror modes such as slashers, monster movies and violent action thrillers. They also feature anachronistic, obsolete, or even invented technological devices, electro/synth scores, retro fashion, classic vehicles, and practical effects homaging horror make-up maestros such as Rob Bottin. These anachronisms are furthered by settings which allow for unsettling liminality; despite being set in towns and city limits, the characters appear isolated, cut off from identifiable modernity in places which seem somehow timeless.

We suggest that the function of this anachronistic approach to retro style is twofold. Firstly, like many other retro texts, it allows for homage to and engagement with past styles. However, its ambiguity and refusal to clearly adhere to any particular era enables a more extensive bricolage; the genre-savvy creators of these films pluck various parts from loosely connected but deeply genre-relevant past styles to construct new, but reverent, genre modes. Secondly, these films all narratively engage with themes of loss; protagonists mired in grief are suspended in ethereal limbos – not only in time and place but also in mind. These indeterminate liminal settings underscore characters’ untethered states as they process their losses and work towards closure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalClio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History
Publication statusIn preparation - 2023


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