Friday, October 25, 2013


The standard haunted house has a new breed of competition: immersive theater. Instead of walking through a labyrinth corridor where actors jump out from corners and say "Boo!," now audiences can become part of the action and storyline. This isn't for the faint of heart though.

For those who've seen enough haunted house attractions to not bother flinching anymore, 'The Purge: Fear the Night' does get your adrenaline pumping and your feet running in an entirely new way, but there are challenges with the interactive demands and questions concerning taste and the physical requirements for undertaking the roles immersive houses foist on its patrons.

Loosely based on the film, The Purge, this Downtown attraction in the old Variety Arts Theater doesn't lack commitment on its part and takes great pains to provide a rich, visually and creatively stimulating experience. The devil is in the details and there are plenty of devils here. The architecture of the building provides its own aged ambiance and hallowed ground feel. Individuals enter by themselves initially in a baptism of deprivation only to find themselves in the main theater and immediately become an integral part of the story.

The plot follows the political angle of the movie's premise: a night of complete lawlessness. No crime is too terrible to bring about punishment. There are factions though who wish to end this licentiousness and those who believe in it. Led in groups of ten, audiences are confronted with intricate sets, led around by those who seemingly abduct them with a lot of authoritative yelling.

This is where the line between immersive and being a glutton for punishment can find itself blurred. Surprise is part of the main impetus to lead people through but there's a harried rush throughout to keep moving down the stairs, up elevators and roaming across large rooms. Part of the storyline treats ticketholders as subversive enemies of a small faction taking control. Actors dressed in camouflage train fake but realistic guns on audience members, demanding complicity by lining up against a wall with arms up. At first, this is all in good fun but being forced on one's knees on a concrete floor being terrorized by loud sirens and nasty shouting is not.

The experience is designed for the young and able to put it bluntly. Older patrons or those with physical limitations will probably not be nearly as willing to undergo the physical demands. A person can easily trip and fall in the excitement and confusion of the house. The actors are well-trained and observant, but anyone who decides to give this kind of attraction a try should be in a relatively good shape and be willing to suspend control for approximately 45 minutes.

Thrillists will find themselves becoming a part of the action by doing certain tasks to aid the group in moving forward. You'll know if you're one of the 'chosen' ones if you're given a red card to wear around your neck. Being a spectator has its advantages too as you can play along without any worry of being called into minor roles of duty. Being shuttled about and turned around is discombobulating but the best part of the experiences is the fully fleshed out sets. One in particular has the group scuttling across an open air faux lawn with a gazebo amid a shoot out. Another, forces the group inside a supposedly moving truck loaded with shocks.

In terms of haunted house attractions, immersive theater such as "The Purge" provides a richer level of intimacy. Seeing is not strictly observational anymore. Action happens all around and puts audiences in the thick of it. The agreement is made however on the outset to "play along." Those who do and even allow themselves to trick their mind into the storyline will have a far greater relation to the unfolding drama. Those who resist are doing themselves a disservice.

The question isn't really about the quality of immersive theater, specifically, 'The Purge: Fear the Night' as the producers went to elaborate pains to create a highly realistic atmosphere. The question, still unanswerable at this kind of attraction's infancy is how far are patrons willing to go and how far will immersive theater demand from us in order to take that trip? It's a leap of faith.

"The Purge: Fear the Night" goes all out and requires us to go all in. Those who need a safe distance between themselves and the players should stick with the traditional haunted houses. For everyone else, your imagination and your willingness to play along is the only real obstacle.

The Purge: Fear the Night
Runs Thurs, Fri & Sat @ 7pm – 12:30am
940 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Tickets: $39-$45 (must be at least 18; photo ID will be required)

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