The Scariest Silence

There’s a significant beauty in the art of horror.  It’s human nature to have something that you’re afraid of, and there’s so many triggers in life that can make someone squirm, shriek, or hide in terror.  I think that’s why I’m fascinated by the horror genre in an interactive game form: with a book or movie the character is put in a scenario that can be tense, mortifying, or downright unpleasant to experience.  But in a horror game the liberty to hide or duck away from terror is stripped from you, the character must move forward, and you must brave the screen and indulge in the hellacious unknowns that are hiding before you.

Many of the building blocks of horror are supplied in the realm of the unknown, where Anatomy drops its players into.  On a scratchy VHS recording during the summer of 1994 our lead stares down a house dimly lit by the readjustment of their eyes and the soft, yet vibrant glow from a far off tape recorder.  The kitchen, as well as the rest of the two story house, is minimally decorated, a cozy middle class lifestyle buried under the heavy sand of darkness.  An unmarked tape sits idly next to the recorder. No instructions are given as to what the tape is for, but the sense of discovery wills the hand to feed it into the recorder.  As the tape winds through, the austere tone of a woman describes the feelings of a home to its owner: why we feel comfort in a home, why we feel complacency, concern, trepidation.  Each tape peels off a layer of this Delphic residence, and a door once locked clicks open, revealing another piece of the house’s innards like a thorough inspection of its anatomy.

In the world of horror a tense build-up balances victims’ emotions equally to the cruelty of what becomes revealed.  Anatomy shoulders the build-up so far to that side it’s like a child desolately playing on a teeter-totter.  The sound design is deviously minimalist, white noise throughout the house giving just enough to reverb into your headphones, and gives you the feeling that something is always watching.  The lack of movement within the house gives the creeping feeling of something ready to pop out from around the corner, but Anatomy keeps the tension at a fever pitch, patiently buying it’s time to scare it’s audience.  When a new door is opened the white noise will at random cut out, setting the scene for what will inexplicably have something jump out to terrify the player.

But Anatomy knows that a jump scare will cause a brief moment of panic, and an eventual sigh of relief will come afterward.  Think of any horror game you’ve played in the past few years: when the white noise quiets down, the volume soon ramps up to allow the biggest scare the game can manage.  Once that happens the game has done its job and starts to set itself up for the next scare.  Anatomy does everything it can to set its stage for a scare, but never gives the player that sweet release of the expected fright. It masterfully plays to the tropes of games you’ve previously played, letting the player fill in the blank of when they expect a scare to happen, hyping themselves up for it, and letting each agonizing minute pass without their expectation fulfilled.  It’s absolutely nerve-wracking, and some of the best horror I’ve played this year.

Anatomy will not take up a lot of your time as the run time clocks in around 45-60 minutes, but each minute is stress-inducing, stomach turning, and unwaveringly demands your attention.  In a bloated genre of cheap scares and loud distractions, it says a lot that the quietest of them all is one of the scariest titles I’ve ever encountered.

Reviewed on