Review: Underground Cinema
I had high hopes for the latest edition of Underground Cinema. I’d heard lots about the events put on by the similar company Secret Cinema while living in London, and was excited to see what the Australian version could pull off. Unfortunately, the only reason I’d go to their next event is in the hope that it could make up for this one. Their pre-event publicity and communication talks the talk, but when it comes to the actual experience, they hardly walk the walk.
The secret location of the event turned out to be Collingwood College, and my group and I followed the other white-clad attendees to the line, clutching the pen and torch we’d been directed to bring. We were greeted by (sometimes dubiously) accented members of the ‘Swedish Academy of Forensic Sciences’, an institute that we would soon become students of. After having our tickets scanned we were provided with CSI-style white forensic overalls (even though we’d been told to come dressed in white) and an ID tag with different tests written on the back. There was a real sense of excitement at that point, stood next to the yellow crime-scene tape, seeing everyone in the same outfit and different stations set up in the distance.
Our first location was a set of cubicles where we were told we’d under-go psychological tests. I had barely sat down and answered some questions (word association, Rorschach test, a rubix cube) before the actress yanked the cube out of my hand, scribbled something on my card and sent me off. I thought it was pretty quick, but we were at the beginning and I assumed that we had lots more to get through. The girl had drawn a triangle on my card so I was put in one of two lines. The other line, those with a square, did some physical exercises involving a basketball, but I didn’t really have a chance to see any more as my line was rushed inside to an area that had been dressed up like a medical station. Soon I was called up and given a quick examination by a nurse – follow a pen, touch my toes, that kind of thing, and told that I could go and buy some medicine from the table at the end. The medicine was a beer or soft drink, so I got one and waited for my friends to finish their exams. Not a minute later we were all told to get on our feet, line up, and finish our drinks, as they couldn’t be taken with us.
With the beer now sitting uncomfortably in my stomach, we were hurriedly marched across the school yard, and up some stairs into a science classroom. There to greet us was one Professor Nöudmín, who began to introduce us to the basics of forensics. Five minutes later there was a knock at the door, and we were informed that there had been a murder and so there was the opportunity for some field work. Half of the class was randomly picked to go on the trip, meaning that I was split up from those I had come to enjoy the experience with (luckily I caught up with my group soon after, but others I spoke to were split up from the very beginning). Those of us left began to work on a piece of finger print identification from the booklets that were placed in front of us. But no sooner had we begun than there was another knock on the door and the remaining students were ushered out to the crime scene.
The crime scene was probably the most impressive thing they had set up, but it’s not like there was anything else to really rival that accolade. We were given masks, goggles and gloves and entered through a plastic sheet to a dark, snow filled room. Trees had been constructed and a realistic-looking dead body hung from one in the corner. Our field work consisted of listening to a couple of eye witnesses being interviewed and then listening to a forensics guy tell us about the body, not exactly the most interactive of experiences. The guy asked us if we could help him by moving on and interviewing some of the locals in a nearby ‘café’. So on we went again, up some stairs to an area that had been, barely, dressed up to resemble a location from the film, complete with actors playing characters. This was mainly an area to buy refreshments though, and when we’d exhausted our line of questioning for the actors we were left waiting around while nothing else happened. We weren’t given any indication of how long we’d be there; some people I spoke to had been hanging around for at least an hour, waiting for all the other people to turn up, while others told me they’d spent more time in the classroom doing tests. Overall I didn’t expect to spend more time waiting than I did in the actual ‘interactive’ cinema experience. I found it annoying that they weren’t giving everyone the same experience, but I was determined to enjoy it despite the rushed events so far. When everyone finally arrived in the café and it was so packed that we could barely move, we were moved into the auditorium, asked to keep the secret, and then the film Let the Right One In was turned on (they do need to work harder on the secret-ness of the film, I mean how many art-house horror movies are set in the snow of Sweden?). We expected there to be something after the film, but no, it just ended, and so did our hopes for the evening. That was it. The whole thing.
Is this really what I paid over $40 for? This was not the experience that I’d hoped for. I can watch any film I want at home, the reason I did this was for something totally different, exciting, immersive and unexpected. I wanted to be entertained, not sat around waiting. I wanted to be in a location that is transformed into the world of the film, not a couple of rooms in an otherwise untouched setting. Isn’t the whole point to make you feel like you’re part of the movie and keep you there?
Am I being unrealistic? I don’t think so. With the amount of money they had available (at least 100 people per session over 4 sessions in Melbourne) and the amount of time they’ve had to plan this they could have done so much more. To me the whole thing had a very amateur feel to it, something that you might attend while at University, not something that comes from a professional company. I’m not mad Underground Cinema, just very disappointed.