This is real.
You’ve been kidnapped.
You don’t remember how; you don’t know by whom.
But there you are, locked up in an abandoned warehouse watching the gruesome treatment of the person who was taken before you. They implore you to help them, but you cannot. By the time the last breath leaves their chest, it’s your turn. Your friends have been taken away. You are on your own. You have just one shot at getting away if you are to survive and be reunited.
This Is Real will return to NYC for its second season in September from creator Timothy Haskell and Psycho Clan (Nightmare New York Haunted House). But, This Is Real is not a haunted house. There are no monsters, there are no cheap scares, and you do not walk the dark linear corridors of a maze. Instead, immersive performances and escape room elements bleed together to construct something that requires you to be actively present the entire time. This isn’t a nightmare. This is real.
Having gone through last year, This Is Real differentiates itself and provides a unique and memorable experience by not only allowing audiences to fully interact and engage with their surrounding environment, but by making it absolutely integral to their escape. Everything that surrounds you is in-game and can be utilized; your actions determine your survival. Logic and strategy become more crucial than stamina. And because everything occurs in real time, you only have a matter of minutes to execute your escape before your captors return for the unimaginable horrors they have devised.
Haskell was kind enough to answer some questions on This Is Real and provide a glimpse into what audiences can expect during this year’s experience.
What’s the story behind This Is Real and how did the idea originate?
Haskell: I wanted to do something for Halloween that was completely different from anything else out there. I have been in the haunt industry for over 14 years, and every year I did my haunt, Nightmare, we did a different theme. It was challenging creating a wholly original haunt that 40,000 [people] pounced through every year and be terrifying.
There are two things in haunts that are nearly impossible to accomplish: ambiance and empathy. Not jump scares, not animatronics, but something where you care about the victims, where you know and fear the villain, where things unravel slowly and silence and tranquility are played for effect, and we can simulate as real a situation as possible. In this case, not making the right decisions can cost you your life. You get three chances to correct those mistakes and try again, but then that’s it.
Last year’s experience allowed only two people in at a time. This year, that number increased to eight. How much of the format has changed?
Haskell: Well, to begin with, the space is bigger. There are more bad guys, and more places to explore. But the biggest new addition is that you are going to have to face hard decisions that may cost someone else their “life”.
Your experience within the haunt industry is quite extensive. What did you want to do differently with This Is Real?
Haskell: [I want to] create something that the audience could connect with, that takes its time, that has mood and ambiance as well as real stakes that cause anxiety and an adrenaline rush—it’s more like a thriller than a slasher flick. At first with all the tech elements (the audience will have to attend to know what I am talking about) it’s like you are watching a horror movie. Then there’s that switch where you are in the horror movie.
What types of fear are you experimenting with in the show?
Haskell: Anxiety. The fear you feel for someone else in danger. Empathy. Suspense. Defeat. Helplessness.
Were there any new ideas you wanted to implement this year that just didn’t seem to work? How long do you tinker with a concept before you scrap it?
Haskell: One of the biggest differences between this show and the last is the emphasis on survival skills this go around and not cliché haunted house stuff. Everything has to have a level of verisimilitude for it to be there. Last time I included typical haunted house elements to elicit squeals. This time, if [something] would not logically be found in a kidnapper’s squat, then you won’t find it in there. Everything will have a multitude of ways to progress and they are all things that would be in the real world. If you were kidnapped there wouldn’t be a ton of riddles and puzzles to solve to get out, but you would still have to use your head to look around you and figure out what you can use to open something, or destroy something or what have you. There’s even more of that this year. There are no air cannons and firecrackers hidden in walls in real life, so there aren’t any here either.
Is This Is Real going to be a Halloween staple audience’s can look forward to each year or are there currently other experiences you’re interested in developing?
Haskell: Well, we don’t have a closing date. I hope this one runs forever!
This Is Real will begin its open ended run in NYC starting September 8th. With tickets selling out fast, you can purchase your slot here. You can also visit their website and Facebook for more information on This Is Real and possible extension. Check back for more coverage on East Coast horror events on Haunting.