Director Darren Lynn Bousman has been working diligently to ruin the filmgoing experience for me for some time now. His three increasingly gory entries in the Saw film franchise (2005’s Saw II, 2006’s Saw III, and 2007’s Saw IV) aren’t however to blame, and neither are his trio of often polarizing horror-musicals (2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, 2012’s The Devil’s Carnival, and 2016’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival). His satanic comedic entry “The Night Billy Raised Hell” in the 2015 anthology Tales of Halloween also isn’t responsible.
No, Darren Lynn Bousman’s efforts to instill in me boredom of the cinematic experience began in 2016, when I found myself joining a fictitious cult as part of his breathtakingly co-written and produced seven-month-long augmented reality game The Tension Experience, in which I found myself a willing participant.
And his efforts were fruitful.
Transcendental, his first attempt at immersive theater (with co-writer Clint Sears) took storytelling to a place I hadn’t yet experienced: emotional, raw, personal and entirely consuming, and for those that were fortunate enough to participate, it’s a journey discussed to this day (for more, read my articles What is The Tension Experience? here and Further Down the Rabbit Hole We Go with The Tension Experience here).
Because of Tension, sitting in the dark, eating popcorn and staring at the screen had somehow lost some of its visceral kick.
Bousman’s second attempt at turning me off cinema came in 2017 with his follow-up titled The Lust Experience. Another LA-based ARG, which like Tension before it required of its participants daily interaction in order to decipher and follow, this second round proved polarizing. Devotees of Tension found Lust perhaps too involved, too sensational, or too nebulous in narrative. To catch lightning in a bottle once is a miracle. To duplicate it is nearly impossible. And when the subject matter may be a lightning rod in of itself? Challenging.
Perhaps learning from this, Bousman’s third effort in the ever-growing LA immersive theater space (with returning producer Gordon Bijelonic and head writer Sears), 2018’s Theatre Macabre, has simultaneously pulled back and at the same time somehow expanded in narrative scope, and to wonderful, impactful effect. Digestible to those uninitiated, the story is immediately set up with the receipt of a single email upon the purchase of a ticket, and once the ticket holder arrives (to the location, disclosed mere hours before the event) it expands quickly and engagingly.
Inspired by the turn of the century Paris playhouse Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, which mounted plays dedicated to the exploration of societal taboos, Theatre Macabre (as we found this past Friday) introduces its attendees, from the moment they enter, to an intimate world of mystery and music and sex and death. From the opening vignette, which asks of visitors what taboo they’d personally care to explore, to the Lynchian characters which populate and interact and facilitate (at times intimately in a space reminiscent of Twin Peak’s extra-dimensional Black Lodge), Theatre Macabre works to foment active participation for the hour and a half in which visitors occupy the multi-layered, colorful and debauched world.
Nurturing this is a first-class cast, stellar costuming and top-notch production and sound design, all of which conspire and cajole and seduce exactly that intimate and active participation – which leads to an entirely electrifying experience.
To say more would be to pull back the curtain, although, by the end of the night, it seemed I willingly once again joined yet another Bousman cult… and did so with a smile on my face.
You should too. Because movies just won’t be the same afterward.
Tickets are $150, are worth every penny and are available here. Remaining available dates for Theatre Macabre are Nov 1, 2 and 3.
For more information, visit the official website for Theatre Macabre here.