The Gallery is an immersive cinematic experience giving the audience onus on the direction of the story by actively deciding on the story’s route.
The Gallery, written and directed by immersive cinema director Paul Raschid, is split initially into two pathways, 1981 or 2021, with each film playing slightly differently.
At its centre, regardless of year, is a story about an art curator, Morgan, played in the 1981 version by Anna Popplewell and gender-swapped in the 2021 equivalent by George Blagden, who becomes terrorised by a portraitist, Dorian, with that character switching between Blagden and Popplewell dependent on the story’s year.
Playing into the concept of how active an audience should be, the fluidity of gender, as exampled not only by the gender-swapping leads but also the inclusion of transgender actress Rebecca Root, is as much an encouragement by Raschid to engage with its themes as it is to engage with decision-making.
Speaking with Cinamore, writer and director Paul Raschid explains the purpose of exploring gender between generations, “I studied a lot of gender theory at university, and it’s now [so prevalent] in the world we’re growing up in because even when I was studying it, I was at a unique time between 2011 and 2014, where the depth in general identity and gender theory has expanded to this point.”
However, The Gallery‘s main point of interest is its ability to challenge an audience’s perception of their role in the cinema.
With immersive cinema becoming a strand at major film festivals, including BFI London Film Festival, Venice and Toronto, there is undoubtedly an emergence of interest from within the industry regarding how the lines between cinema and its gamification are blurred.
Audiences can play The Gallery as a game on all consoles, computers or smartphones or watch it in person as a collective in selected cinemas allowing The Gallery to position itself as both a film and game experience.
Most famously, the conversation of how and if a film should be considered a game had been explored in Netflix‘s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. The live-action narrative, written by Charlie Brooker, understood its derivative from the 1980s choose-your-own-adventure books forming the basis of its self-aware story.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was released in 2018, the same year as the final video game by Telltale Games, which had spent the 2010s establishing its brand as a choose-your-own-adventure publisher; despite criticisms that the choices made in their branching storylines have little influence in the broader story.
It was also the same year Quantic Dream published its own branched narrative video game, Detroit: Becoming Human, a game that introduced a metre bar indicating to what degree decisions impacted character relationships, consequences, or the overall story.
Applying this in The Gallery is Paul Raschid’s fourth example of blending video games and cinema into a subgenre of the video games sphere. Full-motion video games, abbreviated to FMV games, exist in both industries as a niche despite the quirk Black Mirror: Bandersnatch offered.
Coincidentally The Gallery‘s two principal leads have connections to Black Mirror, with Anna Popplewell starring alongside Bandersnatch‘s Will Poulter in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and George Blagden starring in the Black Mirror episode Hang the DJ.
To accomplish all the branching roots of The Gallery, Raschid filmed more than five hours of footage that, when the audience sits through, can result in a 65-75 minute presentation dependent on decision-making.
Speaking as to what it is about The Gallery, as a piece of interactive media, Raschid exampled how it fits with the current multiverse zeitgeist.
“It’s no coincidence that even within the linear film and traditional film at the moment, these alternate reality films are so popular.
“If you look at the [Marvel Cinematic Universe] and Everything Everywhere All At Once, there’s something at the moment people find exciting about causality and the possibilities of one decision [having a] trickle-down effect.”
Subject, of course, to its dictator or democratic audience, whether watched alone or in communion. It broadcasts the film’s politics as much through its media as by its audience, voting democratically throughout the film using glowsticks.
Offering an insight into socio-politics, reflecting on the two divisive political landscapes of Raschid’s settings, Thatcherite and post-Brexit, there is commentary here from the director imposed into the film, where our anarchistic, self-destructive tendencies allow us to implore and deconstruct the politics whether gendered, financial, artistic or classist, all outside of implications to our moral compass.
Further, exploring the morality of involving ourselves as an audience raises the issue of to what degree audiences want to be involved, or would we prefer to be relaxed, acting passively to the story, voyeuristically adjacent.
Not only that, but the film offers an exploration of how we, as an audience, perceive immersive or interactive events from the immersive entertainment offered by Punchdrunk to the multiple-licensed experiences, like Doctor Who: Time Fracture, The Gallery offers an exciting perspective providing audiences with experiences that require them to both lean forward, typical for a gaming experience, and passively relax into their chair, actively blending immersive theatre and the interactive full-media video gaming experience into something unique.
“Audiences have always wanted agency, whether with the story itself or to enjoy the communal experience of discussing what they’re watching with the people they’re with.
“We’ve all been watching films as a group, with our family, talking every time the protagonist makes a decision being like, why have they investigated the noise in the attic? Why would they do that? That’s stupid.”
Creating decisions for players was a challenge in and of itself, “the ideal is that they’re different because if you’ve got a choice and an individual is going to pick that option most likely, and a group is the audience is going to pick [the same] decision most likely, then I don’t think it’s a very good decision.” However, as Raschid admits, he then tweaks these decisions to make “both options of this appealing in different ways that people would want to play them.”
Understanding the craftwork that goes into The Gallery transforms this project into something genuinely mind-boggling.
The logistical and editorial planning from Raschid to achieve a cohesive five-act structure regardless of input, decision, or branched story is a testament to his craft in this field. With 18 different endings across both stories cutting between five hours of finalised footage, the way Raschid transcends mediums is astounding.
Much like traditional continuity editing to form a linear narrative, Raschid’s eye for flow in the story is impressive, “if two scenes are joining, you can’t end on the same shots that cut into the next one. So, even if it could go three different places, you’ve got to make sure that the tail of the scene ends with a close-up of George, for example.
“This means we have to begin on all three scenes that it links into with a close-up of Anna, a cutaway, or a montage. But it can’t be any shot of George because it won’t cut together.”
Even if there are story beats that don’t work or dialogue delivery that feels a little out of place, when you consider all of the back-end technical plate-spinning that needed to occur even to create The Gallery, it transcends its errors into a Schrödinger’s piece of avant-garde cinema that is as much a piece of film, as its characters are limited to their gender identity.
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