TLC: The Monster at the End of the Book

It’s with some trepidation that I approach the ending of Tender Loving Care. If there’s one thing that TLC does a lot better than its predecessors and enginemates The Seventh Guest and The Eleventh Hour, it’s provoking a sense of dread. It’s better at this because dread is the anticipation of something bad to come. T7G and its sequel wear horror on their sleeves, putting ghosts and skulls and spiders everywhere like a haunted house in a carnival. There’s nothing to dread, because you’ve already seen how bad things get. TLC puts you in a beautiful house on a sunny day, and tells you that it’s all going to go horribly wrong. It’s sort of like Hitchcock’s famous example of the ticking time bomb, except that it doesn’t even tell you what’s going to happen, which gets your imagination involved.

But then, the closer I get to the end, the more the story takes shape and denies imagined possibilities. For example, for a brief time, I was imagining a cheesy third-act twist where it turns out that Jody is alive and Michael is actually the delusional one. There was some slight evidence for it at the time, such as a minor character claiming to have seen Allison with a little girl in a wheelchair. The whole possibility was pretty thoroughly ditched shortly afterward, and good thing, too, because it didn’t really fit in with where the story had been or was going. But the important thing to note here is that I was imagining a cheesy third-act twist.

No actual ending to this story can compare to what the imagination conjures up from mere suggestions. But more than that, my expectations of a 90s interactive movie are not high. The appearance of a bit player in an Eleventh Hour t-shirt provoked fresh worry by reminding me of the work’s lineage when I least expected it. I want it to live up to the promise of its unusual and intriguing beginning, but the more it becomes concerned with piling on the gratuitous nudity, the more I come to regard it as just another gimmick title pandering to the stereotypical teenage male gamer. And so I approach the ending with trepidation — not just the dread of what’s to come in the plot, but of how far the aesthetic experience will descend in the pursuit of cheap thrills.

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