A Closer Look at ‘The Green Marker Scare’

June 19th, 2024 | By Chris John Poole

The Green Marker Scare

For most horror films, 12th anniversaries are hardly worth the birthday cake, let alone the ritual candles. But for The Green Marker Scare, an experimental Irish horror film, 2024 marks a unique milestone. The film is now older than the children who animated it.

Directed by Graham Jones, The Green Marker Scare was hand-animated by children aged 10 to 12. Opening with an acknowledgement, the film thanks its young animators, before addressing the audience directly. A line of text reassures the viewer that “no single child worked on a sufficient number of scenes to develop an understanding of the mature content therein.”

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It’s a jarring note to begin on. Where legions of horror flicks open with the promise that it’s all real – floating dubious phrases like “inspired by true events” – The Green Marker Scare draws attention to its artifice. It’d be like if Dracula opened with a disclaimer that all its false fangs are plastic-free. But rather than rob the film of its bite, the acknowledgment shapes our entire perspective of the experience. As the movie gathers momentum, it becomes clear that Jones’ desire to keep those young animators unawares is inseparable from its thematic content.

The film begins in the wake of a car crash. Noreen, Nancy Drew’s Hibernian doppelganger, goes to visit the victim — her father — in the hospital. Left in critical condition, Noreen’s father reminisces about the cases they’ve solved together. But they’ve never encountered anything like this: “never a murder”, as he puts it. After her father dies, Noreen begins to obsess over the crash. Her investigation leads her to the center of a sinister local conspiracy, and to the children caught in its wake.

The Green Marker Scare is at home among Jones’ more recent films, most of which employ experimental animation styles to bypass budget restraints. In terms of its horror peers, though, it’s more akin to folk horror classics like The Wicker Man, with its gradual unfurling of bizarre — and violent — communal practices. All the hallmarks are there: ominous verdant landscapes, creepy locals, corrupted strands of history, and ritual. 

The film’s title is fitting: green is the only colour featured in the entire film. There’s little to distinguish the green of a car or a castle from the green of trees, clouds, and owls. Blurring these lines, the film goes some way to evoking the scale and volatility of Ireland’s landscape.

There’s hostility, too, in the film’s visual style. Trees loom jagged and withered. Clouds of green flit across the sky, as erratic as the grainy lines on an old VHS. Yet there’s also a lot of empty space and white paper: things feel at once vivid and incomplete. Harnessing the jagged aesthetics of children’s drawings, The Green Marker Scare leaves us with the sense that we’re seeing the world through a child’s eyes, inhabiting the juvenile mind’s boundless imagination and confined perspective. 

If we are seeing things through the eyes of a child, then it’s no surprise that the film’s imagery is so loose and expressionistic. It’s hard to shake the sense that there’s something else at play, something that can’t be captured by a child’s green marker.

The Green Marker Scare is a film about what happens when children are left unprotected. There’s a tragic contrast between the animators, insulated from “understanding” by Jones, and Noreen’s unerring pursuit of answers. This contrast only looms larger as things take a nasty turn. 

As we wonder how the animators could have possibly been prevented from figuring it all out, viewers become more clearly aware that no one is protecting Noreen from evil. As one’s misgivings about the child animators surge and simmer, Noreen progresses ever closer towards seeing the bigger picture.

For all that Noreen is exposed to, the viewer is ultimately left in the same position as the animators. Onscreen violence is minimal, and there’s little in the way of outright horrifying visuals. Instead, the film’s ethos is more in line with H.P. (or in this case, H.B.) Lovecraft, in that evil lingers just out of sight, unknowable, unrepresentable. We see very little, and what we do see is presented through crude illustrations. Efforts to create an “ethical” film ensure that The Green Marker Scare leaves its answers out of sight for both the viewer and its creators. 

In one scene, Noreen interrogates a key witness about her father’s death. She sends the witness next door to buy three toy cars as props. The witness drags the toy cars across a pub table, restaging the fatal collision. Noreen is left in tears, certain that the crash was a murder. 

Revelation, as always, only brings more questions. Why was her father killed? Who was driving the cars? Crucially, the car crash itself is never shown onscreen. The closest we get is this bizarre reenactment. The scene’s absurdity extends to the film itself, as we become aware that children’s illustrations are, like toy cars, of no use when it comes to understanding violent death. Eagle-eyed viewers will note, as the witness buys the toy cars, a bag of green markers on sale.

To anyone who has watched a Blumhouse film in the past 20 years, much of this will sound familiar. Creepy children’s drawings are as much a hallmark of modern horror as the jump scare, the re-quel, or the delicate dance between “elevated” themes and descents into bloodshed. 

Children’s drawings in horror films tend to serve as ways of depicting supernatural entities without rushing the big reveal. Yet their function is also thematic: Crayola sketches of imaginary friends become omens of what adults cannot see, cannot offer protection against. And for a creepy kid’s sketch, you can usually count on an oblivious parent to dismiss it as mere fantasy.

The Green Marker Scare is an extension of this device, telling its entire story on a child’s sketchpad. True to the trope, The Green Marker Scare is full of adults who ignore Noreen’s warnings. Creepy drawings would usually mark the divide between infantile sensitivity and adult ignorance. Here, though the adult’s perspective is absent, much like Noreen’s caregivers. In its absence, there can be little recourse to logic or denial. 

Horror films regularly draw controversy for how they treat child actors. Onscreen, kids have to face off with creepy apparitions and fountains of fake blood. Audiences rightly call out exploitation, pointing out that SFX magic can cause real harm. Efforts to protect children often echo the film’s narratives, as onscreen parents try—and fail—to safeguard their children against malevolent forces. The Green Marker Scare’s unorthodox animation is particularly significant in an industry grappling with such questions.

Crucial details drift by far too fast in The Green Marker Scare. A pentagram at the outskirts of an old castle. Shady figures at the window. Witnesses. The film creates layers and layers of filters and obstacles, and hastens past the things that seem to matter. 

Simultaneously, though, answers come all too easy. Witnesses spill secrets and rumours with little hesitation. Perhaps accurate to the small-town gossip of rural communities, this comes at the cost of any sense of intrigue. With the film’s cold atmosphere, and somewhat anaemic soundtrack, there’s not much here for those seeking a proper whodunnit. 

This is perhaps the point, though. There’s a sense of overconfidence to the film’s antagonists, whose supposed secrecy is very loosely enforced. It’s almost like they don’t need to lurk in the shadows. If those who witness you will never be believed, what’s the point of hiding?

The Green Marker Scare is an oddity among contemporary horrors. Dreamlike visuals create the sense that we’re viewing a corrupted cartoon episode, a cursed precursor to the analogue horror craze. The film sits somewhere on the fault line between folk horror and Scooby-Doo, a Frankenstein hybrid that, for the most part, fizzles with life.

Thanks to Jones’ efforts to protect his animators, the film keeps its evils out of sight. As a result, a constant sense of menace pulses beneath the gaudy greens. Something lurks beneath the rural silence, infiltrating the imagination of the village’s children. The Green Marker Scare only ever shows us sketches of its monsters; in the end, it leaves no real witnesses.

Chris John Poole

Chris John Poole writes about film, literature, art and politics. You can find his work in The Common Magazine, The Big Issue, The Lead UK and others. He produces far too many first drafts.

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