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The Blackout Experiments (Sundance Review)

The Blackout Experiments (Sundance Review)
01.29.2016by: Chris Bumbray
1 10

PLOT: A group of people become obsessed with an experience called “Blackout” - which is supposed to stimulate your deepest fears and leave you forever changed.

REVIEW: For the last few weeks, the publicists behind THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS have been sending me emails and press kits promising that the film is 100% factual and a full-fledged documentary. Having seen the finished movie for myself, not only do I highly doubt that claim, but even worse - I couldn’t care less if it is or not.

As shown by the film, “Blackout” involves customers signing legal waivers, after which they show up at a specific location and are tortured psychologically and physically. It’s like THE GAME, but far less ambitious and only lasting for a few hours. One man is suffocated, another is branded, and so on. The film shows that the people who sign up for Blackout become obsessed by the experience, wanting to relive it over and over, although exactly why is never explained.

Nauseatingly, the so-called “survivors” of these experiences start support groups, creating their own victim narratives for experiences they shelled-out money for and choose to relive over and over. If any of this were real, the participants would be far more interesting, with each having too-neat character arc, with our main protagonist being a middle-aged man who’s able to come to a lame epiphany from being tortured for a few hours. It’s like S&M without the titillation.

If this were real, than director Rich Fox would be guilty of exploiting some really pathetic, deeply sick individuals, and even if they sign waivers, none of what “Blackout” is shown to do would be legal - so if this were real they’d likely all be in trouble. Of course, it’s all a scam, similar to the way THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES tried to pull one over on audiences.

As such, I guess that means it’s “OK” for Fox’s BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS to be so dull and lifeless as it’s “real”. Absolutely nothing interesting happens throughout, and this is certainly the longest eighty minutes I can recall spending in a theater since maybe THE GALLOWS last summer. Early on, our lead is supposed to have gotten his forehead tattooed with the Blackout moniker, but by the next scene it’s gone without any explanation. Shots are also far too neatly set up to be convincing as reality, and while the filmmakers are certainly allowed to try and pull one over on the audience, the goal here should have really been to make a film that's entertaining rather than dull - which this ultimately is.

It’s actually quite shocking that something as lame as THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS got into a festival like Sundance, where the midnight selections are usually so carefully curated. With so many other promising genre voices out there, it’s a shame a slot was wasted on this prank of a film. And you know what - even if I’m wrong and somehow this is real, it’s still really boring.

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