Test Immortality: an exciting investigation behind the scenes of cinema

Clapper of the year

In a roundabout way, one can consider immortality as one of the best horror games of the year. Not that we are faced with a survival-horror stuffed with jump scares, but the new game by Sam Barlow (the brilliant Her Story and Telling Lies) distills from the start a disturbing strangeness perfectly coupled to its concept.

If the author started out in explicit horror with Silent Hill: Origins and Shattered Memories, he especially renewed the genre of FMV (Full Motion Video, games centered on sequences in real shots) by the accumulation of video sources. On this point, immortality shares the same framework as its predecessors: bringing together and connecting images like pieces of a puzzle that gradually transform the player into a compulsive voyeur.

rekindle the fire

The difference is that Barlow found with his last baby his most beautiful starting point, namely the career of Marissa Marcel, an actress who mysteriously disappeared. To understand what happened to him, the player must (re)discover a huge amount of rushes related to the three films that should have made the actress a starbut which have never been released in theaters.

Rehearsals, scouting, appearances on talk shows, and of course shots of the various shoots, immortality fascinates in just a few minutes by its way of take us behind the scenes of the seventh art, and to make us little mice in artistic processes quickly parasitized by vexations and resentment. Between each “action!” and each “cut!”, a world takes shape and reveals itself to the player, forced to remain attentive to the slightest dialogue, and to the slightest facial expression.

Immortality: PictureManon Gage, impressive

The Marissa Marcel Project

Therefore, this approach is greatly supported by the intuitiveness of a gameplay as simple as it is mastered. On the model of a moviola, the game allows to auscultate in detail each piece of film by rewinding, slowing down or speeding up. It is then possible to click on many points of interest of the plans (a face, a cup, a cigarette, etc) to find a new iteration in another plan.

By jumping from cock to donkey, the game calls for an exhilarating letting go, especially as Barlow makes sure to mark an aesthetic distinction between the three projects. First of all there is Ambrosiusa steamy period film set in the heart of a monastery, made in 1968 by a libidinous parody of Hitchcock (i.e. Hitchcock).

Immortality: PictureRaiders of the Lost Rushes

The 1:33 format and the marked studio light differ quite a bit from Minsky, seventies thriller influenced by the precepts of New Hollywood. And finally, after an astonishing crossing of the desert, Marissa returned in 1999 at the head of Two of Everythinga thriller with much sharper and colder photography around a pop star and his troubled relationship with his understudy.

Far from the cheap rendering that one might have feared from such a project, Barlow’s false filming displays a disturbing authenticity, sublimated by the impressive performances of actors in full mise en abyme. Manon Gage, hitherto unknown to the battalion, bluffs with her finesse and bewitching ambivalence.

If Marissa plays with a femme fatale persona, both in her roles and in life, we gradually perceive the shell she was forced to build for herself at the heart of a sexist and misogynistic industry. In addition to blurring the tracks, the approach questions our presuppositions as to this fragmented perception of this troubled character.

Immortality: PictureBasic Instinct

Forgotten Silver

However, immortality goes well beyond this rather obvious consideration of a carnivorous show business that crushes its young talents. To tell the truth, we suspect that the title hides something more vicious and insidious, and it is precisely there that the horror arises.

It would be criminal to reveal the secrets of Sam Barlow’s new treasure hunt, but the man manages to upset the achievements of his previous FMVs, and manipulates our feeling of control over the images that pass before our eyes. Suddenly, at the bend of a plan, immortality can totally twist. Slowing down or reading certain scenes upside down adds a Lynchian character to the whole (one necessarily thinks of the sequences of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks), and reveals the monstrosity of bodies that are deformed and stretched like a malleable material.

Immortality: PictureThe voyeurs

It’s not so surprising when you know that the author went looking for Barry Gifford (screenwriter of Lost Highway) to help him write this dizzying maze. Barlow encourages us to read between the images, and to discover what we would have preferred to see remain in the shadows… or not, as our morbid thirst for knowledge becomes uncontrollable.

Through this cubist-looking portrait, the game holds up a mirror to us, revealing our own demons. She may be there, the real terror caused by immortality. While Sam Barlow questions the power of artists (he has one of his characters say that they “find bodies and capture them, possess them to attach to immortality“), his last FMV is above all a diverted found-footage on the cannibalization of an identity by the image and the staging, as if his heroine were thrown in the food for our gaze, our scopic drive.

These themes were already at the center of their creator’s previous games, but immortality pushes their potential much further, and imposes itself as Sam Barlow’s masterpiece.

Immortality is available from August 30, 2022 on PC, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One. It’s also available on Xbox Game Pass.

Immortality: Picture

Test Immortality: an exciting investigation behind the scenes of cinema