Friday, January 29, 2016

Sundance ’16: The Blackout Experiments

Only in our postmodern age could extreme physical and psychological abuse be considered progressive, self-assertive therapy. If you have tried everything else to overcome your anxieties and OCD, perhaps you could try the Blackout Experience, assuming you have a strong ticker and are not prone to seizures. A handful of repeat customers analyze their horrifying experiences in Rich Fox’s “documentary,” The Blackout Experiments (clip here), which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Supposedly, this is a 100% true documentary, but viewers should have their doubts. The Blackout Experience it ostensibly documents is apparently a true phenomenon, having generating web ink well before the film’s Sundance premiere. Billed as an immersive horror experience, it is the closest patrons can get to the receiving end of the horrors in a Rob Zombie film and still live to tell about it. Waivers are definitely involved, as are beatings, gropings, and involuntary tattoo markings. Sounds like fun, right?

For reasons that elude even them, some patrons get hooked on Blackout. Somehow, the abuse and humiliation give them some sort of cathartic something, presumably like S&M submissives. However, the Blackout experience quickly comes to dominate their lives, often leading to feelings of guilt and paranoia as the sessions dangerously intensify. Frankly, you are probably better off re-checking whether the stove is still turned off ten or twelve times rather than undergo this kind of cure.

If Experiments is really real, than it is train-wreck fascinating. However, that would also mean Blackout creator-proprietors Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor violated several laws when they broke into their customers’ homes to secretly plant surveillance cameras and unnerving little messages. Russell Eaton, the lead Blackout survivor spokesman looks suspicious familiar, but fellow survivor Bob Glouberman is definitely an actor, which further stokes viewer incredulity.

So maybe the supposed doc is based on very real experiences, but recreates them with the benefit of a little poetic license. Regardless, it shines a light in a seriously dark corner of the human psyche. Just knowing this sort of masochist codependency potentially exists is pretty darn scary. In an error of over-compensation, Fox over-indulgences in the climatic New Age self-assertion, because real or not, it just sounds bogus after all that we have just witnessed.

Blackout Experiments is nowhere near as frightening or satisfying as Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare, but as documentaries go, it is still pretty scary—if it truly is a documentary. In any event, Fox, Randall, and Thor clearly know some sinister things about psychology. It is a baffler, but it is effective on a visceral level. Recommended for inherently skeptical horror fans, The Blackout Experiments screens again this Saturday (1/30) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.