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Viewers afterwards reported that they felt more hopeless and less possible
Total Pictures was incorporated by Jeremy Lorenzo, a genius per several online tests he had taken. For years, Lorenzo had believed horror was an elevated genre but that it did not go far enough. He briefly attended college but only lasted a few nights in the dorms. A few too many people were subjected to his monologues about "emotion as clay and image as god". One young woman later described him as "insect-like".
When he was placed on probation for insulting a teacher in an argument he dropped out rather than apologize. He must have known better opportunities were coming, because that evening he was approached by a patron who offered to fund his ventures. Lorenzo, who had no idea how to negotiate, still got a better deal than he could ever have imagined. Within minutes, he went from a dropout (University of Florida) to a producer and director and writer and millionaire (Total Pictures). This made him proud, more proud than his family had thought possible. It also set his ambitions soaring.
He subjected his aging parents to his ramblings. "What is art? Impact upon the viewer. Thus, horror is the greatest artistic achievement. Does not a negative experience linger more than a positive? Who among us has not locked our door after a horror film out of fear? And who among us has ever unlocked our door out of anticipation?"
His parents, squished together in their tiny living room, did not understand what he was saying, even though he talked loudly enough for neighbors to hear it. "Indeed, the greatest horror films" -- here he almost seemed to smack his lips -- "could even permanently traumatize somebody."
He set out to birth his first film via Total Pictures. He was forthright about it, though his patron chastised him. His vision: to create art that had never been seen before: art intended to weaken, diminish, and negate the viewer. In a local news interview at the local playground he explained directly to the camera that his ideal viewer would leave the theater less capable, less certain. Damaged. The interviewer, confused, asked him why he couldn't make movies that make people more capable, more certain. Jeremy Lorenzo laughed. "If it were possible, we could begin to have that conversation. But that's not the world we live in."
Dozens of people in his hometown shared the clip. This vanquished the last of Jeremy Lorenzo’s doubts. He had gone viral. The local theater told him he could screen his horror movie with them anytime. He explained, with more patience than they deserved, that it was going to transcend horror. They said that sounded just great.
Then came the great task of the film. Jeremy Lorenzo enlisted local artists, the homeless, gangsters, librarians. With his budget, his imagination was unlimited . Every week, his patron checked in on his progress and was every week satisfied with what he heard. Jeremy Lorenzo was a hard worker and took the project as seriously as the patron had hoped.
When the mayor's office received reports about what Jeremy was filming in the middle of the night, about what the money was buying, he called the police to shut Jeremy Lorenzo down. The call was intercepted and the situation quietly but firmly explained. The mayor wilted and resigned himself to hearing reports of his city profaned, sullied, stained.
The day of the screening was protested by the religious and the concerned and their children. Many of them knew somebody who had worked for Jeremy Lorenzo. Though these employees were now rich, they seemed reduced. Embarrassed to be alive. Nonetheless, the police protected Jeremy Lorenzo's first amendment rights, and the film played.
Viewers afterwards reported that they felt more hopeless and less possible, as though the light that hit their eyes leaving the theater had less color in it. Jeremy Lorenzo was delighted. He himself had been in the theater and had felt the same effects. Indeed, he had felt them in the process of the filming. So had everybody employed. Many had quit, saying things like: "I have lost faith in the world"; "I do not believe any of our problems are solvable"; "I believe that I am incapable of taking any action that would not worsen my situation". Jeremy Lorenzo felt all of these as well while simultaneously feeling a profound satisfaction at his achievement.
When the screening ended, he stood in front of the screen to feeble applause. Grinning, shrunken, he declared: “You are the first subjects of a new art form: film no longer conveys a message, but instead touches your soul directly. Rejoice!”
On his way out of the theater, Lorenzo was pulled aside by serious-looking men who clearly had not yet been touched by the film. They took him into a sideroom of the theater, where a plain-faced man sat.
"Jeremy. I hear it went well," said the strange but familiar man.
Jeremy Lorenzo began to explain the physiological effects he had noticed in himself and other viewers but the man stopped him.
"You will receive your final payment within the hour. Unfortunately, that will be our last point of contact. Had you not exposed your method on TV, we might have employed you further."
Jeremy Lorenzo did not understand.
"You see", said the man emotionlessly, "Per your contract, we own not only this film, but your methods. Your screening today was a demonstration. As we are quite satisfied we have no more need of you."
Jeremy Lorenzo sputtered. He still did not understand.
The man sighed. "I'll be clear: We own your movie. We own the genre. 'Trauma film', perhaps. We, meaning the Department of Defense, intend to deploy it in certain nation-states where we expect it to be an, ah, asset. We will, of course, refine the material you have brought us." Here a smile emerged. "Congratulations, Mr. Lorenzo. You've served your country well."
The true horror dawned on Jeremy Lorenzo. Like all institutions, the US government was an object of complete animosity to him. That he should have secretly served it disturbed him like only his film could.
Then it dawned on him. This too was an art piece. The elegance of it -- the overwhelming wealth, the secrecy, the encouragement, the let down -- all of it, all of it demonstrated a level of artistry that might rival his own.
Now he bowed to the serviceman sitting before him. "I would be honored for you to steal my art."
Then he bowed to each of the guards standing around him, walked out of the room, and became a Twitch streamer.