Becoming the walking dead

In Arts & Life /

By Carolyn Turgeon

Last week, I headed to a movie screening I knew nothing about, and only 24 hours beforehand, I received an email that told me to show up like this:

“Please dress for rain … in order to ensure our longevity, please bring one article of canned food. You’ll be hungry where we’re going.”

I was going to a 360 Screening, where the movie is kept a secret until you arrive.

Founded by Ned Loach and Robert Gontier, a performance acting graduate from Ryerson, a 360 Screening provides attendees with an interactive movie experience. As participants meet characters and listen to live-acted dialogue, they try to guess what the film being re-enacted is.

Last Wednesday was their first Halloween edition and their third event to date. The screening was held at Berkeley Church – a large brick party venue protected by the Ontario Heritage Act. It’s a spooky place.

There was a large group of participants with me and the first person we met upon entering the church was a priest urging us to repent our sins and be salvaged.

We snuck past him, descended into the church’s basement, and explored the various rooms. A man in an army uniform babbled incoherently to himself in a makeshift prison. In the dining room, another soldier encouraged a travel-worn young woman to eat.

I still had no idea what movie this was.

Screams echoed from far off, and I followed the path out the door of the small church. Heading out of the house a snarling, growling man was tied up in between the clothing lines.

Zombies were becoming more and more prominent.

I entered the building next to the church, it was packed with people.

Canned food was collected as donations, right next to a full length mirror with a message on it in blood red: “Repent, the end is extremely fucking nigh.” There was a heated debate going on between someone in a lab coat and what looked like an activist over the rights of chimpanzees as experimental subjects, and I was urged by the activist to sign her petition, which I did.

The room included more than just character action. There was a bar, food, and makeup artists helping extras get zombified.

Next I moved up stairs where a character named Frank was asking people to travel with him. He introduced himself to guests, including myself. He asked us our names and where we came from.

Just as I started to wonder when our mingling would end, military men stormed the room and zombies banged at the windows. This was the cue for the other actors to usher us out, without breaking character.

They were particularly persuasive with those of us lagging behind, saying we only had a few minutes to get out before we were infected. We ended up in the main portion of the church, which held a huge projection screen, tons of chairs, and more zombies to make people scream.

The two founders came to the front when everyone was seated, thanked us and the sponsors, teased about their next show in February, which promises to be whimsical, and officially introduced our movie, 28 Days Later.

Though tickets start at $40 for what is essentially a screening, there is more to it than that. It’s a new way to watch, and it beats 3D by a long shot.

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