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'Edith Finch' Is Like a Death-Obsessed Film Festival

Annapurna Interactive’s first published work feels like a focussed film festival shorts program, for better and worse.

by Danielle Riendeau
May 5 2017, 4:36pm

'What Remains of Edith Finch' artwork courtesy of Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive.

The following contains lots of story spoilers for What Remains of Edith Finch.

I just finished What Remains of Edith Finch, and boy, do I have thoughts. I really enjoyed the game, and its many small tales of the cursed, resilient Finch family. All similarities to its oft-compared Gone Home begin and end with the basic structure—yes, you are walking through a house, looking at details, reading notes, etc.—because, content-wise, the game has far more in common with a good short film program at a particularly imaginative festival.

The house is made up of rooms that belonged to now deceased members of the Finch family—and each of them were sealed up when their occupants passed away. When you work your way into each room, through secret crawlspaces and irresponsibly unlocked windows, you open up a "story" about that Finch. Every one plays very differently, but all of them have grim consequences for the family member at hand. Some are first-person explorations—young Molly's, for example, is the story of how she jumped into various animal bodies, climbing, flying, swimming and slithering on its hunt. But how these sequences are presented, and how you interact with them, varies massively from relative to relative.

Barbara's chapter is a standout, mixing first-person action into a cheesy interactive comic book, where the young scream queen needs to avoid a masked madman and save her brother on Halloween. Grandpa Sam's has you focusing and framing analog camera shots to further the story of his own freak accident. Lewis' mixes third-person walking (and toy sailboat sailing) in a fantasy universe while simultaneously doing gory, grueling factory work in first person.

Because these segments largely work so well, it's fun and effective to play them (rather than simply read or watch or listen to them). It's a joy to play with the wacky physics of baby Gregory's bathtime toys. It's exciting to slide from panel to panel and play the short interactive vignettes of the comic. And it's really fun to fly Gus' kite into the tent hosting a wedding he never wanted to be a part of, causing adolescent chaos (and pop-up words to further the story).

Like any great shorts program, some of these stories are tiny, while others are longer. Milton's is a tiny flipbook that tells its tale inside a minute. They're all arranged around a coherent theme—the deaths of the Finches, and the bizarro curse that ensures each will go out in a dramatic, potentially magical way. And also, like any shorts program, no matter how great, some portions will simply resonate better than others.

Each "real world" room is effectively a portal to a story about its late owner.

That's a blessing and a curse. If some segment of the game doesn't work for you, you know it'll only be a short time until it ends, and something completely different will follow. But that goes as well for the best parts: knowing that, say, Walter's story—about a man so afraid of the world (and a possibly real monster) he hid in a bunker for 30 years—will end so quickly makes the experience especially bittersweet. This works in Edith Finch's favor, for the most part, but it does mean that some portions will inevitably be weaker than others.

In fact, I thought I was going to have some issues with the game, from the first story sequence. Young Molly eats a bunch of stuff in the real world, then starts to shift from cat (yay!) to other creatures, eating all sorts of stuff. There are great moments in there—like when you start rolling down a wooded hill as a clumsy shark—but folks, I basically thought this whole thing was going to end in epic vomiting.

Epic vomiting and a dead kid, sort of like that one scene in The Sixth Sense that haunts me to this day, almost 20 years after the one time I watched that movie.

But most of these sequences really worked for me, as literal or metaphorical explorations of death and what gave these characters some measure of joy in life. I often have a hard time with magical realism, as a genre, but this approach—a lighter touch to a very heavy subject—hit the right notes.

I'm tempted to play it again, but I know, like the most memorable shorts I've seen at the many festivals I've attended, sometimes, these stories are best left to your memory, ephemeral and evocative as they are. What Remains of Edith Finch is perhaps best left to the imagination, then, after that first essential experience.

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