I consider myself to be a connoisseur of immersive experiences. I’m a huge fan of anything immersive nowadays, whether it be an Escape Room, Immersive Theatre or a Simulation. The trend keeps moving forward and the experiences grow more and more unique as time goes on. Needless to say, when I started seeing an experience titled ‘This Is Real’ bounce around social media, I was immediately intrigued.
For those who haven’t heard of this experience, THIS IS REAL is theatrical immersion at its most visceral and thrilling. You are entrenched in your very own horror story, but the stakes are real! From the intense moment the psychopath steps out, you are forced to devise an escape plan and try to survive… the decisions will not be easy. A dexterous blend of interactive theater with a complete story line, a mind-bending survivalist game, and a twisted version of hide ‘n seek, you’ll have more to think about than yourself. You have the other victims to consider. Do you risk valuable time to figure out how to save them? Or is it every man for themselves? Wrong decisions come at a steep price for captives… do not get caught!
The lead up to the experience was nothing less than stressful, anxiety filled and kind of horrifying. What this experience banks on is the fact that ‘fear of the unknown’ kicks into full gear the moment you purchase your ticket. While the FAQ on the site is quite informative, you still have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.
The night before I did the experience, I had trouble sleeping due to my anxiety of what to expect. I mean, I was going to be bound, blindfolded and ‘kidnapped’ in a warehouse somewhere in Brooklyn; this is enough to keep anyone up at night. When I woke up the morning of the experience, I realized that my fear was turning into excitement. One of the key factors of this experience, is that you can live and you can die. If you die three times, you are then taken into another part of the experience…a part that is kept pretty quiet. So, if you’re competitive like me, you were dead set on getting the hell out of there and SURVIVING.
I got in my Lyft and took the 40 minute ride into the city, and my heart was pounding. Even the Lyft driver was concerned as to why the location looked so eerie and sketchy. The driver then realized that the area in Brooklyn that the experience took place in was up and coming with a lot of great bars and restaurants nearby. This was a brilliant location on Psycho Clan’s part, as it made you feel unsettled immediately, but, if you did any digging you’d notice that you were smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
The moment I approached the door that I assumed was the entrance of This Is Real, I saw a strange young man wearing a head lamp assisting what appeared to be another victim (participant) signing the multi-page waiver/rule sheet. From the get-go, the ‘greeter’ out front was fantastic. He connected with you on a human level, and would talk to you about normal everyday stuff…but, you could tell something was off with him. He’d occasionally stare you down and smile as he kept saying how we were ‘all friends.’ At this point in time, I felt safe, but, still quite unsettled with what was inside. When the rest of my group showed up, we were then brought inside slowly, and the tension struck immediately. The smell of the warehouse and droning sounds filling the air immerses you right away, and I give major props to Psycho Clan for nailing this specific part of the experience.
Once inside, you are then forced to step into a grey jumpsuit to make you and the other victims one in the same. This was an interesting choice creatively, but, works so well as it defeats the purpose of participants feeling like they wore the ‘right clothes.’ The jumpsuits limit movement ever so slightly and they were hot…very hot. It really adds that much more to the experience itself, and I truly believe that even something this minuscule detail wise goes a long way. After you’ve suited up, you’re then blindfolded and your hands are tied behind your back…if I wasn’t scared before, I definitely was now. I felt helpless, but, still anxious to get in and start figuring out how to get out. You’re then escorted by your ‘kidnappers assistant’ into your own cage. Yes…just you, isolated in a cage. This was when reality set in and I was completely immersed in the experience. Every single horror movie I had ever since was playing through my head, and I became a part of the story.
As far as what happened next…I can’t and won’t go into detail here. But, I will explain a bit about the overall experience. There were definitely elements to This Is Real that relied heavily on ‘show’ aspects, as several scenes play out in front of you and use interesting uses of technology to better tell the story. While these certain technical aspects took away from the ability to improvise from the actors inside, it is apparent that timing is key for everyone involved…including the participants. Timing is everything with this specific experience.
After the opening sequence of the experience, you are free to explore the kidnappers quarters…and, the sets are fantastic. There are just enough ‘things’ in the room that feel necessary and realistic. But, while this experience is described to be only part Escape Room, it was apparent that once the experience began, it became an escape room with elements of hide and seek. This worked well, because, the goal is to escape your kidnapper. I mean, you wouldn’t really want to stay for dinner with this guy. Trust me.
The thing is, a lot of the group that I went in with didn’t think they were going to be participating in an Escape Room…so, there was some initial hesitation from everyone in my room. Once things kick in, and you start putting pieces together, the experience becomes more than just that. This is a thrilling experience that gets your adrenaline pumping and allows you live in a horror movie for a bit of your night. That’s what matters.
What this experience gets wrong is in its description leading up the experience itself. This Is Real is a Survival Simulator with Escape Room Elements through and through. If you go into it knowing that, you will truly enjoy yourself. Also, the experience prides itself in being ‘real,’ but, there were several moments in my run that didn’t feel real (I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers). I truly believe that the experience itself is still creating rules and procedures based on the participants and how they respond to the environment. Now, keep in mind, This Is Real has only been open for about two weeks…and, as of now, the run of show is open ended which means there’s no plan to close up shop any time soon. This excites me, because with a few more runs and tweaks, this could become one of the coolest experiences NYC has to offer. The actors in the experience are excellent, the sets are very realistic and the puzzles are logical enough that if you really try to tie them back to the overarching narrative, you’ll be able to. But, one of the biggest pieces at play with any immersive experience is the ability to replay or revisit the experience. In its current state, This Is Real doesn’t really leave a lot to revisit…except for the fact that you might want to watch your friends squeal and panic in a horrific situation. But, the more constructive feedback given, the quicker This Is Real can blossom into the incredible experience it is destined to be.
Psycho Clan is really onto something fresh for horror and escape room fans. They wear their past experiences on their sleeve with pride. The confidence behind this production is what makes it work, and all of the elements at play work extremely well. I’ve done several horror themed experiences, and there’s definitely a challenge to see how far you can push your participants as you don’t want to create something like McKamey Manor or Blackout that creates discomfort and deters those who just want a safe and quick adrenaline rush. All in all, This Is Real could become one of NYC’s premier immersive experience up there with Sleep No More and Then She Fell with the right adjustments and tweaks. But, I will still recommend this highly to not just horror fans, but, escape room fans who want something different.
Get your tickets today before they sell out at: thisisreal.nyc
Shannon Toohey is Editor-In-Chief of FanFest.com. She graduated from Hofstra University in 2015 with a B.A. in Journalism from the Lawrence Herbert School of Communications. Shannon has been a proud member of the Fan Fest team since 2013. Tweet her in your prettiest bird voice: @shannontoo