Translated from its original Slovenian ‘Kŕhke Kosti’ is ‘Brittle Bones’ in English, an apt name for Joanna Shears latest experimental horror which, over the course of 90 seconds, conveys a searing sense of unease. Shears’ work is unlike anything we’ve featured on Twelve Cabins before. It is horror focused around experimentation and designed to frighten the audience through pure atmosphere alone. We spoke with Shears below about this unique take on terror, and the process of assemblage that goes along with it.
Did you set out to make a film or was it the product of capturing the footage?
I’m constantly collecting footage wherever I go. I film everything on my phone and it is full of footage of things I find unsettling or uneasy. I love the raw quality of using the things you have to hand to produce work. It forces you to be creative in a different way. The spontaneity of catching things in the moment gives an immediacy to the work. Some of the footage I collect can sit in my phone for a long time before I have an idea and start work on it, but when I shot this footage in Slovenia I immediately had a vision for the finished piece.
At what point did you realise this footage was so unsettling?
I made this film during a midnight walk in the snowy Slovenian mountains. We were walking near a lake and it was pitch black and deathly quiet. I have a crippling fear of the dark so I was hyper aware of the potential to capture something unsettling and I let that fear guide me. My brother and I were using our phone torches to light our way and I noticed the sparkle of the snow and how creepy the shadows and darkness beyond it felt in contrast. Anything could be lurking in the dark. I am a horror obsessive and for me the best scares come when the danger is just out of sight. You will always fill in the blanks with what frightens you the most and I love it when a film gives space to that.
Could you talk about the field recordings, what is it that we can hear? And did you capture them at the same location?
The field recordings were also captured that night in the mountains. What you can hear is manipulated field recordings of me walking through the snow. The creak of my boots and the crunch of the snow, along with ambient recordings of the nearby lake. I like to use familiar sounds and then altar them so they are just outside of recognition. There’s a bit of horror theory that I really resonate with, using something recognisable but changing it slightly to make it unsettling. It’s a survival instinct that’s built into us as humans to fear things that we recognise but that appear ‘off’ in some way.
The simplicity of the film is what makes it work as such a tense ride, did you ever find yourself resisting the temptation to add more to it?
Absolutely. In kŕhke kosti it was really important to keep the soundscape clean to convey the unsettling feeling of walking through the mountains in the dead of night. Allowing the sound to come out of the darkness rather than taking up all the oxygen in the film. Often when I’m working on a soundscape I’ll throw a number of different field recordings on the slate and then work on stripping it back.
I’ll sometimes trial a lot of different sounds for my films but find that some of my most successful soundscapes are composed from one field recording that has been manipulated in different ways. I love stretching and slowing down sounds. It allows you to pick up on tiny details within the recording. It’s often where you find the most intriguing noises.
Do you have any more films or projects lined up in the future?
I have just completed a new film that focuses on making the viewer feel motion sick. The footage was shot at a river in Devon and the soundscape is made from field recordings of creaking seaweed. I did a lot of midnight undersea filming during the summer and I am currently working on the soundscape for that. The idea is for the film to feel suffocating and induce panic.
In addition to my films I create stand alone soundscapes to be enjoyed in the dark. I have also created soundscapes which were produced for a crawl through installation I made from cardboard boxes. It included a real pine forest, a hidden cabin, and a water feature made from a real pheasant and exotic beetles. I asked some friends to test run it and got feedback like “What just happened?!” and “What’s wrong with you?” which is always a good sign you’ve hit the unsettling nail on the head. My work is less about narrative and is instead focused on manipulating the way the viewer feels in that moment. Not all of my work would be considered horror in the traditional sense but it takes cues from horror to explore the body’s elemental sensory responses to unfamiliar audiovisual environments.