At the Hollywood-focused conference this week, VR on the Lot, I sat in a coffin to try out the latest project from Dark Corner Studios, a company which bills itself “The Darkest Part of Virtual Reality.”
“Buried or cremated?” I was asked as I took a seat in the plush coffin.
I chose buried and put the headset on. Now from here on out I’m going to spoil pretty much the entire plot, because I think it represents a new kind of intimate horror worth discussing, and I’m not sure how many people are going to get the chance to see the project, or how many will actually want to see it. Both Dark Corner’s predecessor Catatonic and the one I experienced, Mule, are directed by Guy Shelmerdine, founder of the studio. Dark Corner pitches itself as specializing “in crafting experiences that transport the viewer to places they could never visit in real life — or wouldn’t dare to.” I think that’s a fair description.
So, SPOILER ALERT: Inside Mule I found myself naked with a woman in what looked like a cheap hotel. Then I had a heroin overdose, passed out, and was discovered by the hotel housekeeper. I died at the hospital, went to the afterlife and then the autopsy table, where drug dealers gutted me to find the drugs I’d apparently been carrying in my stomach. Then they had a funeral for me and I was buried, per my choice earlier.
I found myself laughing, my body tensing and arms folding across my stomach during the horrifying morgue/autopsy table scene. Being seated in the coffin is by design, propping my upper body up in a rough approximation of the ill-fated person I would become for a few minutes. I’ve used “I” to describe the first-hand experience so far, but that doesn’t accurately describe the feeling of being inside this headset and seeing this particular piece of content.
It was more like I was seeing through someone else’s eyes, knowing I’m not in huge danger and that in a few minutes I would return to the world I knew outside. In this mindset, I got a first-person ticket to this man’s sad, helpless and horrifying end. I couldn’t decide whether I should sympathize, empathize, judge harshly or just look away — and I found myself escaping via laughter. This was a very personal, fast-paced kind of horror I’d not experienced before.
Mule was filmed with a custom 360-degree camera rig featuring Sony A7Sii cameras, created in partnership with Radiant Images in Los Angeles. Visual effects were added by The Mill in Los Angeles.