Spatial Delineations: Crafting A Horror ‘No-place’ To Explore Progressive Female Representation

Dr. Bryan Ott

Abstract :

Much has been written about the symbolic use of setting and landscape in horror as a metaphorical or allegorical backdrop to plot and characterization. For example, Karl Schoonover writes that “horror settings operate as challenges to existing symbolic systems” (2018, 347). In doing so, as Jonathan Lemkin corroborates, a supernatural landscape contributes to a potential “implosion of the archetype” (1984, 324). Female characters heightened challenges and new conceptual awareness “call into question [her] adequacy of rational thought to organize and structure the sensible world of appearance” (Stoneman and Packer 2017, 33). That is not to suggest that female characters will fall victim to a form of supernatural “gaslighting”. When included into the story, the male characters are equally affected by the infused horror but, removed from the central narrative position, the male characters are not granted the required agency to overcome its power, unlike the empowered, centralized female characters. Ultimately, in her new enlightened state, she may, more completely, engage the challenges necessary to overturn the systemic oppressiveness of her environment. 

My supernatural interests incorporate Thacker’s thesis and lean toward Ethan Stoneman and Joseph Packer’s  explanation of supernatural horror, which they label “weird fiction” (2017, 25). They describe supernatural horror as a storytelling space that

          by contrast, works to create a blurring effect with              respect to spatial delineations and in such a way                that, on Thacker’s view, natural and supernatural              blend into a kind of ambient, atmospheric no-                    place. (35)

It is precisely within this supernatural blurring effect of space that “the weird tale of supernatural horror circumvents the habitual, intellectual, and social barriers that otherwise preserve one’s sense of reality” (31). This lends to a storyteller’s potential symbolic use of space that may contribute to new ways of thinking surrounding the use of the atmospheric ‘no-place’ horror setting as a spatial tool to redefine the centralized female heroine. 

This film and video project employs a practice-led research (PLR) methodology to develop an inquiry at the intersection of post-feminism and visual media storytelling. It aims to generate, work with and test craft methods that promise new representations of progressive female heroes situated within visually abstract horror-infused spaces.

Objectives :

To explore how the supernatural blurring of narrative space, including the fragmentation of visual images, potentially elevates their traditional symbolic function in the crafting of progressive female characters. 

My creative work explores how feminist power is connected to the way that symbolic  and physical space are able to be re-coded through combining and transforming the natural world with haunted environs of horror to create a narrative ‘no place’. In the new landscape, evil manifests within the very fabric of the land, and comes to both embody and resist patriarchal authority. In this uncanny setting, the female characters must confront and overcome their fears – fears rooted in both the supernatural and the tangible. This challenge of confronting the supernatural potentially unearths “otherwise hidden knowledge that can now finally be revealed and perhaps then understood and controlled” (Braudy 2016, 3), and ultimately works to redefine the terms of the female hero’s existence. I will suggest that in this new fragmented landscape, accessible forms of progressive female heroism may emerge.

Conceptual Framework :

Crafting female characters who are empowered and empowering within a heightened supernatural environment requires engagement with a post-feminist methodology that encompasses a multifaceted approach. 


To clarify, post-feminism appeals to the shared experience of repression felt and voiced by all women, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, class and age. Rita Felski describes post-feminism as “an appeal to a shared experience of oppression provides the starting point from which women as a group can open up the problem of gender” (1989, 168–9). This opening-up of viewpoints and expressions allowed for new readings of patriarchy and a higher degree of fluid engagement, especially around “gender identity [and] femininity at least [that] challenged notions of gender identity as fixed and unitary” (Kuhn 1994, 216). As such, my narrative strategies are guided by my post-feminist framework, which provides a lens through which to interrogate my storytelling approach, and measure my results.

A central narrative strategy to work toward these aims, includes “re-order[ing] the signs within narrative conventions, giving us unfamiliar images of women; [through which] we make  unfamiliar identifications, sympathies and alliances and are given new  perceptions” (Kaplan 1976, 52). Hybridity of space allows for such a reordering of  signs. This includes a potential shift in the symbolic meaning attached to images,  and to the space where character development occurs. It is important to  understand that it is not simply the act of shifting the power dynamics of the male/female characters within the same space, but the act of changing the nature of the space, that is crucial. The infusion of supernatural tropes allows for a new landscape that changes the inherent symbolic use of space.

Process / Methodology :

Techniques and Materials :

Result / Conclusion :

I have presented a craft-based and theorized methodology, as developed and tested through my creative approach and the political framings of the project, that allows centralized female characters to expand the limits of power within a horror-infused narrative ‘no-place’. The practice-led research process supports exactly this type of investigation wherein potential outcomes “bring into view, particularities that reflect new social and other realities” (Barette 2010, 4) that may not otherwise emerge from a more traditional, qualitative research methodology. As such, it is my intent to apply and expand upon the ideas discussed in this development-process, and continue exploring the craft approach that best supports empowered centralized female heroes; including more traditional forms of narrative storytelling, such as the film screenplay.

References :

Barrett, E. (2010). Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.


Braudy, L. (2016). Haunted: On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Felski, R. (1989). Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press.


Kaplan, A. (1976). Aspects of British Feminist Film Theory. Jump Cut 12 (13): 52–5.


Kuhn, A. (1994). Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema. London: Verso.


Lemkin, J. (1984). Archetypal Landscape and Jaws. In B. K. Grant and C. Sharrett (Ed.), Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film, 321–31. Maryland: The Scarecrow Press.


Schoonover, K. (2018). What We Do with Vacant Spaces in Horror Films?: Horror and the Aesthetics of Landscape. Wayne State University Press, Discourse 40 (3): 342–57.

Stoneman, Ethan and J. Packer. (2017). No, Everything is Not All Right: Supernatural Horror as Pessimistic Argument. Horror Studies 8 (1): 25–43.

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