What is the philosophy of cosmicism and how is it used to convey a sense of dread in both The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Void?
To start off, we must understand the concept of ‘cosmicism.’
In an effort to boil it down, it is essentially that our lives are worth nothing. Also, we are largely alone (aside from god-like space creatures that are indifferent to our existence) in contrast to the vast reaches of space that we have little to no understanding of. According to yourdictionary (n.d). Cosmicism is “The literary philosophy developed by the American writer H.P Lovecraft, stating that there is no recognizeable divine presence, such as God, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence.”
Now bearing this in mind, thinking about our own existence has been something humans have contemplated since the dawn of time … and so this is why the concept of cosmicism has made for interesting horror stories, both in literary text and film. The most frightening aspects of this ‘sub-genre’ of horror aren’t the jump scares or monsters (although the monsters help), it’s the atmosphere. Or more specifically, the dread. Even with no particular monster involved…even if not read from a novel or observed on screen, cosmic dread can be harsh. Human beings have often thought about our own mortality on this planet. The realization of how small we are usually accompanies the understanding that what we see in the night sky barely scratches the surface of the extent of the reach of space. Our understanding is limited, and this is beyond humbling, to put it simply. Not knowing what’s out there can be a crippling thing, and so Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ and ‘The Void’ capture this dread perfectly. In ‘The Void’, many things are left ambiguous, such as the ending. Two of the characters find themselves on a far away planet (?) heading towards a pyramid-like structure. It is cold and empty (void). Yet they chose to enter into this world. This could only work in a horror film as many people would no doubt be scratching their heads at the ending. The intention is possibly that the viewer no doubt feels grateful to have limited understanding in much the same way as we use the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss.’ Cam Lindsay (2017) writes, quoting Gillespie, one of the directors “All of this stuff relating to pyramids and triangles is left ambiguous, for the audience to interpret as they would, intentionally.” So, with this in mind, the viewer is in exactly the same position as the characters in that they don’t know what is happening. This contrasts with the crime genre, for instance, where the viewer sometimes get’s to see the murder/crime take place, getting to see the perpetrator. In this film, however, you see as much as the characters do.
In Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, the main character is in a similar predicament regarding his ignorance. Firstly, we could say that our understanding of the sea is minimal, which in turn has led to many horror stories over time. We struggle with what we cannot grasp or see below the surface. But in regards to the main character, his heritage is what he learns towards the end of the story. Prior to the events of this story he was the every day guy of the time (or so we can assume), although he (and the reader) learns of his true reality towards the end of the narrative. This cosmic dread is key to Lovecraft’s stories in that we know so little. A writer for the H.P Lovecraft Wiki (n.d) writes “The mind of the narrator deteriorates when he is afforded a glimpse of what exists outside his perceived reality.” This makes us, the reader, question whether we would prefer to be ignorant or burdened with knowledge.
cosmicism. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14th, 2019, from http://www.yourdictionary.com/cosmicism
Lindsay, C. (2017). Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski Explain How ‘Suicide Squad’ and Guillermo del Toro Helped Create ‘The Void’ [Web page]. Retrieved from
The H.P Lovecraft Wiki (n.d). The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Retrieved August 4, 2019, from