Review by Lauryn Angel
The Blackout Experiment is classified as a horror documentary, but the only horrifying thing here is what the documentary’s subjects are willing to endure.
Director Rich Fox follows individuals in the Los Angeles area as they try out Blackout – an immersive horror experience that requires participants to sign a waiver, fill out surveys with extremely personal information, and make statements such as “I give myself to you” whilst being recorded. At the end of their first experience, the participants end up on a downtown sidewalk, wearing a plastic poncho, carrying their pants, and remarking, “I don’t know what just happened.” Some decide right away that one experience is enough, but others, such as Russell, the film’s primary subject, return for increasingly intense experiences.
At one point, one of the participants comments that the experience crosses the line into abuse, which seems to be what many of the participants are looking for. They readily admit their addiction issues, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and fear of being publicly shamed – all of which the Blackout creators Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor readily exploit these issues in the personalized experience.
From a horror standpoint, The Blackout Experiments is a failure, as there’s nothing particularly scary here. From a documentary standpoint, the film doesn’t really work, either, as the film skirts the issue of why these people keep coming back for more. While some seem to be receiving sexual pleasure from being tortured and debased, it’s not clear that this is the case for all of the participants. The documentary would be far more interesting if it took the time to investigate these motivations.
It’s hard to see this film as much more than an extended advertisement for the Blackout experience. While Randall and Thor seem reluctant to participate in the documentary at first, claiming, “we really don’t like explaining what we’re doing with Blackout,” they let Fox film what happens during the experience and eventually let him behind the scenes. The documentary’s subjects begin to wonder whether the documentary crew is part of Blackout, and this accusation is never satisfactorily answered.