On Friday, October 13, 2017, Lionsgate studio released a Snapchat-based augmented reality (AR) facial filter (or Lens) for the horror sequel Jigsaw, which “trapped” users inside one of the titular villain’s infamous torture devices. In video recordings of the real-time AR experience, we can watch as the seconds quickly pass before the user’s head “bursts,” splattering pixelated viscera all over the frame.
Such AR-driven promos seem to me apt examples of Brian Rotman’s notion that we are always “becoming besides ourselves” across digital technologies and systems, mutating and externalizing so much data that our “bodies” exist as hybridized networked information - and thus given to their own possibilities of material unboundedness and breakdown. Importantly, these notions of bodily excess and malleability are often key concerns of the horror genre.
Indeed, this entanglement of AR and horror carries potential in the ways we can imagine, perform, and display the self. Enabling people the ability to augment reality in this way - becoming blurred, transmogrified, refashioned - can potentially allow us to play with, subvert, and make messy any supposedly fixed notions of identity, beauty, and corporeal cohesion. Arguably, the body becomes beside or in excess of itself in manners that confirm the body as always in a state of becoming.
Yet I also feel compelled to consider such breakdowns in terms of vulnerability. As image and data, we experience a potential loss of control over where our bodies travel - the augmented, dispersed self potentially stuck in its own looping nightmare. Linked to this, Snapchat and similar digital applications that make use of AR gimmicks are notoriously unbounded things – given to privacy violations, hacks, and misleading promises of ephemerality and user control.
In its own small way, the ability to view and share a YouTube video of a 24-hour, supposedly vanishing AR encounter is evidence of this. Texts like these can show us a world where our digital selves can be astonishingly transformed, rearranged, and resurrected. Yet they also point to the ways marketers and content creators are able to find new and creative ways for the body to be mediated, managed, packaged, and sold.