There’s a scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive that I pull up anytime I need to explain to someone who David Lynch is.
Two men sit in a diner and one man explains how he has dreamt their meeting there before and the dream always includes a man who haunts around the back of the diner, feeling them both with terror. There’s nothing particularly gory or scary about the scene and, aside from a limp jump scare toward its conclusion, nothing about it suggests horror at all. And yet it is, for me, one of the single most terrifying scenes ever put to celluloid. It has a singular power to unnerve and make your skin crawl, giving you the nightmarish impression of a fever dream where you trundle down a set of wonky train tracks mutely, moving toward some indescribable horror at the end of the tunnel. For a long time I thought David Lynch was the only filmmaker who could really achieve this effect.
Then I happened upon “Unedited Footage of a Bear”.
The short film burst onto the internet in 2014, broadcast as part of Adult Swim’s Infomercials block which features darkly comic parodies of Tv commercials. The film starts out as shaky camera footage of a bear but then segues into what appears to be an ad for allergy medicine targeted at stressed out mothers. All the hallmarks of those odd American pharmaceutical ads are there: a grey and washed out world filling up with colour because of a magic pill, a happily smiling mother and a long list of worrying symptoms including “sores, double vision and aggression”. And then this ad for “Claridryl” takes a dark and macabre turn involving split personalities and murder.
I had to take a long breath after watching “Unedited Footage” for the first time. It so perfectly nestled itself into the familiar world of medical advertising and then slowly, surreally drifted into something else entirely before I could even register that anything was changing. It haunted and unnerved me, made my skin crawl and the hair on the back of my neck shiver. And that was I how I first met Alan Resnick.
Alan Resnick is a visual artist and filmmaker from Baltimore and he seems to primarily stretch his creative wings through these odd little segments for Adult Swim, likely to terrify any stoners who stay up late expecting Aqua Teen Hunger Force Reruns and end up watching these nightmare visions that Resnick regards as “short films”. His work seems made to go viral in the way that it is so compellingly inexplicable. Although “Unedited Footage” can actually be read as a sly and dark commentary on marketing of anti-depressants with potentially severe side effects, his other work deviates from even this kind of opaque interpretation.
This is a man who made a long term YouTube video project starting in 2012 that only wrapped up (if you can even call the final video uploaded on the channel a “conclusion”) last year. The project entitled “Alan Tutorial” was a bizarre parody of “YouTube tutorials” where youtubers explain with their GoPros and Hypercams how to use Photoshop or make a hidden blade or rob a bank for the benefit of their viewers.
The channel focused on “Alan”, a developmentally disabled boy making odd little imitations of Youtube tutorials on topics such as “how to fill a tiny bin with dirt” or “how to crush a can of Dr Pepper with slats of wood”. Alan opened each video with cheery and childish greetings such as “What’s up tutorial heads?” and in the background of his nonsense tutorials a story of neglect and grieving unfolded. Eventually the videos seemed to depict an Alan abandoned by his carers, uploading videos such as “lost survival skills tutorial: FIND WATER” from the side of a highway. The final video sees a mentally unhinged Alan, imprisoned by some unknown party, trashing a cell littered with bottles of urine and containers of paint while muttering “What’s up Tutorial heads, it’s Alan Tutorial” to himself.
Resnick’s strange power is in his ability to take the familiar elements of a social media soaked society, the unusable “Skip Ad” button that appears in ‘Unedited Footage’ or Alan Tutorials friendly greetings to his fans and subscribers, and reflect back at us the nightmarish reality of how our ability to communicate with one another is really breaking down in this age of connectivity. His most recent video “This House Has People In It” is a grim and bizarre commentary on everything from surveillance to health fads and despite only being posted in March has already racked up nearly a half a million views. Resnick’s films often come with accompanying websites which expand the horror of the footage, grimly mimicking the “multimedia experience” offered by so many content providers today.
Alan Resnick takes the dreams of a society whose sleep is addled by the constant glare of smartphones, and he turns those dreams into freakish nightmares. And yet somehow, I can’t get enough of it.