Every year a new TV series comes along that you simply have to watch. Last year it was Squid Game, but this year it’s shaping up to be Severance, the new sci-fi series from Apple TV Plus. A sort of dystopian workplace thriller, the show’s premise is simple.
Basically, some office workers undergo an experimental medical procedure called severance that separates their work memories from their normal life memories. It’s supposed to create the ultimate work-life balance but as this is a TV show our main characters soon uncover a deeper conspiracy behind the procedure. So where did the idea for this warped series come from?
Severance was written by Dan Erickson, and he’s credited several sources for influencing the series. In an interview with inverse Erickson cited The Truman Show, Office Space, Brazil, The Stanley Parable, and even Dilbert as inspiring parts of the series, but then he honed in on one old creepypasta. “Then there’s stuff like The Backrooms, which is a weird online urban legend,” Erickson said.
What are The Backrooms?
The Backrooms are a creepy Internet urban legend. The general idea is that it’s a dimension close to our own that’s entirely composed of infinite office space and corridors.
The story goes that the Backrooms are normally inaccessible but sometimes (if you’re unlucky), you can slip through reality and find yourself trapped in the endless labyrinth of corridors and empty offices. Scary right?
What’s the origin of The Backrooms?
The Backrooms were created on 4Chan, specifically the /x/ board of 4. In a thread where users were asked to share “post disquieting images that just feel ‘off’.” One anonymous contributor shared the first picture of the Backrooms and the basic story.
Since then, several other users have contributed several different elements to the mythos, including monsters, levels to the Backrooms, and ways to get back to our reality.
Why are the Backrooms scary?
The Backrooms are creepy because of a concept called liminality. While we’re not experts on the topic, the basic idea is that transitory places cause a degree of disorientation in people because, subconsciously, they represent a change in state and people hate change.
The Backrooms represent an unending liminal space. You can never find your destination in an endless maze of hallways. You’d constantly be at unease, unable to find your old or a new status quo. The Backrooms frighten us because they’re familiar while also being unfamiliar at the same time.
The concept’s relatively new, but the basic notion that transitionary places are inherently frightening is believed to be one of the reasons that The Shining is so scary. Kubrick made The Overlook, like the Backrooms, into the ultimate liminal space boundless hotel with unending corridors and corners.
There are other, more modern examples, as well. Think of the vast repeating neighbourhood in Vivarium or the empty high school corridors in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. These are all liminal spaces which are disquieting, but when you empty them of people as well, they become terrifying.
The concept’s been explored on the small screen as well. The Black Lodge in the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks, with its endless, red-curtained rooms and hallways is a perfect example of how uneasy people can be made to feel just by exploring the idea of transitory places.
If you like Severance and The Backrooms, check out our guide to the best horror movies.