I see them through the cabin window before they make it to the front door. A man, tall and thin, and a woman, petite and pretty–unassuming if you’d met them on the street. But what makes this couple unique is the sickly, bandaged man they are holding.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The pounding on the door reverberates throughout the cabin. With trepidation, I open the door. The sight of the bandaged patient is more vile in person. Sores cover his body, his bandages yellowed from the pus. I look back at my friends, and they shake their head–but it’s too late, the trio are already entering.
This wasn’t the start, nor was it the end, to Heretic’s The Cabin. A group of six friends head into the mountains to rest and relax at a secluded cabin. This isn’t an ordinary cabin though; it holds three terrible secrets, each more frightening than the last.
In the first, the cabin provided respite for an adult film director with a lust for removing eyes, a sleazy con artist who takes people into the woods to rob them, and an occult fetish actress who is hunted by a group of masked demonic deviants. In the second, a caretaker kidnaps a sick and dying man that has strange abilities to control violence, while a company that uses people for research and a pair of depraved criminals pursue. And in the final, a hole filled with dead girls reveals one final girl, but she may not be as innocent as she first seems.
Be careful who you put your trust in because even the noble act of saving someone may force you into the role of the victim.
To truly review The Cabin, we must first explain how it differentiates itself from all other experiences. The unique setting and design allows it to successfully instill dread in all participants beyond any other experience I have encountered. By removing the start time, guests are left with only anticipation and a fear of the unknown. False starts, exploration, and a slow rise in tension are key elements in The Cabin. Guests arrive, unsupervised to explore; and while it is clear that characters may be part of the experience, it is unclear when (and how) the real terror will begin. Characters may ask to use the bathroom and bring their backpack inside with them, a masked woman may be found hidden in the shower, and a kind stranger may offer you a ride to a hiking trail, but it’s always a question of when the extreme nature of Heretic will begin.
Further, the official ending time of The Cabin is obscured from guests. With a nebulous run-time and only six participants over the 8+ hour experience, actors have no qualms with taking their time with you to explore a locale, emotion, or torturous scene. Each scene could last a few minutes, or it could last for hours–and this unknown is what elevates The Cabin to a level of fear that is unparalleled from other experiences.
The Cabin further explores the idea of camaraderie and friendship among groups. Teamwork and trust permeate the initial hours of the experience. Teams explore the cabin and surround areas, enjoy dinner together, and even some watch movies. But as the sandbox style begins to slowly erode, different paths emerge for the guests. These distinct paths offer different encounters, information, and narratives to share afterwards. This is reminiscent of classic horror movie tropes, in which the group splits up to explore, while also allowing for intimate one-on-one or two-on-one scenes with the actors. Each Cabin offered a hike into the surrounding mountains at night, the option to help another character out with a drive, or to test your luck by staying in the cabin with whatever dangers may be present. These narrative arcs intersect and twist together to form a cohesive and evocative story, creating surprises and a desire to learn more. I felt a wave of relief and kinship when two friends who had been missing for hours were thrown back into the chaos. This combination of familiarity and unknown are perfect themes to rest this experience in between.
With a strong narrative supporting each distinct Cabin, the actors were paramount to the experience. In the first Cabin, Suziey Block returns as the fetish star Julie Court, eliciting heartbreaking tragedy and physical vulnerability. Can you save her or are you the one who will need to be saved? Leonard (the con artist) is reminiscent of The Hitchhiker from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; perfectly eliciting suspicion and anxiety through just his dubious demeanor and mannerisms. He proves to be one of the most dynamic characters, and his metamorphosis is both a testament to his acting and a shock to the participants. Finally, the fetish director, Lucas White showcases his acting ability by delivering a truly layered and intricate characters. He uses his charm to garner sympathy before using his intelligence and deviousness to great effect. In the second Cabin, Stephanie and Gene, the duo who arrive at your doorstep with The Patient, excel in their ability to garner sympathy and trust, despite the dubious circumstances they arrived in. Finally, The Patient, while incapacitated for the majority of the beginning, assumes the role of a frightening puppet-master by the end, showcasing an incredible ability to strike fear through a singular stare.
While these characters all crafted an intricate web of betrayals and intrigue, it is the tormentors that brought the real fear. In one of the most daunting Heretic scenes to-date, a duo of two massive brutes threw our bodies around the room like rag-dolls. Grunting singular words, they telegraphed their next move: smack, choke, cut, throw. This simple design choice provided humor against the consternation–a dichotomy that helped make this scene survivable against the pain. As the brutes moved to the next anguished participant, we were able to watch our friends receive the torment that we just endured (or were about to endure), and this effect made this scene voyeuristically entertaining in the best way possible.
Finally, it is important to note that in the two Cabins I participated in, the torturous elements all fit perfectly within the story. In the first, we protected Julie Court, who escaped from the grasp of fetish director Lucas White. Yet, when the producers came to collect on their investment and no actress was to be found–we assumed her role and were filmed in her place. In the second Cabin, we aided Stephanie and Gene in the abduction of The Patient–and when his sedation wore off, he used mind control to enact his revenge in the form of two large brutes. These scenes felt narratively sound and cohesive, adding to the story in a meaningful way.
The world of The Cabin blends perfectly with the real world; this is the beauty of The Cabin. Yet, with this style, it opens itself to more risk and danger than a controlled space contends with. As such, the first Cabin did run into an issue that caused an interruption to the experience. Yet, despite the setback, Heretic was able to recover, and delivered a final scene to us. Further, safety was paramount in the Heretic shows: with two safe words (one for injury, one for fear) and an ease-up word, injuries could be quickly identified and handled. A medic was on staff that conducted intake and exit interviews with all guests, providing another layer of safety for all involved.
The Cabin is the first of its kind. It offers a sandbox-style extreme haunt with multiple tracks for a single group that unfolds over the course of a whole night. This is an ambitious, innovative, and insanely intricate show. And in such, it succeeded. It created a sense of dread that built over the course of the experience, offered memorable characters that intrigued, tested, and frightened us, and combined beauty and isolation in an impressive location that was a character in its own right. Heretic and The Cabin took a movie trope and made it real. This didn’t feel like a play, a performance, a contained experience. This felt real. This felt frightening. And for that, this is an experience that I’ll never forget.