The Devil in the Details

Bryan Fuller has often spoken about the influence of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick on the look and mood of the show. But the visual reference to The Shining (1980)—below, right—is not the only homage to classic horror cinema found in “Aperitif.”

I spy at least two others. The first occurs when Will and Jack visit the home of Minnesota Shrike victim Elise Nichols. Will asks to see Elise’s bedroom; her father leads the way. Will opens the door, turns off the light, and is stunned to discover Elise’s body back in her bed. Returned and lovingly arranged.

The blocking immediately reminds me of this scene from The Exorcist (William Freidkin, 1973). Or, to be completely honest, the framing from an episode of Psych that parodies The Exorcist.

Psych, 04×04, “The Devil Is in the Details… and the Upstairs Bedroom”

I confess—I did not spot the other until this most recent rewatch. We find Will taking a shower. As the camera moves in, the curtain parts, revealing the Ravenstag “standing in the misty forest of [Will’s] mind” (Final Shooting Script, 18).

Person in the shower. Unknown figure revealed on the other side of the curtain. Calling Alfred Hitchcock! Psycho (1960), anyone?

I cannot confirm that Fuller intended these latter two visual references. And they do not necessarily have to ~say~ anything about the character or the story. They can just pay homage to the horror canon that Fuller loves. But the nods to Kubrick serve a purpose—“psychological storytelling,” as Fuller describes it—so why not these? Let’s speculate.

What thematic reason might Fuller have to reference The Exorcist and Psycho? The former arguably aligns Will with the character of Father Karras, the exorcist in question. Both are professionals called to solve a mystery—an endeavor that proves so psychologically taxing and, in the end, personally corrupting that they take their own lives.* The homage then perhaps serves as a bleak omen of both the struggle Will faces and his tragic fate. 

Evoking Psycho does not bode well for Will either. Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane dies in this scene, after all, less than halfway into the film.* The visual reference not only signals that Will is in mortal peril but also, more interestingly, casts the Ravenstag—the psychological manifestation of “the evil that Hannibal Lecter is capable of”—as the source of the threat. As Norman Bates. Will only just met Hannibal, but this homage creates a sense of foreboding. Of danger on the horizon. Psychological storytelling by way of meta psychological storytelling. 

*I will not apologize for decades-old spoilers.

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