THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS (a.k.a. Blackout) *** USA 2016 Dir: Rich Fox 78 mins
THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS is a documentary by Rich Fox that follows troubled individuals who found themselves drawn to Blackout- an immersive horror experience which pushes its participants to their own personal limits for better or for worse. Paranoia echoes throughout this film and the lines between reality and fantasy blur as you struggle to decide what you make of the people drawn to the Blackout experience and the elusive figures who dreamt it up.
The documentary has an almost inverted narrative style and resists opening with explanations of Blackout. Instead the viewer is taken directly into the Blackout experience. This disorientates and shocks the viewer putting them in the position of a Blackout participant. At first glance there is nothing extraordinary about these participants, they could be anyone’s dad, sister or friend. However, as they discuss their experiences it is revealed that some of them have experience with addiction, childhood trauma or mental health issues. For these individuals, or “survivors”, it is unclear whether the fear they are drawn to is therapeutic or problematic. The film resists judging the survivors and allows them to speak of their experiences for themselves. Blackout appears to be a place of community and healing for its participants as well as one of horror.
THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS questions why humans are drawn to darkness and shows the potential benefits of facing our darkest fears and desires. The creators of Blackout are unveiled like the Wizard of Oz at the end of the film – two seemingly ordinary men. The viewer is left with the image of the pair going about their mission. Are these the banal faces of evil causing havoc in vulnerable peoples lives? Or caped crusaders unmasked and seeking to help those who cannot help themselves? The film leaves this question ominously open.
Review by Joanna Simpson