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Review: The Blackout Experiments

There is a deep thrombosis within the beating heart of The Blackout Experiments, Rich Fox’s documentary on immersive horror experiences that played as a part of Sundance’s Midnight Madness program.

The film, which opens in Toronto’s Kingsway Theatre this weekend highlights the extent that ordinary people desire to feel something, a sense of immersion if you will, in a world that is increasingly isolated and does not contain any sort of feeling. The stories of Blackout “victims” are fascinating when considered that 1. These brave souls voluntarily came on board for the ride 2. The Blackout game itself doesn’t seem to be very much fun in the slightest and 3. Many of the participants would willingly return.

Even more surprising is that there seems to be a sense of kinship among these survivors. The game itself is shown in glimpses, and the creators themselves do not appear. Yet in a world of augmented reality becoming such a serious craze, (interesting that the film is released during the mania accompanying Pokémon Go), The Blackout Experiments is not that far-fetched a subculture.

Immersive horror seems to be impetus for shows like Halloween Haunt at Canada’s Wonderland, or in Eli Roth’s ambitious but unsuccessful Goretorium in Las Vegas. The mystery that the film unlocks is that the reason for the long-lasting success of immersive horror is that these shows are not quite immersive enough.

Blackout is even more personalized and customized. The information that is being revealed plays on the biggest fears of the participants can later be used against them, creating a sort of feedback loop, a type of theraputic experience of confronting fears. But the movie does this experience no favour by styling itself as a horror movie. The film is either not immersive enough, or, we fear, too immersive, to the point that it too becomes an endurance exercise, a not very pleasant one at that.

[star v=25]