Do you remember the last time you felt truly immersed in something? And if so, can you remember what facilitated that immersion? For me, the first time I felt truly immersed in a horror film was watching The Grudge in surround sound. It’s funny what makes moments memorable but at one point in the film a ghostly child runs through the living room, pattering footsteps sending table top items clattering to the ground. I remember feeling a genuine chill at the sensation that the ghostly menace had run straight into my living room, whistled behind me as I perched on my settee and back out through the far door.
The power of audio coupled with the presence of virtual reality (VR) makes the future of cinema extremely exciting! I felt this potential when I fell victim to Catatonic, a horror VR experience by VRSE. VRSE specialise in 360 degree cinema experiences adapted for use within VR.
I say I ‘fell victim to’ because I think it’s important to be open minded about the potential of VR by obeying the guidelines of the experience. Before Catatonic started I was advised that the experience was best when seated, arms on the arm rests and relaxed back in my chair… Perfect poised position for someone strapped to a rickety old wheelchair ready to be wheeled precariously around a creepy old asylum!
The idea of incorporating the hardware into the experience or designing with VR limitations in mind, has often been a topic of discussion where the fidelity of a VR experience is concerned. Whilst I wasn’t actually strapped to my chair and whilst the character in the experience was male, unlike myself, setting the scene as VRSE had done validated the experience immediately. In fact, the only time that the immersion was broken was when I went to shield my eyes from pure nightmare fuel and I instead, grabbed the front of my Gear VR!
Catatonic is every horror cliché that you love to hate: a fiendish cocktail of flickering lights, distant screams and overly-friendly contortionists. It’s the potent mix of all these ingredients which make for such a personal and immersive experience. The dark doorway that your morbid curiosity won’t let you tear your gaze away from. The feeling that you’re being followed but you’re too scared to check. The distant sound that makes you jump from your seat or the ghostly shadow which mourns for your attention. Whatever it is that makes your spine tingle, it will find its way to you.
“Did you see that girl?”
“Did you see what was on the table?”
“Did you see what smashed the window?”
“Did you see what was following you – I mean – was there something following you? There was, right?”
Everyone who removed their headset after the experience had a different question or had seen something a little different. The idea that the experience had been able to maintain such a level of engagement, personalise the experience somewhat and convey the underlying story presents an incredible potential for the future of interactive storytelling.
And back to me, perched on my settee whilst a small ghost boy scuttles past, imagining the new dimension of fear VR could bring to cinema. Being able to keep checking over your shoulder in It Follows, give a nod to Pennywise in his guttery lair or witness a Face Hugger well… face to face.
So if Catatonic sounds like your kind of thing (you maniac) then you can download the VRSE app for most mobile phones and pop it in your Google Cardboard! All of the 360 videos can also be viewed from the VRSE website, including Catatonic.