Fantastic Fest: VR Stories With Dark Corner
Is the future of horror shorts immersive?
By Richard Whittaker,
3:40PM, Wed. Sep. 28, 2016
A filthy barn. A crumbling sanitarium. A sleazy motel. Three locations at Fantastic Fest. Or rather, they're not. They're three VR installations at Fantastic Fest, each an immersive little slice of hell.
They're the work of virtual reality studio Dark Corner, each containing their own warped narrative. In "Burlap," you're imprisoned in a crumbling shack at the far-from-tender mercies of a knife-wielding maniac. "Catatonic" straps you into a wheelchair as you are pushed through a house of maniacs. Finally, there's "Mule," where you're in the driver's seat for your own death and well, that would be telling.
Director Guy Shelmerdine described Dark Corner as a studio that "develops, produces, and distributes provocative dark virtual reality content." The company has developed its own filming system, the Dark Corner Camera Rig. It's compromised of four Sony A7S MKIIs, selected because they are compact (essential in VR) and great in low light (a big bonus for horror). Combined, he said, "They produce four times the amount of data that you would have in a regular 4K, and then we stitch that all together. The way I said that makes it sound incredibly easy, but it's incredibly complicated."
Shelmerdine comes at VR, not from a tech perspective, but from a film, commercial, and music video background. However, he describes working in 360 entertainment as opening up his world. "VR for me, in terms of entertainment, is all about taking the audience on a bit of a journey, giving them a bit of a ride, and thrilling them, while trying to tell some kind of narrative."
VR arguably works best in short cuts – which coincidentally, is the natural home of extreme horror. For Shelmerdine, that narrative component remains key. He said, "We're all figuring out how to tell a story, because story is king." He's had a learning curve since "Catatonic," which he filmed two years ago with what he called "a loose narrative, but in 'Mule,' there's a bigger story to tell."
It also meant learning a whole new visual vocabulary. In all three experiences (as the studio calls them), it's a POV story from the victim's viewpoint. Shelmerdine said, "You can be observational within a scene, but I'm very interested in putting the audience in the shoes of the protagonist, which is something we've never really been able to do with traditional filmmaking."
Shelmerdine described the creative process as still about finding and pushing the limits and possibilities of the medium, and what that means for the audience experience. There are questions of how much or little the viewer can see 'their' body. For example, in "Burlap," the viewer's POV is restrained and their body is out of sight, while in "Mule," everything is displayed in graphic detail – for very different reasons key to the storytelling. Then there are more technical questions about structure. For example, a four minute music video will usually have 120 edits: a four minute VR short, around a sixth of that. Shelmerdine said, "How do you keep pace and get timing right when you can't edit as much?"
Dark Corner VR installations will be in the lobby of the Alamo South Lamar throughout Fantastic Fest.