Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have been scaring the crap out of each other with horror stories inspired by their immediate environments. Nowadays, however, many people don’t seem to realize that we spend most of our waking hours online, be it at home or work, on computers or phones, and our stories have adjusted accordingly.
That’s why I believe it’s time to discuss the Viral Horrors that surround us every day. From Creepypastas to killer memes, these sordid tales are as much a part of our culture as classic campfire stories, only on a much larger scale. So, let’s dive into the story of TheSunVanished, and see if we can come to appreciate these online scares and what they mean to us.
For centuries now, Horror and epistolary storytelling have walked hand-in-hand. From classics like Dracula and Frankenstein to modern-day found-footage films, presenting scary stories as if they were a real collection of recovered diaries, letters and other media is something of a tradition at this point. That being said, in the year of our lord 2019, people rarely share meaningful letters anymore, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find transcripts of phonographic recordings like that of Dracula‘s Dr. Seward. So, what kind of paper-trail can our characters leave behind in order to tell these shocking tales in the digital age? Well, creators like Aidan Elliot have wholeheartedly embraced social media as a means of presenting updated spooky stories like that of TheSunVanished, featuring the same innovative spirit that originally motivated masters like Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley.
Now, what exactly is TheSunVanished? Well, it’s an online horror story and ARG (alternate reality game, for the uninitiated) about a world where the sun quite literally disappeared, leaving survivors to deal with preternatural beings, bizarre infections and impending insanity. While the bulk of this Lovecraftian plot is mostly conveyed through snippets of text, there are also several uploaded photographs and even videos that help fill in the gaps as our nameless protagonist chronicles his plight in this nightmarish environment.
To go into further detail would spoil the fun, as this is one online yarn that takes full advantage of Twitter’s peculiar format, but suffice to say that things escalate very quickly. We’re only fed tidbits of information at a time through concise threads, making the narrative something of a puzzle that must be solved by immersed readers. Of course, there are also the occasional media attachments to remind us that, at least for these unfortunate characters, this is very much a true story.
Sure, the neo-epistolary format has a few drawbacks, especially when you consider some of the less-successful interactive ARG elements (after all, there’s a strange disconnect as the protagonist tries to survive in this desolate reality while still showing up alongside cat memes on your personalized Twitter feed) but the creative energy behind this convincing zero-budget apocalypse more than makes up for that. Plus, the unusual format allows for more realistic interaction between the main character and the other survivors he meets along the way, not to mention the readers that he frequently consults for advice.
The general story begins to stutter a bit as the plot thickens and the protagonist makes contact with more characters (such as in some of the later “segments” when we’re introduced to a mysterious human faction that’s also been trying to survive this mess), though this is a common issue with many online narratives. It also feels a bit too convenient that the most outlandish events are usually told through text-only. I know it’s unreasonable to expect an actual effects budget from a Twitter profile of all things, but the reasoning behind the post formats could have used a little work, and dealing with these “script” issues wouldn’t actually cost any more.
Nevertheless, aspiring horror creators should take note of how TheSunVanished handles the unique language of its chosen platform when preparing their own terrifying digital yarns. I’d also recommend thinking about a satisfying endgame, since most of these projects begin to stumble as they approach the finish line, and some never even make it to the end. Even beyond the realm of the internet, however, I’d love to see these fresh new ideas applied to film and television. A new generation of filmmakers willing to pull inspiration from the current digital world would be quite refreshing, especially in the horror genre.
TheSunVanished may not be a perfect horror experience, but it’s a simple idea that’s been extremely well-executed. I’m in awe at how such a large-scale story can convincingly told with absolutely no outside investment, and can’t wait to read more. While the account is currently on hiatus, the story is still ongoing, with the last post dating back to May, 14th. Aidan Elliot has also been teasing a web-series adaptation of this chilling apocalypse for a while now, and he’s involved in other horror projects as well, such as a short film titled Freywater.
If you’re willing to step into this shadowy world of loneliness and paranoia, the main account to follow is @TheSunVanished, though you’ll also need to keep up with @lostsunnews and @thmadjoy if you want to get the full story. Now, good luck, don’t talk to strangers and beware the headlights as you journey through a mysterious world where the Sun Vanished…