Short Film Showcase Sundays: The Backrooms

The internet, to the absolute surprise of no one in the Fake News era, is a fertile breeding ground for mythology and lore. The urban legends and campfire stories of days past have since given way to stories told in obscure chat rooms and anonymous forums, built up over time before eventually breaching the mainstream and ingraining themselves into popular culture.

From the earliest days of the internet, when Something Awful Forums birthed the Slenderman, on to the late 2000s, where ‘creepypastas’ reigned supreme, all the way up to today, where AI art generators spit out monstrosities like ‘Loab’ to haunt our Twitter feeds, the digital landscape is a constant factory for new horror imagery and mythology.

Recently, one of the more curious and elaborate bits of internet lore in recent years has been making the rounds on forums and YouTube channels: The Backrooms. Beginning as a single image on 4Chan, The Backrooms would spawn an entirely new subgenre of creepy stories and short films, all exploring a supposedly hidden world-between-worlds that lurks just on the edge of our own. Built around the concept of liminal spaces, which are essentially transitional locations that our minds tend to overlook, as well as things like video game glitches where a player can escape the boundaries of a level into unintended subspaces (‘no-clipping), The Backrooms have evolved from a simple thought exercise for creative writers to a full-fledged, on-going narrative.

This has largely been pushed by a single creator: A YouTube filmmaker by the name of Kane Pixels. Supposedly just a teenager with a knack for digital filmmaking and a lot of time on his hands, Kane has almost single-handedly condensed all of the scattered tidbits of lore surrounding the Backrooms into a unified canon, exploring both the world itself, as well as those who seek to understand and explore it. Today, we’re going to take a bird’s eye view overlook at this burgeoning internet phenomenon, through the short-form video content of Kane Pixels.

It all started with his first video in the subject, simply titled “The Backrooms.”

The video, styled as a found-footage horror film, documents the experience of a teenager who accidentally glitches into the boundary wall leading to the Backrooms, and his subsequent encounter with the being that lurks there. It’s an extremely impressive bit of content from someone so young, made entirely through the open-source software Blender. None of the footage in the Backrooms themselves is live-action: It’s all done through 3D modeling. And, most importantly, it’s insanely creepy. The short is dripping with atmosphere, and the mystery surrounding the locations and circumstances, which largely go without elaboration, help add to the unsettling nature of the whole ordeal.

The video became a viral hit, gaining notoriety after being shared on sites like Reddit, and inspiring its own message boards and discussion forums. Kane, seeing the potential, took this success and ran with it, deciding to turn the concept into a recurring series. His next videos would begin pouring in almost immediately, starting with “The Third Test:”

Here, we begin to see the mythology expand to include a mysterious institute that has set-up shop at the entrance (or one of them, anyway) to the Backrooms. They’ve developed some kind of technology which allows them to open a gate between the two worlds, and close it at will, if necessary. We further explore these unnamed scientists and researchers in the next video, “First Contact:”

This organization takes cues from multiple works of fiction, like Men in Black, as well as another well-established bit of internet mythology: The SCP Foundation. The SCP Foundation is a paranormal research institute that investigates, contains, and (where necessary) neutralizes bizarre and supernatural threats. It’s one of the largest, most expansive collections of crowd-sourced fiction ever assembled, and has inspired a fair amount of media in its own right. The Backrooms, particularly where Kane Pixel is concerned, wears the SCP influences proudly on its sleeves.

“Missing Persons” explores the real-world effects that the Backrooms have, with numerous missing individuals having supposedly vanished into the halls of this vacant underworld:

With his next installment, we begin to explore the inner workings of the institute on a personnel level, with this instructional video, titled “Informational Video:”

While serving to flesh out the institute, presumably called A-Sync, this video also manages to bring back the more unnerving horror elements that made the original Backrooms video such an effective work of horror. Again, we’re only given as much information as needed to give us a basic understanding of the world and its story, while leaving plenty of gaps for our imaginations to fill. And, as we all know, what we imagine is often far scarier than what is shown on screen. The mystery of the Backrooms is the draw, and Kane Pixels knows this very well.

Next up, we have “Autopsy Report:”

In this segment, we’re shown that the Backrooms are a potentially deadly, hostile environment, something that has really only been hinted at thus far, and that there’s an unidentified, possibly fungal infection that lives in the stained, yellow hallways and corridors of the purgatory-like facilities on the other side. This is our most gruesome imagery yet, explicitly showing us just enough to creep us out while still omitting enough to keep the larger mysteries fully intact.

Once again, it can’t be stressed enough how impressive these visuals are, especially since they’re all entirely artificial.

The next video, “Motion Detected,” features more footage shot by A-Sync, showing a shadowy figure moving around in the Backrooms. Presumably, this is the same figure we’ve seen attacking cameramen in previous installments, but we aren’t presented with anything concrete. Which, of course, is entirely the point.

In perhaps the most vague and seemingly unconnected short yet, we then have “Prototype,” which suggests some more hard sci-fi elements at play in the Backrooms narrative, and at the same time highlighting the startling level of realism that Kane Pixels is able to achieve with Blender (and a healthy amount of visual distortion):

Next, in “Pitfalls,” we see a longer, more involved expedition of A-Sync researchers into the labyrinthian halls of the Backrooms, encountering some perilous flooring which, of course, our cameraman tumbles into. Deeper into the layers of the facility, he finds some of the most inexplicable and out-of-place locations seen yet, including what appears to be a residential neighborhood. Of course, he eventually encounters something more overtly terrifying and threatening. This short more than any before it highlight the technical talents of Kane Pixels, with not only his visuals being stellar, but his sound design as well. The moans and screams of whatever dwells in the depths of the Backrooms is haunting.

The next two entries, “Report” and “Presentation” shed a little more light on what exactly A-Sync is up to. Again, details are sparse, but from what we can gather here, they aren’t quite as sinister as these types of shadowy organizations tend to be in fiction, which is frankly refreshing. Evidently, they had originally planned on turning the Backrooms into housing developments, building apartments and businesses to help alleviate the growing problem of urban sprawl. It’s a brilliant addition to the mythology, one that deftly side-steps the clichés and trappings that ultimately go hand in hand with similar works of fiction.

Finally, we have “Found Footage #2:”

Moving away from the more quantitative and scientific studies of A-Sync, we have another instance of a random civilian falling into the Backrooms, only to meet their doom at the hands of yet another unexplained phenomenon. While it was certainly enjoyable getting a more plot-heavy exploration of the lore behind this quickly-expanding universe, it was satisfying getting back to the simple, horror roots of the original short. Atmospheric, tense, and certifiably eerie, this most recent installment shows that Kane Pixels is not done mining this universe for scares. Not by a long shot.

While we, as of this writing, haven’t gotten any new additions to the series, I’m certain that there’s plenty more coming. And bear in mind that this is just a general overview; There’s way more content out there on the Backrooms to explore, much of it hidden in the comments and descriptions of these very short films on Kane Pixels YouTube channel. There’s hidden, unlisted videos lurking around in the corners of the site that flesh out some of the more oblique and weird aspects of this fictional world, and I admire the dedication that comes with keeping the revelations just as mysterious as the content.

Go poke around, if you’re so inclined. I guarantee it’s well worth the time.

Next week, in our final Showcase Sunday, we’re going to look at why these internet short films are so important, and what they can do for their creators!

Happy Halloween!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s