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Otherworldly Communication Failure

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"That time... you grabbed my arm. I... I always thought it was Death trying to pull me down. But that wasn't it at all, was it? Were you... helping me that day?"

Bob has spent the entire film up until this point running away from ghouls, ghosts, and inhuman creatures that seem hellbent on capturing him for unknown reasons and unlucky for him, he's hit a dead end. He reluctantly turns to face the creatures...only to learn that they were never malevolent and just wanted to talk to Bob or warn him of the actual threat.

Otherworldly Communication Failures typically happen for one of two reasons (or some combination of both). The character the ghouls and monsters are trying to talk to is, understandably, scared out of their minds by the inhuman creature made from the stuff of nightmares approaching them. Though the entity is fully intelligible to humans, Bob unfortunately can't hear what it is trying to say over his own shrieks of terror.

In other cases though, the being may not be able to communicate with humans at all or is unable to do so in a way that they can easily comprehend. For example: a ghost unable to communicate or interact with the living outside of very specific circumstances or events; a monster that speaks only in gurgles, garbles, and growls; an alien that communicates using a Starfish Language; a god, deity, or an Eldritch Abomination so unfathomable to the human mind that even the most basic communication with it can accidentally drive a person mad, just to list a few.

This trope is often used as a misdirect or Red Herring, seeing as monsters and ghosts are some of the typical suspects for the Big Bad. In stories with happier endings, the human the creatures are trying to communicate with will eventually realize what's going on and will summon up the courage to hear what the creatures have to say or find a way to comprehend the message. But many versions of this trope take a darker tone, with the human character going mad from being harangued by nightmarish monsters for an extended period of time. Some, in their terror to run away or hide from these creatures, even die in freak accidents or intentionally kill themselves to escape it all, never realizing the creatures meant them no harm.

Sub-Trope of Poor Communication Kills. Related to Impeded Communication and Impeded Messenger. Compare and contrast Language Barrier. See also Dark Is Not Evil, Not Always Evil, Creepy Good, Not Evil, Just Misunderstood, Reluctant Monster, and Innocent Aliens which the supernatural beings often fall under, as well as Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?, which may be the positive outcome of this trope. A common trope in stories that involve I See Dead People, Magnetic Medium, Quieting the Unquiet Dead, and Benevolent Alien Invasion.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016), the traumatic circumstances of Link's first encounter with the Hero's Shade leads him to conclude he's The Grim Reaper and plans to hunt him down one day. The Golden Wolf is treated with similar suspicion, as Link first concludes his much unwanted wolf transformation was a curse.
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokémon: The Rise of Darkrai, Darkrai tries to warn people that Dialga and Palkia are going to trap their city in a dimension that they will slowly destroy with their fighting. Unfortunately the way he communicates is by limited telepathy and giving people nightmares, which leads to Darkrai being seen as the villain.
    • Pokémon the Series: Ruby and Sapphire: In "Absol-ute Disaster," the Pokémon Absol starts appearing around an island town where bridges have suddenly started collapsing, and the local townspeople accuse Absol of causing the bridges to collapse. It's later revealed that Absol can detect oncoming disasters and has been trying to warn the town about the local spring, which is overflowing and in danger of flooding the entire town, but since he can't speak in a human language, the townspeople believe it's to blame.

    Fan Works 
  • The first Cthonic god to meet the amnesiac god-turned-mortal Zagerus in wasting beats of this heart of mine is Tisiphone, who has a One-Word Vocabulary. At the end of a chance encounter where she captures a murderer while screaming "murder" and "murderer," she ominously points at him and says the only other word in her vocabulary: "Zagerus." The readers know that Tisiphone knows his name because they knew each other, but to Zagreus it only comes across as disturbing; Callisto even worries that he's cursed.

  • ParaNorman: At the behest of the spirit of a recently deceased teacher, ghost-whisperer Norman Babcock attempts to complete a ritual to prevent a curse on the town from coming to fruition. However, the school bully, Alvin, prevents him from finishing, causing a horde of zombies to rise up and chase the two boys. The townsfolk, thinking they're fighting against a Zombie Apocalypse, begin to riot and even try to kill Norman for causing the situation. Once cornered, Norman finally begins to talk to the zombies and discovers the zombies have been chasing him because they know he can understand them. They explain that they were the town's founders, who were cursed by Agatha, a young girl they hanged for being a witch all because she, like Norman, could also speak to spirits. Part of breaking the curse involves them getting the aid of another who shares her ability.
  • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: The Scooby Gang goes to Moonscar Island to deal with the alleged ghost of Morgan Moonscar, the pirate that the island is named after, thinking it's just another hoax. It's not: he's real, as are the other spirits and zombies that are trying to get them to leave the island and terrifying the gang in the process. After some sleuthing, they learn that Moonscar is an Asshole Victim of the island's caretakers Lena, Simone, and Jacques, who are centuries-old werecats that suck the life force of visitors to the island to sustain themselves. He and the other spirits were trying to warn the gang to leave before they became the trio's latest victims.

    Film—Live Action 
  • Arrival: The Starfish Aliens that land on Earth naturally speak a Starfish Language that the protagonist, linguistics professor Louise Banks, spends the entirety of the film trying to decipher and decode in order to understand their intentions and whether or not they're benign, while the national governments around the world debate when and with what weapon they should use to blow the aliens off the face of the planet because they don't know their intentions. Through her persistence, Louise learns that the aliens are in fact benevolent and are actually trying to communicate with Earth to ask for future help in saving their population.
  • Crimson Peak: Edith learns rather quickly that the home of her new husband Thomas and his sister Lucille is very obviously haunted. However, this is not Edith's first time dealing with ghosts, as she's been able to see ghosts since she was a child. After living in fear for a few weeks, Edith finally is made to listen to the ghosts, from which she learns that they are all victims of the real villains, Lucille and Thomas, and are trying to warn her.
  • The Others: Although the house that Grace and her sunlight-sensitive children live in is very clearly haunted, she refuses to believe it until she sees that her daughter has seemingly been possessed by the spirit of an old woman. However, inverting the trope, it is Grace, her kids, and the entire house staff who are the ghosts. The "spirits" they encounter are actually humans now currently living in the house who have hired a spirit medium to try to communicate with them as the dead can't interact with the living otherwise.
  • The Pact: Considering the dreams Annie keeps having as well as the visions of the ghost woman in the floral dress she has when awake, Annie is rightfully terrified and thinks this ghost is the cause of her sister Nicole's disappearance. While Annie is right that the house is indeed being haunted by the ghost of Jennifer Glick, she was only trying to warn Annie about the murderer living in the basement, who was the actual killer. Jennifer is finally able to at least give Annie a hint (by naming the murderer) when she brings in her psychic friend to help.
  • Scary Movie 3: The main plot centers on a perceived invasion from a hostile alien race. However it turns out that the aliens are actually friendly and are on Earth to find Samara from The Ring as their entire population accidentally watched the cursed tape and are now slated to die in seven days. When asked why they were attacking the humans, the aliens explain that to say "hello" in their language, you grab someone in a chokehold. To say "goodbye", you kick the other person in the nuts.
  • The Sixth Sense: Cole Sear is a ten year old who can see ghosts and is constantly being haunted by them. Once the child psychiatrist sent to treat him, Malcolm, accepts this, he advises Cole to try hearing the ghosts out. When Cole finally does, he realizes that the vomiting young girl spirit that has been haunting him as of late actually just wants him to help her reveal that she was murdered by her mother who suffers from Munchausen By Proxy. Later, Malcolm learns that he too is just a spirit who was unknowingly drawn to Cole to get help being laid to rest.

  • Frankenstein: One of the most famous literary examples of this trope. The monster of Frankenstein attempts to communicate with several human characters throughout the novel. When he tries to befriend the DeLaceys (the family he watched) and reveal his presence, they don't listen to him and try to attack him because of his ghastly, grotesque appearance.
  • Metro: The Dark Ones are universally feared by the denizens of the Metro as terrifying boogeymen that can fry the brains of humans simply by approaching them. As Artyom learns, however, none of this is intentional on the Dark Ones' part. They mean no harm: in fact, they want to coexist, but unfortunately their Psychic Powers are so potent that human minds can't handle it. Each time the Dark Ones reach out to try to telepathically communicate with a human, it drives the human to madness.
  • In the Diogenes Club story "Egyptian Avenue", Richard Jeperson investigates what appears to be a Curse of the Pharaoh in an Egyptian-themed tomb in a London cemetery. It turns out the unquiet spirits are the servants of the interred man, who took his pharaonic pretentions too far by having them entombed with him. And they're trying to warn that his son is going to do the same thing to an entire building of employees.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ghosts (US). Played for Laughs. The ghosts are upset that Sam lied to Jay about them not enjoying their game of Dungeons & Dragons. Trevor, the only ghost that can move objects and therefore somewhat interact with humans, writes "she lied" in the steam in the mirror while Jay is in the shower. But, when Jay sees it, he just says "About what?" much to Trevor's frustration.
  • The Haunting of Hill House (2018): The Crain family's childhood home is haunted by an array of spirits and much of the trauma the kids deal with as adults comes from the spirits' seemingly malevolent influence on their family. However, it is later revealed that most of the ghosts of Hill House, while terrifying and creepy, aren't malevolent and are more or less trying to scare the Crains into leaving the house because 1) there are some genuinely evil spirits that reside in there and 2) the house itself is an Eldritch Location that feeds off of the spirits trapped in it.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Dark Matters", the aliens are trying to tell humanity that they are friendly and just want help in escaping, but they're unable to do so because they don't speak any human language and thus can't communicate directly with humans.
  • Supernatural: After Dean is released from Hell and pulls himself out of his own grave, he soon hears a deafeningly high sound which shatters glass all around him. When he meets the angel Castiel at the end of the episode, Castiel admits that the sound was his attempt to speak to Dean while in his true form, believing that Dean would be able to understand him. From then on Castiel always speaks in a very low and gravelly voice, which Misha Collins has confirmed as being out of worry at harming Dean or anyone else like that again.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Defied in the Gospel of Luke. An angel appears to a group of shepherds, scaring the hell out of them. As a consequence, the first words out of the angel's mouth are "Fear not!" This has spawned many memes featuring Angelic Abominations shouting "Fear not!" at rightfully terrified humans.


    Tabletop Games 
  • This happens to ghosts all the time in Chronicles of Darkness. The nature of ghostly existence means that they need specific, special powers to communicate with living people at all. Even using gestures or mouthing words gets increasingly more difficult as a ghost ages and loses its connection to its mortal life. One of the abilities of Sin-Eaters is that they can actually talk coherently with the dead without any extra work.

    Video Games 
  • Bugsnax: There's a mysterious creature composed of different Bugsnax that has been stalking the Grumpuses across Snaktooth Island. You find out later that it's the Snaksquatch, a Golem Elizabert Megafig (the reporter you are looking for) created to try to stop the rest of the Grumpuses from eating any more Bugsnax, as she can't make the Bugsnax talk despite her connection to them. This backfires: she used the Snaksquatch to forcibly free the Snax from Gramble's barn and carve "No More Bugsnax" into the camp sign, which only made the others too anxious about about the identity of the creature and fearful of the possibility that something wanted them dead to realize that the thing didn't want them eating any more Snax.
  • Digital Devil Saga: The main reason behind almost everything wrong with the world is that the Top God Brahman is completely incapable of communicating with humans and understanding things on a human scale. For example, he sensed that Sera was incredibly sad and that other people were at fault, so he ends up punishing the whole planet for it. The final arc of the second game is all about properly communicating with him, which does solve all their problems once they achieve it because Brahman is a benevolent god despite his lack of understanding.
  • Pokémon: According to the Pokédex, the Pokémon Absol can detect oncoming disasters with its horn and appears to humans before natural disasters to try to warn them. But since it can't talk, humans believe that Absol causes disasters instead, so Absol hides in remote mountains to hide from humans.
  • Wandersong begins with the Bard's home village being terrorized by an outbreak of ghosts, whose speech is rendered as strings of colorful symbols instead of words. While able to placate them by singing, the Bard is only able to properly communicate with them after gaining the ability to understand spirit language and discovers that they're the ghosts of the villagers' loved ones, who've learned that the world is about to end and want to spend what little time remains with their families. The villagers still can't understand them, but it's the sentiment that counts.

    Visual Novel 
  • The unnamed Starfish Aliens in Just Deserts are the primary antagonists of the game, having invaded Earth for unknown reasons and causing anyone who gets too close to them to become catatonic. However, Eve’s ending reveals that it’s not an invasion: the aliens are travellers looking for a new homeworld, and they’re just making a stopover on Earth so they can gather the resources they need to finish the journey. The Brown Note is caused by them attempting to communicate their intentions through telepathy, which is inadvertently harmful to human brains; they never intended to hurt anyone, and the ones you fight are only acting in self-defense.

    Web Comics 
  • A running gag in the haunted house arcs of Sluggy Freelance, the ghosts' attempts to communicate with the living always get cut off or otherwise obscured.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: In “Night Drivers”, while trying to take a shortcut home, Sprig and Polly are repeatedly harassed by a creepy, hook-handed hitchhiker. When they finally make it back home, they run into what appears to be the hitchhiker; it’s actually a statue dedicated to the late Zechariah Nettles, a frog who dedicated himself to guiding and protecting travelers. They then realize that the hitchhiker was the ghost of Zechariah himself, and that he was actually trying to steer them to the safer path home.
  • One episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command has a comet haunted by the ghost of an older space hero who keeps saying "enola eno on"note  in an attempt to warn Buzz from being a lone wolf. Subverted, as it turns out the guy is not completely dead and therefore not a ghost, just frozen. After he's revived, he's surprised to hear he was speaking backwards.
  • Casper the Friendly Ghost: Occurs frequently in both the original comics and the cartoon because Casper is a friendly, Reluctant Monster who just wants to befriend everyone and almost anything but accidentally terrifies almost every human he meets because, despite his friendliness, he's still an undead being trying to communicate with the living.
  • Played for Laughs in the Rick and Morty episode "Gotron Jerrysis Rickvangelion", which parodies Mech vs. Beast-type shows. The post-credit scene reveals that the giant alien bugs that routinely attack the world are actually sapient and entirely benevolent, having come to Earth to help humanity cure AIDS. Unfortunately, their language sounds like roars of anger, the portal disintegrates their clothing, and their world is comparatively gigantic.