Tired of Horror Movies? Try Playing Until Dawn
People always laugh when I tell them that I almost fell asleep my first time watching The Conjuring (2013). It’s true—I saw it at home with some friends, and about two-thirds of the way through the movie, I found myself curled up in my seat, eyelids struggling to stay open. I know a lot of people love it, but for me, the film was a little exhausting. The relatively predictable religious horror setup didn’t frighten me much at all, so I felt super disengaged for most of the experience.
Even if you disagree with me about the merit of The Conjuring in particular, I bet you’ve watched a few horror movies that elicited the same bored reaction from you. Once you’ve seen enough of them, certain tropes just don’t frighten you like they used to, and even jump scares become predictable. Sometimes it feels like the more horror movies you watch, the better you can guess what’s coming and the less scared you are whenever you see a new film. When you reach that point, it’s not long before pretty much everything—yes, even The Conjuring—can leave you feeling nonplussed.
What can you do when a genre that’s supposed to viscerally scare you becomes predictable at best and completely disengaging at worst? When you could truly watch any horror movie and still sleep like a baby at night, it can be tough to find something exciting and creepy to break you out of that rut. I’d suggest playing Until Dawn (2015).
Developed by Supermassive Games, Until Dawn tells the story of eight friends stranded at a lodge during a snowstorm. The power’s out, the lift back to civilization is broken, tensions are running high… and that’s all before the group discovers they’re not alone on the mountain. Soon, the friends are confronted with hidden killers, death traps, and mysterious beings in the woods. As the night goes on, the only objective is simply to keep as many people alive as possible.
The gameplay mostly consists of a time-sensitive decision-making mechanic—throughout the night, you transition between the points of view of several main characters, watching cinematic cutscenes and then making choices that will influence the outcome of the game. It’s up to you to decide whether you’ll be a team player or fight for yourself, give an old friend the cold shoulder or try to heal past wounds. Though some decisions may seem innocuous at first, they can ultimately determine whether different characters live or die. Beyond making difficult choices with unclear consequences, you’re prompted to complete basic quicktime events to escape danger and help characters stay alive.
As someone who loves the horror genre but isn’t great at video games, Until Dawn totally blew me away. Thanks to its decision-making format, it’s super easy to learn how to play and the game feels more difficult for its moral dilemmas than its actual game mechanics.
Here’s the more important selling point—Until Dawn scared me like nothing else had in so long! I had to make decisions and click buttons under pressure, so I was forced to stay constantly engaged in a way that felt so much more intense than just passively watching a movie. I couldn’t put my hands over my eyes to avoid a jump scare, since I had to be holding onto the controller. Plus, it felt more difficult to predict when something frightening might happen, because I was so engrossed in watching any given scene unfold that I would sometimes be caught completely off guard by scares.
I felt so invested the entire time I was playing because Until Dawn forced me not to look away. I had to be paying close attention because at any moment I might be asked to quickly choose between running away or staying to confront a villain, saving myself or presumably leaving a friend for dead. We’re always yelling at characters in horror movies to pick the obviously correct choice, but Until Dawn put me in the position to make those decisions under pressure, with other characters yelling at me, and it showed me that the choice that seems right might not actually pay off in the end.
That’s another great thing about Until Dawn. It has so many different narrative threads that don’t initially seem related but eventually come together, so you’re constantly kept guessing about who or what might be the real threat to your safety. And, because of the format, you can’t sit idly by to find out. You’re forced to guess, making your best educated decision based on incomplete information. Sometimes seemingly bad choices lead to surprisingly good outcomes, and other times you think you’re making the right decision only to end up with another character dead.
Of course, every game has its downsides, and this one is definitely no exception—for me, the worst part about it is the questionable use of First Nations culture to round out certain parts of the story. I highly encourage you to read these articles that I found helpful while thinking about cultural appropriation and why the discussion of First Nations culture in this game feels off. I found the second article particularly insightful in its analysis of how non-Indigenous people feature problematically in stories that attempt to co-opt Indigenous cultural touchpoints. Be warned: these articles contain spoilers about certain cultural elements cited in Until Dawn, so you may want to read them after playing if you don’t want to spoil some surprises.
Despite the fact that it certainly isn’t perfect, I really enjoyed Until Dawn and its scares (not to mention its production value!) on the whole. It just felt so immersive and engaging in a way that provided an intensity and anxiety I hadn’t felt from horror movies for a while. Now that I’ve played Until Dawn, I’m going to check out some more Supermassive Games, so stay tuned for reviews of the Dark Pictures Anthology (2019-2021) coming soon!
Until Dawn (2015) Official PS4 Launch Trailer