There’s nothing too secretive about Secret Cinema. Once a cult thing, it’s since mutated into a full on London institution that’s become prime fodder for social media shares and banter around the office water cooler. The group specialise in extravagant interactive experiences, combining the silver screen with theatre via a cast of dedicated actors and an elaborate set. In this case they’ve chosen a labyrinthic warehouse south of the river, setup to resemble St Thomas’ Hospital, to host Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie opus.
The action doesn’t start at the door though. In the days before patrons are made to register on a fictional health service website, where they do quizzes, speak to other guests and get given information about a rapidly grown infection: one that makes the eyes go red, causes violence behaviour and can fully take-over a person in just 10-20 seconds. Sound familiar? Luckily you’ve been selected for vaccination – but first you got to get yourself some scrubs! Guests are told to show up in costume, where they’re greeted by some fierce looking military and rather stern medics. Throughout they stay in character and strongly urge you do the same whilst they process you, vaccinate you and send you to a safe zone. However, getting there’s not going to be easy!
Without giving much away, this portion of the evening takes the form of a half hour zombie run, that goes round different scenes from the film, complete with blood, guts and dead bodies. The infected leap at you from cages, behind walls and leer from above, whilst riot police fight them off and medics ask you to run, run, run. Yes there’s a lot of legwork here. And given the absence of any cloakroom I’d strongly suggest attendees take as little as possible, lest they find themselves escaping the zombie apocalypse with a multitude of bags and thick coat. On the whole this section’s very well done (albeit not as well as Generation of Z covered here) and has some real jumps. Though sadly much of the design work is done a disservice with groups being made to zip past a lot of the gory details.
Yet if this part’s over too fast the opposite can be said for the next bit – where people are herded into a safe zone (aka a food and drink area). Here you’ll spend much time lying on your front, every time an alarm goes off, and resisting the urge to buy an expensive cocktail or chow down on an overpriced burger out of boredom. Thankfully this limbo-like atmosphere gets interrupted by a special announcement, though the unexpected rave that follows does little to enhance the evening. Worse, it goes some-way towards undermining the end of the world environment that had, until then, been so meticulously crafted. Luckily the showing itself is more impressive. At risk of spoilers I’ll simply say it’s far from your average cinema experience and very much captures what the movie’s all about. The theatrics don’t end there though – as it goes on the cast act out particular scenes with film, dashing in and out between the punters. This adds much to the viewing and is bound to give hardcore fans an unforgettable experience. There’s also some clever (if overly long) use of archive footage of strikes and riots to take audiences from days 1 to 28 before the main event.
Despite all these plus points it’s nonetheless difficult to recommend Secret Cinema. Yes it’s all very impressive and you’ll have fun. But it’s just too costly. With tickets starting at around 60 quid and the mandatory costume adding an extra 20 (if you order from their website) then throw on a couple of drinks (another 4-6 pounds each, unless you stick to water) and possibly some dinner (north of a tenner) it’s easy to have spent a hundred. And unless you’re fortunate enough to have that kind of money just lying around, then it’s really not worth it. In fact, one could say the prices are outRAGEious (see what I did there?). Furthermore, whilst it can be dressed up with a cool setting, a luxury screen and immersion aplenty there’s no escaping that you’re paying that to watch 28 Days Later. And unlike previous entries (Empire Strikes Back and Back to the Future) it really isn’t a bonafide classic. It’s arguably not even a horror classic unless you add the prefix ‘modern’. Still, if the money doesn’t bother you then check it out – you’ll likely have a great time, and there’s really a lot about the whole experience to enjoy. Otherwise you’d be better spending 20 quid on the blu ray, with some beers, then have your friends flail around you in tattered rags. It won’t be as good, but least it’ll be cheaper.