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Colour, embodiment and dread in High Tension and A Tale of Two Sisters

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With their elaborate twist endings and blurred character identities, Haute Tension/ High Tension (Alexandre Aja, 2003/2005) and Janghwa, Hongryeon/A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-woon 2003) exemplify what Thomas Elsaesser calls the ‘mind game film’. At the same time, they embody the raw physicality of horror cinema. As in many Gothic stories, the state of bodies (missing, wounded, corrupted) and of minds (frightened, paranoid, psychotic) is made manifest in the ‘body’ of the text itself. Thus, the greenish hues of High Tension suggest a body in decay, while in A Tale of Two Sisters the artful combination of red and green tones inflects otherwise restrained scenes with a fleshy physicality. Colour operates at a heightened level in these films, both as an affective trigger and a narrative code. It embodies ‘bad feeling’ but also offers a key to ‘reading’ the unstable relationship between the actual and the virtual. It also tells us, finally, about genre, orchestrating a fluid movement between the restrained atmospherics of what Cynthia Freeland refers to as ‘art-dread’, and the raw power of graphic horror, between psychological anxiety and visceral embodiment.

Keywords: chromophobia; colour; dread; embodiment; horror films; mind-game films

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The University of Auckland

Publication date: April 30, 2012

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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