This is the fourth part of a journey through Marble Hornets, a YouTube-based horror mystery series. You can find the introductory post here.
Last time, we were shown glimpses of Alex’s first interactions with the mysterious Operator, and Jay became active in the investigation, and tracked down Tim. Between the last video and the next, we are told Jay received an anonymous tip that leads him in an unexpected direction…
Entry #16 (October 16, 2009)
On the advice of the anonymous tip, Jay goes in search of Brian. He does this, of course, at night, because Jay is — to put it kindly — not particularly genre-savvy. The front door is locked, but Jay finds an unlocked sliding door at the rear of the house, and goes inside. The house is in disarray; torn papers and overturned furniture litter the floor. Jay calls out for Alex and Brian, but there is no response. He moves into a hallway, and finds the word “BONE” spray-painted onto the wall of a closet. A crash is heard, and Jay investigates, discovering a nest of blankets in a closet. He flicks a light switch, but nothing happens. Looking more closely at the nest, Jay picks up a water bottle, and the screen is torn with the now-familiar visual distortion. Jay coughs, and there is a strange audio distortion in the background; he leaves the closet, and is overcome by a coughing fit. He pulls himself together and continues to explore, climbing the stairs and discovering a trail of blood leading to a blood-spattered sink. Next to the bathroom is a room with numerous pages of scribbled drawings on the floor, and bottles of medication on a table. Jay takes a bottle of pills, and, startled by a sound from downstairs, takes some of the papers and a bullet casing he finds on the carpet. Coughing, he leaves the house. His captions inform us that he did, in fact, hear strange noises in the house, and that he may return at some point in the future.
This seems, at first, to be a rather disappointing entry. After so much build-up, it’s almost surprising that we don’t catch a glimpse of the Operator. On closer reflection, however, this is a well-timed change of pace which opens up several plot elements for future videos. Considering the drawings, it seems likely that someone associated with Alex and the Operator is still active in the house, three years after the events that Jay has been reviewing on Alex’s tapes.
Jay’s coughing fit is possibly significant. Over the course of the last several months, he has complained of feeling sick on Twitter. He has even gone to the doctor, although nothing was found. While this fills the out-of-game necessity of slowing the rate at which Jay posts videos — thus giving the creators time to film them — it also suggests that contact with the tapes is having a deleterious effect on Jay’s health. The coughing, and the discovery of the medication in the house, both give weight to that notion. We’ll keep a closer eye of Jay’s wellbeing as we go forward.
Where is the building Jay is exploring, and to whom does it belong? Who gave him the anonymous tip, and why would he expect Brian to be there? What is the medication? Jay identifies the drawings as belonging to Alex — do they, or are they someone else’s? Where did the bullet come from, and the blood? Most importantly, who has been sleeping there?
totheark: Addition (October 21, 2009)
After the slow build-up of Entry #16, ToTheArk’s Addition video is extraordinarily direct. We see footage of Jay’s coughing fit in Entry #16 — someone was directly behind him, watching him. Playing over the footage is a mechanical ticking sound, rather like the one we heard in the Program video, and slowed audio of Jay calling for Alex and Brian. The footage ends, and the caption reads, “SEE YOU”.
So, ToTheArk is active, present, and — presumably, at least — is sleeping at the house. He watched Jay’s investigation, but did not directly interfere; now, however, he wants Jay to know that he was there.
Our understanding of ToTheArk has continued to evolve. He began by offering cryptic commentary on Alex’s videos, then revealed that he also had access to those tapes at some point, as shown by the missing audio from Entry #10, the footage of Brian in Advocate, and the tape of Jay returning to his car in Exit. Now, we learn that he is not only a commentator, but that he is active in the world. We are, unfortunately, no closer to understanding who he is, or what he wants.
Shortly after the video was posted, Jay linked to it via Twitter, along with his interpretation of ToTheArk’s intent:
@marblehornets, October 21, 2009
Totheark is MOCKING me: http://bit.ly/iULxs
Does the medication belong to ToTheArk? Do the drawings, or the bullet casing, or the blood? Why did he show Jay that he was in the house? Was it, as Jay suggested, to mock him? Did ToTheArk’s presence cause the visual tearing in Entry #15, rather than the Operator, or was the Operator also present? Given the frequency with which we have seen water in ToTheArk’s videos, is it significant that visual tear appeared when Jay picked up the bottle of water?
Entry #17 (November 2, 2009)
Jay’s proposed return to the mysterious house is forestalled, however, by a disturbing discovery amongst Alex’s tapes. After Jay’s introduction, Tim is standing in front of a brightly-lit window, chatting with Alex, who is — presumably — behind the camera. Around ten seconds into the video, there is a cut; the lighting shifts, and the Operator is clearly visible outside the window. Jay reads some of Brian’s dialogue with Tim — this is clearly an early shoot for Marble Hornets — but Tim looks less alert, and there is clear video distortion in the shadow of his head on the wall. Tim appears to physically deteriorate as the scene progresses, and when Jay appears on camera, he is wearing a jacket and complaining of the cold. The shot becomes distorted and freezes, and Jay’s caption informs us that it remains that way until the end of the tape. Moreover, he tells us that he does not remember the events depicted in the footage, and that he’s going to return to the house.
This entry casts several aspects of the Marble Hornets backstory in a different light. First, we see Jay and Tim interacting back in 2006, although they seemed to barely know each other during the interview in Entry #15; second, Jay seems to be taking a much larger role in the production of Alex’s student film that he had previously suggested; third, the chilling presence of the Operator — pun intended — seems to be adversely affecting both Tim and Jay, but not Alex; fourth, no-one notices him outside the window, despite the fact that Alex and Jay are presumably looking in that direction for much of the scene. Is this proof of the Operator’s ability to prevent himself from being seen by people, if not by cameras? That would suggest a compelling reason for Alex’s compulsive self-taping.
This is a great video, and one of my favorites. We rarely get to see our characters interact naturally, and the Operator, the darkening atmosphere and the increasing visual distortion add both a poignant dramatic irony, and a sense of apocalyptic foreboding. It may be odd to describe an Operator-heavy video as being low-key, but this is a very different atmosphere than Jay exploring the abandoned house.
Is the Tim-focused distortion significant? Why could no-one see the Operator? Do these events take place before or after Alex becomes aware of him? Why doesn’t Jay remember what happened? How many details has he forgotten in the three years since the shoot?
totheark: Signal (November 4, 2009)
This is the second stylistic change in a row for ToTheArk; in Addition, we saw the covert footage of Jay in the hallway, and now we have this creepy clip from an old movie — specifically, Silent Snow, Secret Snow, based on a story by Conrad Aiken. From Wikipedia:
The story tells of a boy named Paul Hasleman, who finds it increasingly difficult to pay attention to his classwork, and grows more distant from his family. He is, instead, becoming more and more entranced by daydreaming about snow. This began when he was lying in bed one morning, awaiting the approach of the postman. Unable to hear the expected footfalls, the boy imagines that they have been muffled by newly fallen snow, and is surprised when he looks out the window and discovers that there is no snow on the ground.
Paul’s increasing distance and indifference to the world around him alarms his parents. He has to struggle to get dressed and converse with others, because of the allure of his daydream about snow. They eventually call in a physician, who makes a house call to examine Paul. After revealing that he likes to think about snow, Paul tears himself away from the meeting with the physician and retires to his room. When his mother pursues him, he tells her “Go away… I hate you!”, and is lost in the dreamworld of the snow.
You can see the original clip here.
The connection between the story and what happened to Alex is, at least, suggestive. The video concludes with the remarkably un-cryptic messages “COME BACK” and “find me”. Jay, it seems, must return to the house.
Why does ToTheArk want to be found? Why didn’t he approach Jay when he was there in Entry #16, instead of merely filming him? Are we supposed to read anything into the choice of footage for this video, and the Operator’s influence?
Entry #18 (November 10, 2009)
And so, Jay returns to the house, again choosing to go at night. He enters the house and finds the same disarrayed furniture and torn paper as before. He calls out to anyone who is listening, then investigates the nest of blankets in the closet. Turning away, he finds a long, thin white doll in the corner of the hallway. He picks it up and is examining it when he hears a whispered “boo”. He turns to see a masked figure sitting on a couch in the room at the end of the hall, watching him. Slowly, Jay begins to walk forward, saying, “Alex?” The masked figure suddenly charges at Jay, who drops the camera; a moment passes during which we can only hear muffled audio, then Jay retrieves the camera and shows the masked figure apparently suffering some kind of seizure. Jay tries to remove his mask, but the figure comes to and seems to attack Jay again, who retreats down the hallway, suffering from a coughing fit. There is a burst of audio distortion, and the footage ends; Jay informs us that he woke up in his car at the side of the road, with no memory of how he got there.
So, we have a new player in our little drama. There isn’t a lot in Entry #18 that is ripe for analysis; we can certainly speculate about the masked figure’s relationship with ToTheArk, the mysterious (and oddly disturbing) doll, the reasons the masked figure attacked Jay, the seizure, the memory loss… but the truth is, we’ve very little to go on. It does seem strange that the masked figure would tape Jay’s last visit, then attack him without notice or provocation, but we can’t be certain what he wants. It’s also interesting that Jay’s captions draw attention to the strange audio distortion, particularly in such close proximity to the memory loss — was the Operator present, but unseen?
Unusually, Jay clarified some of the events in the video in a forum post:
Some understandable confusion going on about #18, I’ll try and set a few things straight if memory serves (which I can’t help but think is a gamble at this point).
-Whoever was in the mask attacked me. He pushed me against the door that was locked behind me and pulled me down on the floor.
I don’t remember much of what he did after that, I was in a daze because I had hit my head on the floor.
-After he had what looked like some kind of seizure, I tried to take his mask off. He pushed me off surprisingly hard and I stumbled backwards and fell.
-The knife I had with me was still in my pocket when I headed for the back door. Then it wasn’t when I woke up in my car.
I’m still feeling very sore from it all. My head is killing me.
Who is the masked figure? What are the connections between the masked figure, ToTheArk and the Operator? Were the figure’s seizure and Jay’s coughing fit caused by the same thing? Does the medication Jay retrieved from the house in his previous visit belong to the masked figure?
totheark: Messages (November 21, 2009)
Over footage of a sinking ship and heavily-distorted audio, cryptic messages appear: “Tell us. You have been keeping secrets. Smile for the camera.” At the end of the video, the sinking ship is overlaid with an image of the lower half of a familiar face: Tim.
This video combines several elements we have come to expect from ToTheArk: mocking messages to Jay, distorted audio, water, and old footage re-used to sinister effect. There isn’t much to go on here — it is provocative, and we can only hope that Jay will respond. The one curiosity is that there’s no mention of the events of Entry #18. Jay did what ToTheArk wanted — returned to the house — but there’s no further development there.
The footage was identified as the sinking of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
Is the message directed to Jay, to Tim, or to someone else entirely? Who has been keeping secrets, and what are they? For whose camera should that person be smiling?
Entry #19 (November 25, 2009)
We begin with a confession, prompted by ToTheArk’s video: Jay has, indeed, been keeping secrets. He has been filming himself, much as Alex did, for the last month. Two nights after returning from the house in Entry #18, something showed up on the tape. We see Jay get ready for bed; the video cuts, and Jay is apparently asleep. Something, however, is lurking outside his window — between the blinds, we can make out the masked figure. The video cuts again, and in a burst of video and audio distortion, we see the masked figure perched atop the cabinet in the corner of Jay’s room; another cut, and he is sitting there normally, watching Jay sleep; another cut, and he is sitting against the wall beside Jay’s bed; a final cut, and he is peering directly into the camera. The distortion suddenly vanishes, and Jay is gone; the masked figure is once again outside the window. Jay’s captions tell us that he remains absent for three hours, then returns and falls asleep once more. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t remember any of this. He draws the connection between ToTheArk and the masked figure, and tells us that it’s unsafe for him to stay where he is.
The narrative style of the series continues to evolve with this video. Originally, Alex was our protagonist, and Jay our narrator; when Jay began to take an active role in the investigation, he became the protagonist, and Alex’s role became less clear. Now, ToTheArk seems to be directing the action, and almost narrating Jay’s experiences in much the same way as Jay narrated Alex’s. ToTheArk filmed Jay in the house; ToTheArk demanded that he return; ToTheArk prompted Jay to confess. Is it possible that the anonymous tip that led Jay to the house in the first place was also the work of ToTheArk? If so, we have to begin wondering who is really moving the story at this point.
Is Jay descending into the same paranoia and madness that seemed to claim Alex? Is the masked figure really ToTheArk? Where did Jay go? Why does the masked figure seem to cause the same video distortion as the Operator during his visit to Jay’s home, but not in the house during Entry #18? Why does the video cut and skip? Are the cuts the result of edits, and if so, who made them?
totheark: Return (December 2, 2009)
This short video is striking: we begin with Jay, with dark circles under his eyes, slumped in the corner of a hallway, a stupefied look on his face. The footage cuts to a longer shot, and the Operator comes around the corner next to Jay, moves slowly down the hall, and vanishes. The footage ends, and the captions appear: “found you” and “forever”.
This marks the first appearance of the Operator in the 2009 time frame — until now, all the shots of him were from Alex’s tapes from 2006. The realization that he is active, and apparently aware of Jay, changes the dynamic of the story. This is almost certainly the return which ToTheArk references in his video title.
Based on the shirt Jay is wearing, and the fact that the video description on YouTube is “91” — that is, “19” backwards — it seems likely that this footage was recorded during Jay’s three-hour absence in Entry #19. It isn’t entirely clear where he is, but the door behind Jay’s head, and the layout of the hallway, suggest that this could be the house we saw in entries #16 and #18.
Who filmed this footage? Why was the Operator there? What had happened to Jay? Who has been “found”, and by whom?
Entry #19.5 (December 9, 2009)
Jay gives us some breathing room with this video: in it, he goes over the items he took from the house, and re-caps some of the important details. The medicine bottle has no label, and now seems to empty, despite the fact that it sounded full when he took it from the house; the bullet casing is now missing, and Jay acknowledges that he may have misplaced it, or it may have been taken by the masked man; he shows us the papers that he took, including a scribble sketch of a tree with what seems to be smoke above it; he identifies the recurring Operator symbol on the drawings, and also notes the message “AT THE TOWER”. He then tells us that he is investigating the last of Alex’s tapes, and the entry ends.
This entry, combined with ToTheArk’s Return video, seem to be setting the stage for something significant. We’re being given a chance to consider all that we know, while also being introduced to a new clue. The only tower that we’ve seen in the series so far is the mysterious red tower that Alex and Jay encountered while scouting for locations, all the way back in Entry #5. It seemed out of place at the time, and it seems we may be returning there in the near future.
The introduction of the last of Alex’s tapes also completes the transition that began with Tim’s interview. This is no longer just the story of what happened to Alex in the summer of 2006; this is a story happening in the here and now.
What is the medication? Did Jay take the pills? What happened to the bullet? What is the tower? How much has Jay forgotten?
Entry #20 (December 15, 2009)
Jay warns us up front that this may be the last clue he gets from the tapes, and that he doesn’t remember any of this happening. We begin in a living room, with Alex and Jay talking. Alex props up a painting to add some color to the scene, and they discuss the fact that they are recording at Brian’s house, which is being used as a set for Marble Hornets. They are waiting for Tim to arrive, and there is a moment of fierce audio and video distortion. Tim knocks on the door, and Alex lets him in amidst a strange audio hiss. We cut forward to a break in the rehearsal, and Tim excuses himself. He is coughing violently in the hallway, and when Alex investigates, he finds Tim with some medication. Jay then observes that the events on the tape seem to have been edited; he also notes that the medication Tim was carrying looks similar to the medication he found in the house in Entry #16. He then concludes with some footage from Entry #5, having come to the conclusion that the red tower is his only clue. He has decided, he tells us, to go there soon.
There is a great deal to analyse in this video. Let’s begin with the location: the couch Alex is sitting on looks terribly familiar, but it is when Alex goes to let Tim in that the location is confirmed. This is the house from entries #16 and #18, and also the house from ToTheArk’s Return video. That, presumably, is why Jay was told that Brian might be found here; this was Brian’s house.
While it’s a small detail, we shouldn’t ignore the strange painting which Alex props up on the back of the couch. In Entry #19.5, we saw a tree with smoke above it on the scribbled drawings; now, we have a creepy painting with a forest on fire. Trees and forests are clearly a recurring element in this series, and now we have the introduction of fire.
We also have more confirmation that Jay has forgotten many of the events of the summer of 2006. He was, apparently, also a script supervisor for Marble Hornets, and spent more time with Alex and Tim than he had previously suggested.
Finally, we have to acknowledge the evidence pointing toward Tim being the masked man: the medication he takes in this video seems similar to the medication Jay discovers in this very house three years later; he seems to be wearing the same jacket as the masked man wore in Entry #18; his presence seems to cause video and audio distortion at several points through the entry. The evidence seems compelling — returning to the earlier videos and studying the masked man also reveals that he is similar to Tim in height and build — but there is no clear indication of what it might mean. Why is Tim exhibiting the symptoms we now associate with Jay? Why is Alex — who we have always thought of as the primary focus of the Operator’s attentions — displaying no such symptoms?
Is Tim the masked man? Is Tim ToTheArk? Who was filming this footage? Is the mysterious house really Brian’s former home? Were the tapes edited before they were sent to Jay — or, perhaps, afterwards?
totheark: Version (December 16, 2009)
ToTheArk apparently wants Jay to know that he is on the right track. We begin with inverted footage of the red tower, swamped in heavy audio distortion; then, words rapidly appear over a rectangle of zeroes. The message “WAITING FOR YOU” then appears, and the video ends with a single red X in the center of the screen.
The initial letters of the words — “poison”, “random”, “endings”, “centered”, “excludes”, “death”, “encountering”, “stale”, “truth”, “receives”, “endangering”, “every” and “section” — spell the message “PRECEDES TREES”; this is the third video in a row to make significant reference to trees or forests. It should also be noted the “PRECEDES TREES” is an anagram of “DEEPER SECRETS”. Either, or both, may be the primary intent of the message.
This video is a return to an earlier style for ToTheArk: the stock footage and blurred captions are gone, in favor of an inverted clip from Entry #5, and the return of the zeroes. It may be that the style of video is inherently significant — or it may be that ToTheArk’s videos are prepared by more than one person.
Who — or what — is waiting at the red tower? What is the significance of the trees? What is going to happen to Jay?
That’s it for another week. Next time, Jay returns to the red tower, things get stranger still, and we discover something very important about the fate of Alex Krailie. We’ll push through to the end of the first season of Marble Hornets, so don’t miss it!
If you enjoy Marble Hornets, support the creators by buying the DVD set.