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By CAMILLA NASCHERT
It is already dark as I approach the Cinema Museum in Elephant and Castle, slightly nervous about what I am about to experience. “Not everyone can survive the violence of creation,” read the flyer for John Harrigan’s cinema-theatrical fusion “Strange Factories”.
Two girls are already waiting below a streetlight in safe distance from the entrance of the dusky brick building. I reach out to open the door and it swings away from me, unlocked by a woman wearing a white mask over her face. The inside of the building is completely dark. The actress ties a white piece of cloth around my wrist, hissing, “This is to show that you are a part of the Cinema Guild”.
Together with six other slightly nervous looking cineastes, I am led to the backyard of the Museum by several masked creatures. As the gate is locked behind us, there is no turning back.
An acting duo introduces us to the obscure world of Stronheim’s Strange Factory, where “we will go through the dark and find the truth” – a truth that, so much is clear, will not be comfortable.
When it is time to enter the cinema room to see the movie, we are told to join hands and swear a peculiar oath. The prologue warns of paranormal experiences and panic. Yes, I am starting to get slightly nervy.
Strange Factories tells the story of writer Victor, possessed with his own terrifying story. His friends, all stage performers, have been missing since a theatre fire. On a walk through the countryside he discovers them in a remote settlement, living under the protection of the mysterious Stronheim, owner of a factory. Victors commits to a dangerous agreement with the stranger, who agrees to rebuild the destroyed theatre. In return, Victor has to complete his story – regardless the consequences. As his friends come to life in his manuscript, Victor holds their fate in his hands. The constant hum of a strange factory haunts the group in dreams so terrifying that they can almost not be their own. Inevitably both Victor and the actors around him lose their sanity throughout the movie, and the viewer is exposed to disturbing, obscene and absurd sights.
Finally, cinema and theatre melt into one as the actors on the screen appear on stage for the Grand Finale.
The interactive nature of this thriller is fascinating and scary at the same time. The entire storyline and film setting is already created on a surreal level, but as the characters in the film shift in and out of nightmares and visions, it becomes almost impossible to come to terms with the violence and absurdity that takes place on the screen.
The ever-changing, blurring and shaking camera angles and the dramatic soundtrack pull the viewer right into the story. Nevertheless, the film has its lengths and many strange occurrences remain unexplained.
As I leave the cinema three hours later, I am unsure what I think about Strange Factories. Many twists and mind games alone can not carry a film – and I cannot help asking myself what there is to be learned or drawn from the movie. Strange Factories certainly is not for everyone, and those who are easily shocked and disturbed should steer clear. Still, the experience was very special and I have never seen anything like it. The talented cast and the brave experiment of mixing theatre and cinema in an interactive way make it worthwhile for thrill seekers to venture into Strange Factories this Halloween season.
Strange Factories is running at various cinemas until 18 November. The show written and directed by John Harrigan, and produced by A FoolishPeople Production. More information and tickets here.
Picture: A FOOLISHPEOPLE PRODUCTION, CINEMA MUSEUM