Becoming inhuman ('The Collector' (2009) dir. Marcus Dunstan/'The Collection' (2012) dir. Marcus Dunstan, 'Yellowjackets' (2021-) created by Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson)

There are largely no similarities between the 'Collector' duology and the tv show which has now run for two seasons, 'Yellowjackets'. The 'Collection' duology follows the exploits of a serial killer and entomologist named Asa Emory in fanon, but known only as the Collector within the movies due to his modus operandi of killing scores of people, and 'collecting' the lone survivors to add to his gallery of human remains posed in various insect-like displays. 'Yellowjackets' follows a high-school girls soccer team who become stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, alternating between two narratives, one taking place in the wilderness of the past, showing their survival struggles, and one in the future, showing their not-too-mundane adult lives as they negotiate with the horrors they went through in their teenage years.

The reason I want to (attempt) to draw some parallels between the two is because, having recently finished the 'Yellowjackets' season two finale, I was reminded of one of the things that always drew me back to the 'Collector' films: a will-they-won't-they of supernatural proportions. Emory (I'll call him by his fan-given name as what am I if not a fan), before his backstory is fully given, is a character that the narrative toys with the idea of ascribing non-human characteristics onto. Apart from being an imposing, mostly non-verbal masked figure with almost superhuman strength and tenacity (a la 'Halloween's Michael Myers), he is extremely clever and calculated, him having originally been written as a Jigsaw-esque figure. It is a well-known fact that 'The Collector' was initially pitched as a 'Saw' prequel, to show the origin story of mastermind John Kramer, the primary 'Saw' antagonist. However, more damningly, Emory has pupils which glow white when hit with certain angles of light throughout both films. The immediate impression is animalistic. Although the condition of a white shine across the pupils in certain light is seen in people with leukocoria (which can be caused by a number of medical conditions), its immediate connotation is with nocturnal animals with retroreflectors behind their retinas, aiding with night hunting.

Emory too hunts at night. It is a condition shared by spiders, animals he is shown to love. Although he brutally kills and tortures humans, he spares a spider from a basement where he is holding multiple victims, setting it free into the night. Emory, like a spider, ensnares and traps his victims. His affinity and similarity to insects is therefore exacerbated by the films in him being given distinctly insect-like characteristics. All of this points to Emory being something inhuman. Not necessarily something supernatural, but something more or something other. Awaiting an explanation for this, I was initially disappointed by 'The Collection's brief dive into Emory's backstory: as a child Emory's father was also an entomologist and a museum owner who suffered severe psychological problems due to the ingestion of chemicals meant for taxidermy. Emory's father killed his family and stuffed them, positioning them at the dinner table to share a meal with them and with Emory, whom he spared for unknown reasons. This is far from the inhuman origin story I was expecting, and merely suggests that Emory was traumatised by the experience and carries on his father's 'work' due to psychiatric impairment.

Although inhumanity is falsified by Emory's backstory (the supernatural will-they-won't-they being answered with a tentative 'they won't'), It cannot explain why his eyes glowed in the dark. The films take great pains to show this inhumanity. In 'Yellowjackets', the teen girls trapped in the wilderness encounter supposedly supernatural phenomena centred around the abandoned cabin they reside in. They find occult symbols and are dragged into deadly games directed by the otherworldly 'rules' of the woods, which they struggle to understand. Their adult counterparts reconcile with whether this was truly the work of paranormal forces, or the heightened stress of their situation. Similarly, the show largely wants to have it both ways and has not yet provided a conclusive answer as to whether the haunted woods, or trauma, was directing the girls.

If the 'Collector' duology is told from the perspective of Emory's many victims, for example, the white reflections of his eyes are explainable. Trapped by an insect-like man, who wreaks atrocity unto them, it is hard for them to envisage him as human, hence, they misremember him as something other due to terror. Similarly, the adult cast of 'Yellowjackets' relive their past in flashbacks and may misremember, for example, if Lottie Matthews did speak fluent French, suggesting that she was possessed by the previous owner of the cabin, a Frenchman for whom they were holding a seance, or whether Lottie was having a nervous breakdown and the experience was too scary to be held in the psyche as a normal occurrence, and hence became something demonic.

In particular regard to the aforementioned character of Lottie, there is always the fear of 'what if'. "What if I'm not actually mentally ill- what if those supernatural events in the wilderness actually did happen? What if, by giving it a human explanation, I am ignoring more sinister forces and am placing myself in greater danger?" What if, for example, Arkin O'Brien, who discovers Emory's family history, doesn't have the whole picture. O'Brien seems secure enough with a human explanation that he attempts to enact revenge on Emory at the end of 'The Collection', kidnapping him in the way he was once kidnapped by the latter. Is he successful, or is Emory actually something other? In not knowing this, has O'Brien put himself in worse danger.

Or does going through something unimaginable turn one inhuman by mere power of being a situation that no human should have to endure. Does Emory become insect-like through sheer will? Do the 'Yellowjackets' girls manifest their own ghosts, create their own alternate personas (Antler Queen, Man with No Eyes) like steam rising off the skin, simply because by going through the incomprehensible, they too have become something beyond human comprehension?

Like I said, the link between the two pieces of media is tenuous, and there are numerous better examples of trauma being linked with the inhuman. The trope isn't necessarily damaging in the right hands, and I would argue (extremely unproblematically) that of course 'Yellowjackets' deals with the lasting impact of traumatic experiences far better than the 'Collector' duology does. Sympathy for the inhuman dates back as far as Frankenstein's monster (probably even further), so much so that we are mostly easily able to empathise with favourable non-humans. On the other hand, by conflating trauma and inhumanity (as both the 'Collection' duology and 'Yellowjackets' do), doesn't it write off what we are able to empathise with? The events both Emory and the 'Yellowjackets' girls have been through are awful and horrific, but they are within human comprehension- by toying with labelling them as inhuman events, doesn't it belittle by making it seem incomprehensible, therefore limiting what is resolvable with human compassion? I don't think this is the case either. There are some events that have such extreme significance as to change a person, and very few will fully understand the impact save for the person it happened to. Yet another thing I must praise 'Yellowjackets' for is the idea of a personal hell. Unlike Emory who is identifiably other from the off, and imposes his hell on others, few of the adult 'Yellowjackets' cast have friends or family who are able to understand what happened to them. It is not, then, their 'inhuman' that others them- rather the surrounding cohort of characters are othered because they are unable to see the inhuman.

I hope this makes sense, because I've been thinking about this a lot recently.