Less than a week ago I wrote off online games that pretend to be “immersive theatre experiences” as a waste of time. Now here comes this thrillingly macabre mashup of horror film, gameshow and Zoom meeting, to prove me wrong.
Redemption Room isn’t perfect: the acting is cartoonish and the suggestion that the audience is both participating in and influencing the action is largely illusory. But it’s a short, sharp shocker with a witty central idea and superb production values. Most importantly, it scares the bejasus out of you.
Writer-director Richard Crawford has found the most effective use of video-conferencing as a narrative device since the low-budget “Zoom séance” movie Host, shot under the first lockdown, with which it shares some DNA.
Redemption Room is an international online event fuelled by that great driver of contemporary culture, schadenfreude. The stars are shamed celebs – an adulterous Tory MP who also once shot a hippo; an American gymnast accused of doping; a Mumbai DJ who shagged then ghosted several fans. We, the audience, decide who will be forgiven and who will face their greatest fear.
There’s one brief, early moment of interactivity, when a few audience members are brought into the action so that one of them – an obvious plant – can be dragooned in to replace an AWOL star. We are encouraged to vote and to chat along online throughout, though the poll results and the comment feed are clearly rigged.
The show gets interesting when a shapeless, demonic entity hijacks the show from charismatic presenter Rex (Christopher Killik) and starts to really punish the participants. Imagine I’m a Celebrity… taken over by the Saw franchise and you’re halfway there.
Crawford generates genuinely scary moments when the camera chases each figure towards his or her grisly fate in an opulent bathroom, home gym or vast living room. (The stars are supposed to be at home in their respective McMansions on different continents. I’m guessing they were just filmed in different rooms of a huge, fairly vulgar house. In any case the settings are a darn sight more interesting to look at than the CGI backgrounds of most online shows.)
But the real star of the piece is Filipe Carvalho, who created the genuinely jaw-dropping illusions. The narrative doesn’t make much sense, but the atmosphere is so potent and the blend of live and pre-shot footage so seamless that it scarcely matters. If you want something different and genuinely hair-raising, I can wholeheartedly recommend Redemption Room. Even if it does mean facing a critic’s worst fear: eating my words.
To March 18, redemptionroom.org