Staff Writer: Maya Arruda
As the lights dim down, the crowd waits in eager anticipation. A character select menu is on the screen, held loft above numerous heads. It reminds you of Undertale, you think, from the graphics to the cheerfully menacing 8-bit soundtrack.
There is a click on the screen. Now two characters appear, Maya and Alex. You can only pick one.
“Who wants Maya?” the showrunner shouts. The crowd enthusiastically cheers, like the Patriots just scored a touchdown in the Superbowl.
“How about Alex?” she asks, only to be met by tepid applause.
You don’t have a preference; you’re intrigued either way. The technician sequestered in the corner clicks on Maya, and the opening scene appears on the screen.
You instantly recognize the location; it’s the campus, the cement-on-cement-on-depression-styled architecture being a dead giveaway.
The side characters are introduced, and you think August is a bit of a dick.
But this brief interlude of calm is not to last, as the monster from the poster, Mirrorface, attacks your beloved protagonist around five minutes into the film.
A choice appears before you: escape to CVPA or the library.
“La biblioteca!” an audience member cries. The crowd roars in agreement, a bunch of biblioteca enthusiasts, the lot of them.
You huff but don’t disagree.
You think the library was a far better option than the secluded CVPA. You know the library is open incredibly late with a reliable working staff with access to landlines unaffected by UMassD’s rampant lack of cell signal.
You cheer, one with the mob, for the library.
The technician clicks once more, and the first side character the protagonist meets is August, who somehow becomes even more dickish during his brief foray into becoming Sam Winchester. You didn’t even think that was possible.
When the lights flicker wildly, you have watched enough horror flicks to know what’s coming next: the monster.
The option presents itself: run or hide.
Personally, you think running would be the better option, but as the audience cries out its desire to hide, you know you’ve been overruled.
Maya hides and meets her fate with a slit throat. I told you so, you think vindictively at the shocked audience.
Luckily, each protagonist gets an extra life, one more try. This time, Maya runs.
“Say, Jesus, motherfucker!” A new character sounds his war cry against the murderous monster to the crowd’s uncontained delight. You burst out laughing, too, instantly enamored with the nature of Dr. Polybius.
Appropriately scared off by Dr. Polybius’ verbal channeling of Samual Jackson as his role in Pulp Fiction, Mirrorface retreats, and Maya is safe, at least, temporarily, you know, as a veteran horror film connoisseur.
The crowd and you erupt in rapturous laughter at Dr. Polybius’s conspiracy-theorist-vibe Microsoft Powerpoint about inter-reality glitches in the matrix in Arial font.
You think, distantly, that you know the room they retreated to. Why you have class there every Tuesday. You imagine your professor walking in during the filming process, both parties staring at each other dead in the eyes before said professor treats it like a fever dream and leaves, a possible blooper edited out of the final cut, and you laugh even harder.
The final decision then stands before you. Four options, instead of two, appear.
You join in, chanting with the crowd to stay and trap this foul creature. The monster and the protagonist confront each other in LARTS, face to Mirrorface.
Maya survives unscathed, and the film ends. Credits start to roll, the director calling out name after name. You’re conflicted. It was a fun ride with great vibes, but it was over far too quickly.
You want to go back to the start, play again and again, and see more characters, plotlines, and endings.
But don’t worry, distraught reader: you can.
You can experience the whole movie, start to finish, through the videos posted to the 20 Cent Productions YouTube channel, beginning with the character selection screen.
You know that you can interact with the video to have your character make different choices, and you know that there are eight different endings that are based on your decisions. You are filled with the need to catch them all.
You also know that the time for your ReSpawn story is over, and now it’s time for the informational summary and review that most people came to read. You’re sad and despairing, but you understand sacrifice for the greater good.
ReSpawn, directed by Kathleen Murphy, is meant to be an interactive horror movie, similar to Netflix’s pioneer interactive horror film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
The presentation, however, is more reminiscent of interactive horror video games, and not just because of the character select screen.
A recent wave of decision-based cinematic horror games have become more prominent in the years since Bandersnatch, starting with Until Dawn (2012) and going up to The Quarry (2022) and the Devil in Me (2022) which follow similar mechanics.
Translating this formula into film with a live performance aspect was a very interesting and original take of this new genre of horror. One that was done quite well, aside from UMassD wifi related troubles during the first screening.
A lot of slasher movie tropes are also present (attacked once alone, no phone signal, mad scientist, run to signal help, etc.).
Researching the supernatural while being hunted is similar to the popular horror T.V. show Supernatural, which includes an episode featuring a murderous tulpa.
ReSpawn had three in-person showings: one 8 PM showing on Saturday the 11th and two on Sunday the 12th – one matinee and one night showing. All live showings took place in CVPA 153. Admission was only $5, and the film ran for about an hour.
Of course, the film’s length would change depending on which choices were made.
ReSpawn was co-written by Kathleen Murphy and Kyra Davenport as Murphy’s directorial debut.
The music soundtrack, especially the Undertale-themed opening, was composed by Preston DaPonte.
The main cast included Dan Sun (Alex), Jillian Yates (Maya), Nate Colletti (August), Tavita Kapp (The iconic Doc, you remark in admiration), Hunter Shields (Mirrorface), and Franky Muñoz (Patch).
Other production team members did not get their names in the playbill but were directly acknowledged by the director during the credits.
While there were only three live performances over the weekend, the film in the presented format is on YouTube for anyone interested who may have missed it.
My recommendation is to gather up some horror-loving friends, cook some popcorn, and make it a movie night.