14.1 C
New York
Monday, April 15, 2024

‘The Quarry’ Lets You Experience What’s Great About Slasher Films

When I was a teenager, my friends would host horror movie nights, and their reactions were as enjoyable as the films themselves. One friend would always say that he liked the film, but then could not relay even the most basic details of the plot (“I got a bit confused toward the end, I'll be honest,” as the credits rolled on Texas Chainsaw Massacre). During a screening of Saw, another lay on the bed face up, like a corpse in the morgue, one of his socks placed over his eyes. When he attended the next month, he sat on the windowsill with the window firmly shut, occasionally turning back to see if he could return.

What I took from those nights is that horror movies work best when viewed in a group. This is especially true if the film is bad. The pulpy lower rung of the slasher genre may not win awards, but gory kills and jump scares are about physical presence and communal feeling: an audience united in terror.

The developer Supermassive Games makes interactive dramas that tap into this effect. Its games mix slasher films with video game mechanics, a system the company calls the “butterfly effect,” referencing chaos theory, where the action of each character can divert the story. During the pandemic, I played the developer’s first effort, Until Dawn, with a housemate; as the characters’ plights deepened, so did our joy. When we made a choice that caused a saw blade to spring a protagonist’s intestines free from their belly like snakes from a can, we laughed and laughed. 

The company's latest game, The Quarry, released this week, is obviously a throwback to a specific kind of slasher horror that has waxed and waned in popularity since 1978’s Halloween; less obviously, it is also a throwback to an older kind of play, too.

Like so many horror flicks, The Quarry opens with a car on a highway, winding through deep woods. Ariana Grande warbles in the background. (The game deploys amusingly corny licensed music.) A young couple, who the horror literate viewer suspects are ripe for butchering, have set a course for Hackett’s Quarry, a summer camp where they're scheduled to work as instructors. A crash, an ear-whispering ghost, and a creepy cop ensure they aren't going to make it. Now you take control of the six instructors they were supposed to join. Camp has concluded, and with the children bused to freedom, Mr. H, the camp manager, seems agitated, insisting the teens evacuate the premises before dark. Unfortunately, the group's van has broken down, and they'll have to stay another night. Mr. H drives off in a fury, screaming at them to stay inside; instead, naturally, they decide to knick his beer and have a party.

Most PopularBusinessThe End of Airbnb in New York

Amanda Hoover

BusinessThis Is the True Scale of New York’s Airbnb Apocalypse

Amanda Hoover

CultureStarfield Will Be the Meme Game for Decades to Come

Will Bedingfield

GearThe 15 Best Electric Bikes for Every Kind of Ride

Adrienne So

The Quarry is a carefully threaded tapestry of horror cliché. The camp itself is the kind of place where you might take the scenic route—an area is literally called “scenic route"—to skinny dip in the old swimming hole, only to have Jason drag you down to swampy hell. The game’s protagonists are all archetypal slasher characters, updated for the present day. This being a game, it breaks these stock formulas down to their algorithmic core: at the select screen, characters get traits like “athletic,” “arrogant,” “funny.” There's the shy, podcast-listening guy, the Instagram-story-obsessed influencer. And, of course, there’s the backward-cap-wearing jock, who delivers many high fives and says things like "we'll see about that" when he sees a no-swimming sign and "my beerdar is beeping" when he detects alcohol. Everyone is good looking, even the “nerds,” and in typical slasher movie patter, they bicker about going back to school and who they want to get with, as sex and death skip hand in hand.

As you might have discerned, The Quarry's writers are definitely in on the joke: The game drips in irony and revels in its pulpy grammar. This is not "elevated horror," if we take that term to mean anything, but a traditional slasher, even less subversive than recent creations like X and Bodies Bodies Bodies. "You've seen Evil Dead, right?" one protagonist says as he descends into a basement, and the film was a heavy influence on Until Dawn; The Quarry is probably less that and more Friday the 13th. (Creative director Will Byles also cites Sleepaway Camp.) I sensed a bit of Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, too, but considering the protagonists face threats from ghosts, hillbillies, and bat creatures, you can pick your influence.

Of course, The Quarry is not a film, and there is gameplay in the traditional sense, some fixed perspective walking a la Silent Hill or early Resident Evil, some aiming of guns, and some collecting of items, like tarot cards. 

But that’s not what makes it compelling. The reason we're here is for the Heavy Rain-esque decision trees. On this front, the filmic analogues are a bit different: Bandersnatch, obviously, but there's also something very Final Destination or Cabin in the Woods about this unfolding sense of possible scares and deaths. Do you kick the door open or pick the lock? Do you climb down a pit of eternal darkness or keep spinning on Mr. H's chair? Some of these decisions take the form of quick-time events, like jumping over the boulders of a lake or holding your breath to escape a bat creature. When you decide something monumental, “Path Chosen” appears on the shuddering screen, indicating a consequential cleavage in the story.

What may go under the radar here is The Quarry's thoughtful incorporation of an antique mode: Couch co-op, which has seen, like slasher films, a small recent revival. Friends each pick a teen and pass the controller around and try not to die: It's here that the game is at its best. I hooked up my PC to the projector, and my housemates, including those who think gaming is a pathology, settled in with some beers. A game of Truth or Dare had everyone shouting dares not for publication. Purposely messing up a quick time event so a character smashes their face into a low-hanging branch will never not be funny. Later, as I controlled the influencer, she relayed to her Instagram followers, “Shall I open the trap door and die a horrible death?" Reader, I opened the trap door, as she shouted, "Goodbye cruel world!"

This fun overrides The Quarry's limitations: Its graphics veer from yucky to gorgeous, often in the same scene, and the game's rendering of faces still falls foul of the uncanny valley, with characters' mouths sliding over toothsome grins. It’s also a game that is not so much scary as it is amusing, and it left me wanting a non-ironic slasher, something genuinely nasty and terrifying, even thoughtful, that puts the same format to use. Still, The Quarry is a fantastic party game. It’s a reminder of what violent and scary fiction is for—bonding us closer together.

Related Articles

Latest Articles