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The most extreme immersive horror experience in America is called Blackout. Not for the faint of heart, it is a terrifying, psycho-sexual thrill-ride designed to play on our deepest psychological fears. Rich Fox's innovative horror documentary follows a group of friends whose experience with Blackout becomes deeply personal, developing into an obsession that hijacks their lives and blurs the line between reality and paranoid fantasy. Revealing an underbelly of private rituals and personal nightmares with footage that is 100% real, "The Blackout Experiments" is the story of our obsession with the darkness inside us. "The Blackout Experiments" premiered at Sundance 2016.
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Ever since learning of Blackout's Halloween season experience in LA, I've been intrigued. Revisiting a handful of extreme fans, as they return to experience Blackout year after year, this documentary provided even more insight than I could have hoped for. Nicely, chronologically paced. More shots from inside the "haunt" than I expected. And it was nice to end it with some face time with Blackout's elusive creators.
We're never really told if the filmmakers are in on Blackout. If so, and this movie is an ad, it's not a particularly effective one. Usually I don't judge how others spend their money because it's their money, but in this case, I couldn't help seeing the so-called "survivor's club" (the regular visitors) and wonder how privileged you have to be in order to spend money to be assaulted. I do not care for nor like these people at all. I do not want to join their ranks. Straight-up going to an S&M club/prostitute seems more genuine than play-acting as a perpetual hostage. I found it funny when one of them would talk about how personalized their experiences were (ex: "my big fear is being left alone or being out of control"). Well, most of us have similar fears; that doesn't mean that Blackout really "gets you."
I wish they had said how much Blackout costs, if the show has had complaints, if anyone has ever been seriously injured, if neighbors have figured out what was going on in the Blackout theater and called police, etc. So many questions that this documentary doesn't even try to answer. Do or do not do Blackout, but give this boring, incomplete movie a solid pass.
Guide: F-word, nudity.
Not that that is an indication about how the movie is, because it isn’t at all. In fact, the film is fantastic.
However, it’s more about how it made me feel than the content of the movie itself. As of this writing, I have seen The Blackout Experiments three times: twice in its Sundance screening form and once more in its theatrical release format. Both are very similar, with a few cuts and extra scenes added to the final version, all for the better.
For me, reviewing the film is hard, because most of the subjects that the film focuses on are all good friends of mine. On top of that, I’ve had such a personal relationship with Blackout in general over the last few years. Perhaps all that makes me the perfect person to review it then. Perhaps not.
For those of you who don’t know, The Blackout Experiments is a documentary about the extreme, immersive experience Blackout. The documentary follows several subjects and their journey over the course of a year or so with the show. Many are experiencing it for the first time, so you get to see the beginning’s guide to anxiety in full force.
While Blackout is notoriously secretive, the film does a wonderful job of capturing what bits and pieces of the experience are actually like. It really drives home the point that Blackout doesn’t just occur when you step through their door: instead, it starts just as you begin to think about buying a ticket, all the way until months later, when the things you experienced are still re-playing in your mind.
The portions of various Blackout shows that we see the subjects go through in the film are both harrowing and disorienting. What was most interesting to me was to see how these people reacted to these extreme situations…and then comparing them to my own. One scene showcased in the film was one that I had a difficult time with when I did it, so seeing it on the screen, and how these people reacted to it, triggered a “Blackout flashback” of my own leading back to idea of Blackout always being a part of its participants.
I know I have a lot more emotional investment into this film that common joe movie goer, but to see how some of my friends reacted to some situations was enlightening for me. Seeing them go through the same emotional punches, the same feelings, the same anxieties and fears, it was like opening up a new door into my brain.
Rich Fox does a masterful job of getting to the emotional core of Blackout, to show it’s not all about putting people in these extremely tense situations. It gets inside their head, it makes them question everything, and it breaks them down. I think a big reason for that success in the film is Fox’s choice of subjects.
Each person highlighted reacts to Blackout in a different way, and each one takes something else away from it. The film is less about what goes in within Blackout’s walls, but more about how these people humanize those actions and interprets it.
I know The Blackout Experiments isn’t for everyone, but for those of you with an interest in just what it contains, but have yet to experience it, it is a great film. It’s a great peak behind the curtain, with brief glimpses at the people who create it.
Again, Rich Fox did a great job of capturing the feel, the look, and the emotions of Blackout. It’s a personal journey, and one that is interesting to watch unfold on the screen. I highly recommend seeing it for yourself.
This review originally appeared on HorrorBuzz.com