What’s on tap?
As I take my seat and strap on my headset, I’m advised to watch the Horror package “because it shows off the best virtual reality effects.” Meanwhile, the Docu-fiction is “interesting but less immersive.”
I opt for both.
Classifying the Horror films as “Horror” is a bit generous. They’re creepy or chock-full of jump scares, and, yeah, I’m squirming during the first film, but there’s no lingering unease, no haunted dreams or trauma once the headset comes off. Two of the shorts do stand out though.
VR Cinema is a business, not a social project.
In Sonar you’re launched from a mothership in deep space, towards an asteroid for what becomes a search-and-rescue mission with a twist. The plot never fully develops, but the film is visually impressive and one of the more immersive in the package.
Catatonic is a wheelchair-bound journey through an insane asylum where you meet fellow residents like the masturbating man and rabid little girl, among other unsavory characters. If any of the horror films ingrain into your brain, it’s this one.
On the Docu-fiction front, The Pursuit of Happiness: Farah introduces you to the unfamiliar surroundings of a displaced, 12-year-old Syrian girl as she narrates her family’s refugee experience.
Witness 360: 7/7 follows the story of the 2005 London train bombing, recounted by a survivor.
But as insightful and emotionally moving as the Docu-fiction films are, they feel out of place in a cinema that’s unapologetically branded as a place for entertainment, not an arthouse or museum.
Berlin’s Location Manager, Michael Yosef, says this became apparent when one of their packages featured the aptly named In Your Face, a 12-minute self-produced film that forces the viewer to confront the real world ramifications of the refugee crisis when a young Syrian girl appears at the doorstep asking for shelter.
“[In Your Face] was just too heavy for some people. They would come into the cinema really excited and then they’d see this heavy content about refugees and it would be too much. That’s why we changed our whole content package – so that everyone who comes to the cinema can leave with a good feeling.”
Immersive experiences like these have been shown to increase empathy and even help treat psychological conditions such as severe paranoia. But, the VR Cinema is a business, not a social project. When they pay, “people prefer to be entertained,” Yosef said.