We’re in the dark of the woods with these videos. From psychological thrills to gory slasher tropes, from dark paved roads to primeval groves, the sinister mystery of the woods gives these songs an added chill.
VAST – “Pretty When You Cry,” directed by Philipp Stölzl
Director Philipp Stölzl began as a set and costume designer before directing music videos. That theatrical side shows in “Pretty When You Cry,” which also has some pretty stunning camera work and editing, starting from the unexpected (and apt) veering off the road into the midst of the trees. The music of VAST has lush production, and this song (about an abusive relationship) could have been stuck with grand, macho visuals. That would have been horrifying in a less impressive way. Instead, Stölzl makes the male presence both sinister and pathetic, even visually alluding to Polanski’s Repulsion midway through. The rest of it is fleshed out by sordid fairy tales, surrealism and a serial killer vibe. By the end, we’re not sure what we have seen. Is it an aperçu into a violent misogynist and his demented, sexualized persecution complex? Is it the dream of a young woman with her own issues? In all cases, it can read as a cautionary tale for both sexes, one that uses its eroticism to inspire dread more than desire.
Bat for Lashes – “What’s a Girl to Do” directed by Douglas Wilson
A music video can make a song all the more memorable by capturing its mood in unexpected ways. This is one of those videos: Director Douglas Wilson plays all sorts of tricks (including bike tricks) to unsettle the viewer and thicken the desperation, so when the refrain “What’s a Girl to Do?” is uttered listlessly, the girl in question seems a little more dangerous. Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) isn’t exactly mindful of traffic laws as she cruises down the center of a wooded road at night alone…until her “familiars” emerge to hog both lanes, then merge back into her. It’s all presented as one dreamy, seamless take thanks to sharp editing. When we pan to a pair of very misplaced children, then back again, the road behind Khan has gone from straight to curved, disappearing over her shoulder. We casually pass a horrific car wreck. The familiars grow in number. Time slows. Things just aren’t right. Even Khan’s bedazzled pullover (looking retro in a not so flattering way) reflects glaring pulses of light that are unsettling even on the subconscious level. As simple as the concept seems, there is a lot conspiring here to put one in the sort of desperate mindset of Khan’s lyrics. We’re not out of the woods yet.
HEALTH – “We Are Water,” directed by Eric Wareheim
And then things go full slasher. Eric Wareheim (of the bizarro Adult Swim series Tim & Eric) is both the director and the damsel in distress in this beautifully shot, slow-mo showdown with a machete wielding maniac. There is…a lot of blood here. And guys sensitive to crotch injuries should probably just avoid it altogether. The music is driving and intense, and the lyrics make reference to mortality (with a carpe diem sensibility), so in a sense the narrative concept of “We are Water” isn’t completely disjointed. It’s still out of left field, and it was an interesting chance for HEALTH to take—but for those who like to root for the “final girl” and who maybe want to see a little payback for the inherent misogyny of most slasher flicks (including a literal emasculation), it may even be oddly refreshing.
Fever Ray – “If I had a Heart,” directed by Andreas Nilsson
Andreas Nilsson‘s treatment of “If I had a Heart” is probably the most Kubrickian music video ever made: one-point perspective, long pans, allegorical staging, the works. Sacred geometry, hunting trophies and bronzes of animals and conquistadors abound. In particular, there’s a strong The Shining influence here, as primal forces wander around a manor where a massacre has occurred (seemingly bloodless in this case). The lifeless bodies are dressed for a cocktail party…but where are the children? They are in a rowboat headed out to sea, while the masked, primal figures throw glares in their faces using coffin-shaped mirrors. When singer Karin Dreijer Andersson appears in stark skull make up, it actually feels like a moment of normalcy. The whole work defies a single interpretation, but no matter how you take it, it enriches the brooding nature of the song. At the end, we’re out of the woods, but the next destination does not seem any more welcoming.