It’s in Senua’s eyes. A blankness. Her stare, her searching for reality. But there’s nothing, except anger maybe. Anger at her past, her birth into violence, and her grief. That’s the only thing real to Senua.
Uncanny valley is frequently dissected, that point where a robot or computerized image becomes so real, it’s indistinguishable from a flesh & blood being. That’s Senua. Not in her movement, but her eyes. The subtle way they dart around and how the overwhelming psychosis consumes her thoughts as she stares directly toward the screen. That’s a cinematic no-no; actors never look directly at the camera. That breaks the seal between lens and screen. Hellblade does so frequently. Senua lives in agony. Voices spew soliloquies heard in her mind. Other voices represent self-doubt, conflicting with her will to move forward. When Senua stares, it’s as if she’s searching for those voices, not looking at a camera.
Hellblade is a game about madness. Not in the typical videogame way where a muscular protagonist slashes at monsters to establish power. Hellblade features sword clashes with creatures too, but does so from a place of terror. The camera sits near Senua’s hip. She looks up at her often ungainly foes. Immense sense of scale visually puts Senua in a defensive posture. What she truly fights isn’t clear – it’s unlikely Hellblade is the fantasy it represents. What happens in Hellblade comes from a diseased mind, rotted by mourning the loss of her lover, self-blame as to the death of her family, and the ever present mania that never stops speaking.
Senua doesn’t die in Hellblade. Rather, her arm grows black with each loss. The design states it’s an evil force; it likely is, Senua punishing herself for failing, but seen as another enemy. Better still, the voices sympathetic to Senua, allegorically explaining what she sees and does as to best translate her suffering onto an audience. In this mixture, Hellblade’s depiction of deteriorating mental health is sublime.