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God save you from the Backrooms


IN THE PAST TWO YEARS THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT BACKROOMS: WEBSITES, STORIES, VIDEOGAMES AND SOON A MOVIE, PRODUCED BY A24 AND DIRECTED BY KANE PIXEL, THE SAME DIRECTOR WHO IN 2022, WITH THE HOMONYMUS SHORT FILM BACKROOMS PUBLISHED ON YOUTUBE, EARNED OVER 40 MILLION VIEWS IN A FEW MONTHS, PLACING HIMSELF IN THE VEIN OF THE SO-CALLED ANALOG HORROR.


The plot of the short is simple: a cameraman finds himself inside a dirty yellow labyrinth (it almost looks like a former corporate building) and, in the company of the annoying buzzing of neon lights, sets out to find a way out. All this, until an ill-defined-looking creature chases our protagonist, transforming the preponderant anxiety into pure terror. The labyrinth falls in the so-called liminal spaces. There are several types: the bedroom, the playground, the school canteen etc. are examples of liminal spaces and they’re united by being drawn from a memory that conveys to us a certain sense of familiarity, referring mainly to our childhood.




Their ability to provoke specific feelings arises from different factors: on one hand we experience the so-called phenomenon of kenopsia (understood as a feeling of unnaturalness that we experience in front of something that turns out to be too different from us), on the other hand we have to deal with a strange form of nostalgia. The concept of liminality in this case marks the boundary between the familiar and the stranger: “strangely familiar.”


Backrooms could be linked back to a limbo structured by levels, at their turn structured by rooms. This theory about the existence of backrooms is quite recent and was born on 4chan in 2019 with an anonymous user who posted an image that today we could define as a place that somehow generates a certain sense of familiarity even if we have never been, with the caption at the bottom : “ If you don’t pay attention and move away from reality in the wrong areas, you will end up in the backrooms, where there is nothing but the stench of an old damp carpet, the madness of a monotonous yellow, the endless background noise of fluorescent lights at maximum hum and about six hundred million square miles of empty rooms randomly divided to trap you. God save you if you hear anything wandering nearby, for surely he has heard you.”





The term no-clip is very common in video games and it indicates a “buggy” (when a videogame character exits outside the map, a point not foreseen by those who created the game itself, in which there are no ways out that can allow you to come back to the starting point). In short, if we find ourselves in the backrooms, we find ourselves inside the error of a reality. In some ways, we could define them almost as non-places, as they lack identity and functional elements, because they transcend even the rules of space and time. Those who find themselves there, immerse themselves in a complete state of alienation that leads them to take contact with the surrounding reality.



There is an image that seems to enclose best of all the sense of liminal spaces of the past (even if aesthetically it comes rather close to the weirdcore genre). It’s an old photo with a retro furnished living room in the background, with yellowish walls, carpet and an old sofa. An enigmatic square window opens in the back wall, showing a very black and starry sky. In the foreground is the silhouette of a child riding a red bicycle: his figure has been obscured by a pattern. The texture is that of the interferences typical of the old cathode ray tube televisions, the classic “snow effect” generated by electromagnetic noise. The text, divided into two parts, above and below as in the most typical of memes, says “You can easily return to the past, but no one is there anymore.” This is why images depicting empty and lifeless childhood places evoke deep and conflicting feelings: nostalgia towards moments in life that we perceive as simpler and more carefree merges with an awareness of the irreversibility of time.






By FRANCESCO SARCINELLA

3 June 2024

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