Let me tell you about one of the most unique and surreal experiences I’ve ever had. When there is a new haunt or some sort of “experience” in Los Angeles, word travels fast. I started getting messages from multiple friends asking if I’ve heard of this new immersive experience called Fear is What We Learned Here, and was told that multiple Blackout fans (also known as Blackout survivors) were suddenly being followed by a mysterious account that had been created on Instagram.
I hadn’t heard about this experience and began to look through their Instagram photos and ponder, who’s behind this attraction/event/whatever it is? Do we know them? They seem to know who their target audience is by following Blackout fans – I guess it was safe to assume it’d be a similar experience? Looking through their photos, I found primarily black and white images of random objects or environments – most of them with quotes about the feeling of fear and dreams.
The images didn’t say much about the experience, but the discussion continued amongst me and my friends. With quotes about fear, darkness and mystery, we wondered if this was being produced by our friends at ALONE; but we knew that their October show would be Absorption, the fourth part to their Unweave the Rainbow series. It couldn’t have been them.
I received a message from Fear is What We Learned Here by a simple ‘follow’ request on Instagram.
Welcome to the dream.
“…pay special attention over the next several days for your opportunity to attend.”
After a few message exchanges, I learned that their intention was not to promote this event to the public. That they wanted to remain cryptic regarding their marketing/promotion of their show. Interesting approach, especially as a new attraction. And I really, really dug that.
As weeks went by, more videos and images were released through their Instagram account. Landscapes. Videos of a man in a ski mask. Black and white. Strobes. None of this completely made sense, yet the anticipation was killing me. This wasn’t your typical experience, and I had to ask… is this an “extreme” haunt? Is this comparable to an experience like ALONE? Blackout? Or even worse…. Victim Experience? It honestly didn’t seem like it was any of those attractions… it seemed unique. Dark. Surreal. They did confirm that the show is set up in a similar fashion as the attractions I was comparing it to.
And then, my imagination went wild. If you think about it, this was a perfect set-up for a mass-murder of Southern California theme park and haunt fans. Privately booked. No promotion. No one knows who’s producing it. Shit. But you can’t think that way… right?
So how exactly did any of us get an invitation? Multiple images were sent via private message in sequence and ended with, “Contact us for your chance to experience the dream.” Wait. What does that mean? I admit, I’m not the best when it comes to clues and puzzles. I’m the type of person that gives up within 5 minutes in escape rooms, and throws the remote across the room while playing Silent Hill – I just really, really suck at it. With help from my good friend Russell Eaton, I clearly saw that each image was a part of an email. In putting the images together, it read, “Fear@whatwelearnedhere.com”.
On Thursday, September 25th, I received an email with details and directions for my experience the following night.
Crap. Here we go.
I arrived on the steps of a private residence, where I was greeted by a figure. “Hello, Johanna.” I was so, so excited. The thing is, I never get scared in any type of haunt experience. I rarely do. That said, I knew nothing about what I was about to go through, and that was kinda terrifying to me.
I signed a waiver. I was given a mask to wear that completely covered my face except for my eyes. Headphones were placed over my ears. I was then directed to take off my shoes and lie on a bed in front of me. And that’s when the experience began.
Unfortunately, I cannot provide a play-by-play review of what I encountered. But I can tell you that words would be insufficient to describe what I went through, nor would any of it make sense to those reading this. What I do want to describe, is how I felt throughout the 30-minute experience of Fear is What We Learned Here.
As I laid on the bed, I watched a black and white film projected above me. There, film included footage of the ocean, women, men, and deserted roads. What really captured me was the music. The use of headphones created a personalized experience. I heard no sound outside of the music that pulsed to my ears, and that was powerful to me. I felt alone with the music. And the dark. Kudos to the team for the creative choice of music – it wasn’t the typical use of dark, brooding horror film scores – there were unique choices, whether it was a custom-created score, or song choices from bands like Fever Ray; electronic and dark.
In addition to the mask and headphones, an LED headlight was placed on my forehead. The use of fog through dark tunnels of black tarp is what made this absolutely beautiful. As I walked through a maze of black tarp slowly, the fog would flow in and out of my view shed, as it danced around the LED light in front of my eyes. It truly felt like a dream (or in this case, a nightmare). Actors would turn the light on, turn the light off. It was an excellent use of controlling the guest perspective – I saw what they wanted me to see, but my light was also turned off at the most inconvenient moments.
How do I summarize Fear is What We Learned Here? It definitely is not an extreme haunt, nor is it actually a “haunt” at all, per say. It was a personalized and surreal experience that is comparable to a thriller rather than a horror film. I observed beautiful moments, but was also forced to do uncomfortable actions. Sure, there were definitely moments where I was nervous or even slightly terrified, but I don’t think that was their intention. The designers’ intention was to have me experience their dream… the darkest dreams out there. The darkest dream they created just for me – where the feeling of fear exists.
And fear… is what I learned here.
– Johanna Atilano
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