The rise, fall and reboot of The Backrooms

Samantha Culp brilliantly distills the peculiar fandom around The Backrooms: a literary-expository subculture built around one of the most subtly disquieting images ever posted online. The uncanny photo, origin still unknown, inspired dread but also intense creativity. Fans drew, wrote and developed art, stories and games which spread the memetic horror to new audiences. This fandom, however, was slowly infested by lore nerds who replaced everything uncanny and vague about The Backrooms with a wiki-full of explanations, bestiaries and rules — making the "unheimlich" more "heimlich" as Culp puts it.

Then came the backlash. "You guys ruined the Backrooms" began a Reddit thread in July 2021, continuing, "the original concept of The Backrooms was the idea of isolation, and the idea of slowly going insane from seeing the same walls, rooms, and halls everyday without change. Many posts capture a similar sentiment: "…The back rooms was such a cool and creepy concept at the beginning but 12 year olds decided to make it not creepy anymore by adding monsters and shit into it. It's gone from slow burn eeriness to jump scare low effort creepypasta schlock."

But something interesting then occurred: a young filmmaker, Kane Pixels, took The Backrooms and created the sort of thing that Hollywood usually does: high production-value cinema that's acquiring a mass audience. Had there been an author of The Backrooms—a copyright proprietor to do business with—this explosion of talent might not have happened there. (Something like this would have happened instead.)

Writes Culp: "Kane Pixels' work demonstrates the strength of the Backrooms' central mythos to accommodate new stories, and maybe even absorb them back into its genuine strangeness."

The way The Backrooms went from mysterious existential horror to a worldbuilt ossuary of facts reflects an impulse at work across most fandoms. It's part of the fandom lifecycle. Perhaps it was more rapid and pronounced and chaotic withThe Backrooms precisely because there was no author, so its canons formed and were elaborated according to the rules of fandom politics. They bloat and harden and finally decay. And here, with Kane Pixels' films, we're seeing it get rebooted from the dying embers before Hollywood and mass media even noticed the fire.