This is the first part of a journey through Marble Hornets, a YouTube-based horror mystery series. You can find the introductory post here.
Let’s get started, shall we? As I mentioned in the first post, I’ll be adding commentary to each of the videos, looking at both the unfolding story and the mechanics of the storytelling. I won’t be including out-of-game information, or details which have yet to be revealed — I want this account to be as faithful as possible to the experience of watching Marble Hornets as it was released. That means that there will be no significant spoilers as you’re reading this account; I would caution you, if this is your first time through Marble Hornets, not to search for any further information about the series online unless your resistance to spoilers is particularly high. I believe the series is strong enough that it can be enjoyed more than once, so knowing some of the final outcomes won’t necessarily ruin your enjoyment, but part of the pleasure of a mystery series is being engaged in the unfolding of the plot.
So, welcome to the beginning.
Introduction (June 20, 2009)
As I mentioned above, I don’t want to introduce out-of-game information that will change our understanding of events, but I don’t think it hurts to clarify that our nameless narrator is named Jay. He is evidently a former friend of Alex Krailie, a film student who underwent some kind of breakdown while making his student film, Marble Hornets. The tapes were shot in 2006, and examined by Jay in the summer of 2009. It isn’t clear if the footage in this film was taken from the Marble Hornets tapes, or was shot by Jay.
It’s an oddly stylized introduction: one might expect Jay to record a piece straight to camera, but offering white-text captions over ambiguous footage is instead cool, inhuman and authoritative. Our purpose here is not to connect with Jay, but with Alex. One is our narrator, the other the protagonist. This is going to be a major theme — and source of narrative tension and conflict — through the entire series. We must, when discussing Marble Hornets, always be mindful of the voice behind the footage we’re seeing, and where and when the video was edited.
Entry #1 (June 20, 2009)
Entry #1 is where things really get started. We have text narration by Jay, telling us that he has already watched tapes of raw footage and found nothing interesting, that this clip apparently takes place in Alex’s home, and that there’s no associated audio. We then see someone turn out a light, take the camera to a window, and peer out into the night. A tall, faceless figure is standing on the porch; his head snaps around suddenly to look at the camera, which ducks back out of sight. Jay concludes by assuring us that he’ll keep watch our for similar occurrences — yeah, I should hope so, Jay — and the video ends.
After being primed by the Introduction video, we’re immediately thrust into a strange confrontation. There is something undeniably chilling about the way the figure moves, but whoever shot this footage originally may already be aware of the faceless figure, and is trying to avoid it; turning out the light and creeping to the window might suggest that the person who shot this footage — presumably Alex — knows that the figure is out there, and is trying, apparently unsuccessfully, to remain hidden from it.
Is this Alex’s home? Did Alex shoot this footage? How did he know the figure was outside? Did the figure know he was being watched?
Entry #2 (June 21, 2009)
We begin with Jay’s already-familiar white-text captions, advising us that the events of this tape seem to take place prior to the events of Entry #1. Alex describes a late-night encounter with “a really tall guy” while walking his dog. Alex is driving out to the spot where he saw the man, but there is nothing to be found. The tape ends, and Jay connects the tall figure Alex describes with the figure outside his house in Entry #1.
Jay’s introduction is very important: until now, there was no reason to suspect that the story would play out in anything other than linear order, but this is an explicit warning that the chronology will be more complicated. This is one of the key narrative elements of Marble Hornets, and will continue to play an important part throughout the rest of the series. It also introduces another key element: the absence of an expected reveal. Marble Hornets build tension beautifully, by oftentimes choosing to preserve ambiguity.
Also, I should point out that there are some people who claim to see the tall figure in this entry: at the 51 second mark, Alex says, “… the light that he was standing under.” Immediately to the left of the streetlight, there is a white blur. Some viewers have interpreted that as the tall man’s face, but I see nothing conclusive.
Shortly after posting Entry #2, Jay creates the @marblehornets Twitter account. I won’t transcribe every tweet, since the vast majority of them are notifications about the entries as they are posted, but when the tweets are relevant to the story, I’ll include them like so:
@marblehornets, June 21, 2009
Been looking at tapes all day. Nothing interesting so I’m calling it a night.
Is this Alex’s first encounter with the tall figure? Does the footage end because the tape has run out, or for another reason? Do we agree with Jay’s assessment that these events take place before Entry #1?
Entry #3 (June 23, 2009)
Jay’s captions reveal that the majority of the tapes do not contain footage from the Marble Hornets film, but are footage of Alex, who has apparently been obsessively filming himself. He then shows us clips from twelve tapes: Alex at home, tearing papers; walking through the forest at twilight; buying more tapes; working on a computer in what appears to be a basement; a forest during the day; driving at night; and finally, more from the basement, when an alarm goes off on Alex’s phone and he picks up the camera. Jay’s captions return to tell us that most of the footage isn’t significant, that Alex seemed to want a camera on him at all times, and that Entry #1 is still his best lead.
Here, we are introduced to a narrative conceit that is important in the fiction, but also excuses the amount of time it takes the film-makers to put together each new entry. If Alex is filming himself constantly, then we begin to understand the volume of footage Jay has to go through. The quest for significant footage remains a major part of the pacing of Marble Hornets for the remainder of the season, and is referred to again in the future.
Why is Alex filming himself? Did he begin before or after his encounter with the tall figure while walking his dog? Before or after the events of Entry #1? What is he writing or drawing in the first clip?
Entry #4 (June 25, 2009)
Jay warns us that this “strange footage” is missing audio, like Entry #1. Someone — presumably Alex — is walking through a playground at night; he turns around a catches a glimpse of the tall, faceless figure, who immediately disappears. The footage ends with Jay’s suspicion that Alex has removed the audio from these clips himself.
Before we consider the implications of what we’ve seen, let’s take a moment to enjoy the detail. When Alex walks past the seesaws, they are parallel; he then sees the moving swing, and moves toward it. There is some visual distortion at the bottom of the screen — which you may not have noticed earlier, but which was also present in Entries #1 and #3 — and turns around to find the see-saws now in opposition, and the tall figure leaving the frame to the right. There’s some confusion as Alex apparently gives chase, and then the oddly chilling smiley-face trashcan when he zooms back out. This is a nicely-constructed scene with escalating tension and an ominous ending, and it’s my favorite entry so far.
Was Alex, as it seems, deliberately looking for the tall figure? Does this take place before or after Entry #1, in which he seemed much more afraid? Does it take place before or after the compulsive self-filming has begun? Is it a direct continuation of the Alex’s investigation into the tall figure in Entry #2? How does the tall figure vanish so quickly? Why does Jay suspect Alex removed the audio? Is he correct, and if so, why did Alex remove it?
Entry #5 (June 29, 2009)
Jay’s captions introduce footage of Alex that he shot himself, while the two of them scouted locations for the Marble Hornets film. Alex is in a gazebo in a forested area, talking about the location, when there is a visual tear just like the one we saw earlier. Suddenly the audio is swamped with distortion. The camera’s focus slips out and takes a moment to adjust, but the distortion continues, though Alex seems oblivious to it. The distortion ends just before we move to another location. Alex is talking about the scene he has in mind, and there is more distortion, though less severe than before; then, Jay points out a red tower, and Alex’s explanation of it is again swamped in distortion. Jay’s captions point out the visual tearing from the earlier entries, and imply that he’s going to be on the look-out for it in the future.
@marblehornets, July 1, 2009
Not seeing any more tearing or distortion. At least I know what to look for now.
This, then, is presumably the earliest footage we’ve seen so far. Alex seems calm and interested only in the film, with no suggestion that he’s either looking for or afraid of the tall, faceless figure in the business suit. The distortion, however, suggests that something isn’t right, although Alex and Jay seem to be unaware that anything is wrong. Even though Jay is present in the scene, he is still the voice of the narrator, rather than a protagonist.
Is the red tower significant to the story? What caused the audio and video distortion? Is the audio distortion the reason that Alex removed the audio from entries #1 and #4? Is Alex or Jay aware of the tall figure at this point? Is the tall figure, perhaps, aware of them?
So that’s it for our first week. The story is moving, but we’ve only just begun — next week, we’re going to meet some more of the Marble Hornets crew, and the most significant player in the MH universe besides our mysterious watcher in the dark.