I really had no idea what to expect going into The Blackout Experiments, all I knew was that it was a documentary centered around the popular experiential “Blackout” attraction that has taken over Los Angeles and New York City during the last few years, and that was about it. As it turns out, the project from director Rich Fox ended up being so much more than just another talking heads piece about two guys who love to torture folks and push them to their mental limits.
To me, The Blackout Experiments evolved into a surprisingly transformative journey for the participants, exploring their connections to Blackout and demonstrating just how the haunt has become something more personal to many who have dared to take its challenge.
I’ll admit that it was my own morbid curiosity with Blackout that made me interested to see just how far The Blackout Experiments would go in terms of revealing the experience for participants. I had been hearing tidbits here and there from friends who had attended it over the years, but nothing too concrete in terms of actual occurrences. And while Fox’s documentary does divulge a few of the activities held in secret at Blackout, the way he never pulls back the curtain entirely is rather clever. We get teases of some of the ways the duo behind the experiential event manipulate those who dare enter—physical and verbal abuse, forcing participants to strip down and often engage in exceedingly humiliating acts that are often sexual in nature, to name a few—which establishes the question early on, just who in the hell would even want to participate in Blackout?
Those answers come in the form of several of the interviewees from The Blackout Experiments, particularly Russell Eaton and Abel Horwitz, who repeatedly attend Blackout and perhaps are pushed the furthest mentally of all those profiled in the doc. We see as they go back again and again how the haunt quickly evolves into a form of therapy for the duo, forcing them to tackle their own inner demons and become stronger individuals along the way. I found that aspect of The Blackout Experiments gave the project a surprising emotional center, which was uniquely fascinating to me.
There’s been some chatter about The Blackout Experiments being a mockumentary akin to The Blair Witch Project since its debut at Sundance last weekend, but I can assure you, the documentary is as harrowingly real as it gets. There is a portion where the lines between fiction and fact begin to blur for those being profiled, where they begin to question whether or not Fox and his crew are actually themselves a part of Blackout (they aren’t), but that’s really about it in terms of questioning the authenticity of the project.
As a whole, I found The Blackout Experiments to be a wonderfully unpredictable examination of psychological-based fear with a bit of an emotional bent to it. For anyone who has ever been to or has ever considered signing up for Blackout, Fox’s exploration of personal paranoia should prove both an entertaining and intriguing experience for viewers.
Movie Score: 3.5/5