Bousman’s experience is different because it doesn’t rely on cheap horror like fake blood or zombies jumping out from behind corners and chasing you. What is terrifying about it is that the horror is much more psychological and subtle. Each experience is unique as it forces participants to confirm their deepest fears as they describe them – and in his world, participants are sectioned off from their peers, and that makes them uncomfortable. Without someone to verify reality or mirror fear, it becomes difficult to determine what is real and what isn’t, and the experience becomes intensely and increasingly personal as the actors learn more and more about the participant and further exploit their vulnerabilities.
Is it kind of crazy? Absolutely – that’s the point. But it’s also extremely innovative and fresh, especially when the director describes it as a commentary on ‘being present’ and ‘being away from our phones’ because the experience forces each participant to be an active, essential part of the experience. However, interestingly, it was, like most things nowadays, the virtual world that led Bousman to create this world, and which led inquisitive mystery followers who didn’t know any better right to its doorstep. It all started as an experiment that turned into an extended alternate reality game featuring the cult that Bousman made up as the basis for the whole experience. Originally, the only thing shared online was a graphic with a code hidden within it. The code ended up being a phone number. Once users discovered this, they were so tempted to find out what it meant that they would call it. Some would just hang up, but braver detectives would stay on the line and make an appointment to come into the center. The ploy was so convincing that the cops were called in response – twice.
Meanwhile, Bousman was building the eerily industrial 24-room warehouse, with each room featuring a different challenge to be faced. He was designing the whole thing just like a movie, complete with supporting actors, elaborate set designs, and multiple scripts for everyone. Only what’s different is that the leading actor is also you, the observer. Perhaps what is most subversive, what makes people the most uncomfortable about this format is that they are forced to act, as opposed to watching as they are used to doing whether that be in a traditional theater or even everyday life. They’re not passive actors either, as each decision or answer will dictate what will happen within the play and make it all the more horrifying because when left alone, it can really begin to feel like reality. Skeptical? See for yourself when the experience opens on September 8th. Tickets are $165.