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Dark Corner: When horror works in VR, and when it doesn't


Dark Corner: When horror works in VR, and when it doesn’t

Using technology isn’t always enough, if it isn’t utilized.

Dark Corner is a new VR app that showcases horror and suspenseful sci-fi films, from various “visionary filmmakers”. I suspect “visionary,” in this case, simply means they all used 360-degree cameras. The quality varies: Some are quite great! Some just do not seem worth the effort. A bunch of them are free to watch, and a few you have to pay a small fee for. The app is rated “T” for teens, even though much of the content warns you that it is “intended for mature audiences”. The one thing all of Dark Corner’s content has in common is high marks in the “creep factor”.

The horror genre seems like a natural fit for virtual reality. The more immersive an experience is, the more psychologically intense it can become, but throwing something labelled “horror” into a VR headset won’t guarantee a quality experience on its own.

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Virtual Reality works best when YOU are one of the characters in the world. Even if the experience is not interactive, if YOU are acknowledged as an entity by it, then you’re more likely to feel invested in that psychological intensity.

VR can also work with you as a third-person observer, as long as the experience is interactive to some degree, or at least if there are enough things to be seen as you turn your head around. VR comes off as very bland if it feels like what you’re watching could have easily been just a conventional 2D film.

The Free Films of Dark Corner

That last point is the main criticism I have with one of Dark Corner’s films, Knives. It has a fairly decent Twilight Zone-style premise, but there was no reason for it to have been filmed with a 360-degree camera. You are not one of the characters, and there are only a tiny number of shots that are worth turning your head for.

On the other hand, there is the much more effective Burlap. Ever want to know what it feels like to be a severed head resting on a mad man’s workbench? With this short 360-degree film, you can find out! This is the sort of thing, I think, the horror-through-VR was meant for.

Dark Corner: When horror works in VR, and when it doesn't

Invisible Man is one of Dark Corner’s more interesting films. It almost doesn’t seem worth the 360-degree treatment, but its twist ending redeems the effort. The characters are also more interesting than the other films in the set, though one effect I don’t particularly care for is the weird “zoom-in” shots it uses on occasion.

The final freebie film Dark Corner offers is 11:57, which has you strapped to a chair in some sinister basement experiment of some sort, and it’s full of jump scares. If you turn around in your seat at the right moments, you might catch glimpses of other things going on around you, so it does get some creative use out of the 360-degree format.

The Paid Content of Dark Corner

These are the films you have to pay separately for, in the Dark Corner app, as of the publish date of this article. Each one costs between $1.00 and $2.00. Prices may vary over time, and what gets designated as “free” or “pay-for” could also change over time. Whether it’s worth the price or not depends largely on if you’re a fan of the particular sub-genre of horror the films represent. None of them are “must watch” standouts for everyone, yet.

Dark Corner: When horror works in VR, and when it doesn't

Catatonic plays out as a nerve-wracking tour of a psychiatric facility, where the patients seem to have taken over, and I suspect they’re not terribly fond of you. This is considered “Episode 1”, for some reason. I do not know when other episodes are coming out.

Night Night is a surreal depiction of a child’s nightmare, containing lots of jump scares with clowns. Peeler is a thrilling escape attempt, from the lair of a chainsaw-wielding psycho, who likes to keep mangled bodies alive a bit longer, just to torture them some more.

And the vibe of Sonar is reminiscent of the sci-fi/horror style of the Alien franchise. It switches from third-person to first-person perspectives too often to be as immersive as it could be if it only stuck to first-person.

Dark Corner: When horror works in VR, and when it doesn't

Night Night

Comparing to Another App: “The Presence”

Dark Corner plays with the VR environment, but none of the films are interactive. That’s something some other horror-themed VR apps don’t miss out on.

The Presence, from Pseudoscience Pictures, is a proof-of-concept demo for how interactivity can work in an immersive, 360-degree film. As a séance starts to go wrong, the characters will start to be affected in different ways, and you can control which scenes you view. A few different things will be going on around you, at once, and whatever you happen to be looking at, at certain points, will determine which thing you follow into the next scene. The acting is cheesy, perhaps, but the concept works well.

It’s no surprise that horror filmmakers are making creative use of the 360-degree camera fad but, like all creative tools, it doesn’t automatically make the craft better. The Dark Corner app shows us what is possible and what can creep us all out — and it also teaches us what can fall flat.

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