You know the worst thing about The Matrix? If you die in it, you die in real life. Major bummer.
The same goes for the game at the heart of Andrew McMurry’s A Virtual Nightmare, which places the unwitting gamer Ethan (Ethan Patterson) into a VR horror game where the stakes are all too real.
Produced by Nukazooka (the people who brought us Realistic Minecraft and other pop culture spoofs), the true standout of this short film is the atmosphere. Ethan runs from and battles with slasher flick-worthy baddies in a derelict building in sequences that get the heart racing. There are echoes of the Scarecrow sequences in Batman Begins both in tone and editing, and close-ups of Ethan’s confused, horror-stricken face provide the intensity of being trapped there with him.
The CGI work is also strong, augmenting the monsters of the game with neon and showing us the real-world consequences of the danger as they emerge on Ethan’s body — blood streaks and incipient bruising that appears like a white table cloth soaking up spilled wine. There’s a lot of beauty in the destruction.
All in all, A Virtual Nightmare is a terrifying, miniature Black Mirror that raises its stakes throughout and uses the language of video gaming to tell a compelling, unsettling story of fun and violence. To say more about what happens would spoil the grisly fun, but this short film is a tight package that you’ll want on your screen, but won’t want to show up on your doorstep.
Maybe don’t buy the suspiciously cheap VR headset next time?