I Went To An Existential Haunt And Had An Unsettling Yet Relaxing Time
I have been going to a lot of haunted houses this month. Lawrence Lewis and Devon Paulson's ALONE isn't a traditional haunt. Though it may have debuted last October, its current form is more like wandering through a strange, dark piece of theater in which you are the central character. No one here is going to chase you with a butcher knife or threaten to eat you or wear your skin. It's not that kind of party. But it can be both unsettling and relaxing, depending on who you are.
If you've ever seen an ASMR video, it's kind of like a darker version of that. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it's a phenomenon that's mostly unexplained. Some people have it, and some don't. If you do, you've likely experienced it while teachers have patiently explained things to you, or while watching that Bob Ross painting show or getting a haircut. It feels like a pleasurable tingle that emanates from your skull. It's calming, and largely tied to auditory triggers like someone gently tapping on a teacup or providing you with serene, undivided attention. Type "ASMR" into YouTube, you'll find hundreds of videos of people gently speaking into microphones and cameras, role-playing that they're your esthetician, travel agent or friend. They have millions of views.
In a lot of ways, ALONE felt like that for me. It felt slightly uncomfortable, but safe. All of the attention of the actors is directed on you when they are with you. It takes a myriad of forms, but it is never truly threatening.
ALONE's "Index of Absorption" is the final chapter in a four-part series of events that have been going on for the last several months. Each chapter relates to rainbows and light. It began with "Diffusion" in June, and we were able to try "Refraction" at Scare LA, which involved us going on a brief scavenger hunt before being led into a room where we sprawled flat under a sheet on the floor for a long time before being led through a dim maze and moved around by several mostly silent actors. "Reflection" unfurled as a longer scavenger hunt.
"Index of Absorption" builds on this. There are mazes and people who move you around just like the other ALONE experiences, but this time, you actually get an answer as to what this whole experience is. I won't spoil it for you, but I'll tell you a few things.
I showed up to an inconspicuous warehouse-style building off Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. The door read, "ALONE, INC." I found a glowing triangle after walking down a short driveway. As this was the opening party, we were allowed to mingle behind the building for a bit and get a cocktail or two, but ultimately, we were brought around to the front again. While we were taken in groups of four, we did not spend much time together beyond signing our waivers. We were told to each sit in a different chair. And then one by one, we were taken away.
I went first, so I can't be certain how much longer it took for my former companions to enter. I'd guess about five minutes, but it could have been longer than that. I was told that wherever there is a door, I could try to open it. If it was locked, I could choose another door. Then, I passed through a curtain and I was on my own.
I entered into a darkened room and was presented with two doors. I went for the door on the left because it seemed like more light was coming from beneath it, but it didn't open easily, so I switched to the other door. Here, there was a hallway. At many times, it was unclear which direction I should go, or if there was only one right answer. I generally stuck to taking the clear pathway, opening doors as I came upon them, and not going through curtains unless they seemed partially open or was directed by an actor to do so.
It wasn't long until I encountered my first actor. She was firm and a little rough in moving me into another room, but not aggressive in a scary way. She talked about absorption, she knew my name. I ultimately found myself relaxed by her, even though the situation was confusing. Though you don't speak much, pay attention to what the actors tell you. They don't speak much either, but they all communicate in their own way.
Eventually, she pushed me on and deeper into the experience. It's hard to tell how much time passes while you're inside ALONE's world, but it seems like everyone gets about a 45-minute experience.
From the first room, I wound through a series of mazes. I climbed a few flights of stairs, and descended in other places. I crawled through dark tunnels, which I found oddly peaceful, holding one hand up to figure out where I could safely stand again. Sometimes, the crawling required me to pull myself up out of a tunnel and into a different space. Occasionally, I emerged alone. Sometimes, there was someone there to help me.
Once in a while, I would encounter other guests in the haunt—people I had gone in with even, but I didn't see them for long. There was very little time to talk to them, if any at all.
Some of ALONE felt very adult. I went to a weird job interview, for one thing. Other times, ALONE felt very childlike. I got to swing, dance with animals and play games I hadn't played since I was a kid.
There were also moments of extreme empathy and trust. They're guiding you through the dark. They know the path, and you don't. One striking moment involves comforting a stranger in a way you might not have comforted anyone you know in a long time. My favorite shocking moment involves a chair, but I won't wreck it by telling you what happens.
Here's my advice, though. You should definitely take your time through ALONE. I think sometimes people get nervous and try to rush through experiences like this, but make sure to try all the doors in a hallway and stay to solve puzzles that will let you into doors with key codes. Definitely interact with actors, but don't try to beat them at their own game. I encountered a few people afterwards who thought it would be funny to subvert authority and go the wrong way, or to duck through a curtain, and all that happens is you end up missing part of the experience.
Definitely wear comfortable shoes. Do not wear heels. You will be walking, crawling and dancing in the dark. Wear pants and a comfy top, too, because of the crawling.
It's not conventionally scary, but there are moments that can be very uncomfortable, such as waiting in the dark for the next thing to happen. I found it was easy, when not interacting with actors, to pause and allow your eyes to adjust if you need to.
You will be drawn on with paint, sprinkled with baby powder and water may be put on your hands and face. None of this should stain, and it's relatively easy to take off with a little soap or lotion. But if you're planning on going out afterwards, be prepared.
Let yourself be submerged, and see how you feel. I felt very calm throughout, and it actually jolted me when I crossed paths with another guest who shrieked when a door slammed open. Maybe it's because I've spent the month previewing other haunts where eliciting screams and grossing you out is their business. If that's what you're looking for, try one of these. If you're looking for something pretty, introspective and different, give ALONE a shot.
Here's ALONE's trailer for 'Index of Absorption':
ALONE: Index of Absorption runs through November 1 and is located at 1141 Seward Street in Hollywood. $65 or $80 for priority access.