Quick Recommendations IV

Stuff I’ve consumed recently. Horror-adjacent.

Fran Bow (game)

A fun little quest about a girl in a mental clinic taking a new drug and starting seeing weird shit that may or may not be real. Then it gets weirder still. Despite a fair amount of gore, I’d say it’s closer to macabre fantasy than outright horror. The focus is on exploration of the strange world you’ve found yourself in and interactions with quirky characters (even if one of them is the mother of all darkness) rather than on wallowing in fear and hopelessness. Basically, think JAGS Wonderland, it’s about the right vibe for it.

Representation-wise, I’m really not the best person to judge how well mental illness is portrayed. I’ve seen reviews from people with depression saying it was good, though, and fair to how mental illness can feel, so I guess the game must be doing something right. My own issue with the game on that front is that it’s probably too ambiguous, to the point that some people argue Fran’s visions are caused by the drug only rather than an actual illness. It helps the story because it does manage to pull of unreliable narrator reasonably well, but it also obscures the game’s treatment of mental illness itself.

Gameplay-wise, it’s a pretty typical point-and-click adventure: you walk around, gather stuff, combine stuff and use it on other stuff, pretty simple and conventional. There are also some mini-games between chapters. They’re simple, but you can actually skip them if you’re stuck or just not in the mood to deal with them.

Overall, it’s a nice little adventure game you should check out if you like the genre.

The Lost Room (TV show)

I’m going to assume you’re all familiar with Unknown Armies RPG because if you’re not, I don’t know you anymore. Anyway, the Lost Room is most famous in certain circles for its similarities to UA when it comes to the nature and treatment of supernatural elements.

The basic premise is that there was a room in a random run-down motel in the middle of nowhere, and one day something happened there. Nobody really knows what, though everyone has a theory: God has died there, reality has broken apart, etc. Whatever it was, the room has disappeared from the face of the Earth, and various mundane items that were inside (a clock, a knife, a pair of scissors, etc.) were found outside. Those items, imaginatively called Objects, have gained mystical powers. A brush can stop time for a few seconds, a pencil can incinerate anything you poke with it, a clock can boil eggs (and nothing more), etc.

The protagonist of the show is a cop who obtains the key to the eponymous lost room under unfortunate circumstances and enters the world of a strange occult underground with various cabals and random people warring for possessions of Objects to feed their obsessions.

I really like the world-building of the show because it’s just the right kind of weirdness for me, and I appreciate the theme of obsession, of destroying your life in the name of one thing that matters to you even though other people can’t even begin to understand what’s the big deal with it.

…Unfortunately, other aspects of the show are deeply flawed. The acting is so-so. While actors occasionally manage to pull off a good emotional moment, mostly it’s just bland. Whenever someone says, “Oh my God,” it’s pretty much guaranteed to be an incredibly wooden monotone. There is a tonal issue with the show rather abruptly switching between drama and comedy, which is especially jarring in case of the first antagonist, who goes from a fairly threatening murderer to a pathetic comic relief. The protagonist is pretty bland and has no chemistry with his love interest (who really should have been just a partner: they work fine together so long as the romance is not involved).

On the other hand, a secondary villain from a subplot was pretty fun in how batshit he was in a subdued way.

So, overall, it’s a mediocre show with some really good ideas. Check it out if you like UA or this particular brand of weirdness, but otherwise pass on it.

The Booth at the End (TV show)

Now, this one is fun. The basic premise is that there is a man occupying the eponymous booth at a diner who can grant any wish. There is, however, a price: for the wish to be granted, you must perform a certain task he determines by consulting a mysterious journal. Often, it’s something evil like killing a man or robbing a bank, but other times it’s something good like protecting a little girl for two weeks or something seemingly random like making a particular phone call and saying particular words.

In either case, it’s typically a long-term project, and the clients are obligated to report on their progress to the man as well as telling him how they feel about the whole deal, what they think they should do, etc. Which serves as the basis of the show: the entirety of it is set in the same location (the booth) where we see people telling their reports to the man. As a result, the show is focused squarely on character study and exploration of psychology of people involved, and it does it pretty well, exploring the themes of desperation, what people are willing to do to get what they want and how we build cages out of our lives, blinding ourselves to obvious solutions and telling ourselves we have no choice.

So, yeah, definitely check this one out.

Invasion, by Jenna Moran (book)

A short illustrated children’s book about existential horror. Saying more would be a spoiler because it’s, like, a dozen of pages long, and a lot of the effect comes from illustrations anyway. Check it out, it’s fun.

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