Don’t Get Lost in ‘The Backrooms’

In this short, nine-minute video by Kyle Parsons, an amateur film crew is wrapping up an exterior scene for what looks to be a low-budget horror movie. Then there’s a sudden lurching motion, a yelp of surprise, and the cameraman is — elsewhere.

The rooms seem to go on forever. One mundane, featureless box after another. Fluorescent lights buzzing. Dank old carpet stretching out in all directions. Endless corridors turning back on themselves. Air shafts, enclosed courtyards — what is this place?

It’s kind of quasi-industrial, or suffocatingly technocratic, in its aesthetic. Aside from the vague sounds of lighting and HVAC systems, it’s eerily quiet — and it goes on, it seems, forever.

It could be an abandoned office building, a convention center, a parking structure or subway platform. Some of the tracking shots, as the lost cameraman moves through the winding corridors, even evokes Kubrick’s lonely Overlook Hotel interiors.

It’s incredibly paranoid shit, and, refreshingly, is not a corporate franchise, but rather an artifact of the general cultural ferment that is creepypasta and 4chan.

The idea of the Backrooms is not sui generis, however; it seems, rather, an echo of the mystical/mythic interiors of M.C. Escher’s non-Euclidean, Möbius loop etchings, or the grandiose, imaginary prisons and architectural follies of Giovanni Piranesi.

“Le Carceri d’Invenzione (The Round Tower)”; Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1761)

Piranesi’s bizarre and intriguing imaginary structures were also a primary inspiration for Susanna Clarke’s (of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” fame) striking 2021 fantasy novel “Piranesi,” in which a young man, lost in the interior of an endless series of halls, vestibules and staircases, struggles to rediscover his identity and, perhaps, a path home.

Yet the Backrooms, as realized by Parsons, are altogether more malevolent in nature than Clarke’s antique, and abstractly arcane, interiors.

Parsons brings a grainy, lo-res quality to his work. The film, shot on video tape, is treated in-story as found footage, dating back to 1996. Through the first-person perspective of the lost and increasingly panicked camerman, Parsons creates an atmospheric, ingenious and creepy visual experience.

A video explainer breaks down the idea of the Backrooms — or you can read more on the cultural phenomenon on Wikipedia. You can also support Kane Parsons on his Ko-Fi account.

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