Eternal, DARKFIELD RADIO’s foray into an immersive form of horror, is deliciously effective, says Caitlin Doyle-Markwick
“I want to put your mind at rest,” a voice whispers in your ear, before it goes on to profoundly unsettle you.
From the moment the robot-like female voice ushers you into your bed and instructs you to turn off the lights and close your eyes, DARKFIELD RADIO’s Eternal is like a taut string, pulling at the edge of your mind and testing its strength. As the bumping and creaking sounds of the night build behind the simpering, maleficent voice by your side, your body becomes tense, ready to leap out of bed and confront the foe that you’re sure is standing in the corner of your room or on the threshold of the shadows. That is, if you’re as prone to a good scare as I am.
DARKFIELD RADIO is a collaboration between UK-based DARKFIELD – made up by Glen Neath and David Rosenberg – and Melbourne production company Realscape Productions. With DARKFIELD’s usual setting of small, confined spaces off the table for the time being, they have switched to creating radio pieces intended to be listened to in the confines of your home.
With its dynamic binaural effects and cyclical, taunting dialogue, Eternal goes beyond the realm of the traditional radio play to create an immersive aural experience, where one’s own bedroom is made to feel like the nightmarish, claustrophobic setting of a Victorian horror story – except that there’s a mobile phone in the room. The various “bumps in the night” are made to seem closer or further away, and could very easily be mistaken for being in your own home. (I’ll admit to momentarily removing the headphones once or twice just to be sure.) The close-up whispering and suckling sounds are particularly spine-tingling – perhaps the antithesis of the ASMR craze of recent years.
The narrator is at once monster and victim. He has been visited by a creature that, whispering in his own ear, has given him the “gift” of eternal life, and encourages the listener to accept the same. But he spends every night in terror at the sounds in his own home, and passes every day prone in his bed, vampirically pale and wan. There are subtle references to horror classics like Dracula, with four “uncles” attempting, hopelessly, to infuse the victim with lifeblood or a cure, and a distinct Poe-like sense of paranoia and madness pervades the piece. DARKFIELD’s specialty in the uncanny also quickly comes into play – an unexplained change in the floorboards here, a mysterious shifted wardrobe there – as we pace the square confines of our respective bedrooms in our minds. Someone, or something, has visited this place.
Eternal taps into what is for many people a deep-rooted fear of the dark, and particularly of being alone in the dark. Perhaps some of us have learned to simply not think about the possibility of something being under the bed or entering our homes at night, knowing that, apart from being improbable, no good sleep lies that way. But, if you allow it to, this piece takes you right back there, to those nights where every creak or gust spelled doom and every ghoul or babadook you ever saw in a movie returned to you. It may help that you can only listen to the piece between the hours of 9:30pm and 1.00am, when the circadian rhythm sends the rational parts of your brain into retreat, their place taken by the more emotional and fear-prone amygdala.
The notion of becoming trapped for eternity – not, like Dorian Gray, in the peak of our lives, but in a state of limbo between life and death, like the weak, consumptive figures in the works of Oscar Wilde’s contemporaries – is on a profound, existential level, horrifying. Eternal seems to liken this state of sickness to that haunted phase between waking hours and sleep; that semi-lucid state that might also be reached in the throes of psychosis or by imbibing any number of its “treatments”. In any case, after nearly a year of all things being in perpetual limbo, the feeling is eerily relatable.
While Eternal creates a general sense of horror, and genuine fear in those susceptible to it, the evocation of and reliance on so many existing horror tropes within the 20 minute piece unfortunately, unlike DARKFIELD’s previous works, leaves little room for new conceptual territory within the genre. It almost feels as though the mobile phone has been deliberately placed in the scene to place us in the modern world. This only serves to heighten the anticipation of the next piece, in the hope that it will meet the level of technical mastery in Eternal with a slightly more daring narrative.
Ultimately it’s an exciting and satisfying foray into a new format for the horror genre – one that leaves the hair on the back of your neck standing up, as you bask in the delicious fear of the sounds and creatures of the night – to the point that you almost hope they turn out to be real…
Eternal by DARKFIELD RADIO can be listened to until the 31st of January.
Further reading: Robert Reid on Darkfield Radio’s Visitors