By Jade Entien
If you’re familiar with the found footage genre of film, you know how creepy and realistic those films can be. From horror movies like “The Blair Witch Project” to YouTube series like “Clear Lakes 44,” found footage has proved to be a significant form of art, building fear and tension as you view the events through the lens of a camera, feeling almost as if you are there.
“Immortality,” the subject of our landmark horror interview series, was developed by Sam Barlow, founder of the Half Mermaid production company and creator of “Her Story,” a game that has you watch a woman named Hannah being questioned by the police about a murder she may or may not have committed. “Immortality” focuses on three unreleased movies featuring Marissa Marcel, and your job is to find out what happened to her after she disappears. The game uses short clips from Marcel’s movies, behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and table reads to help players learn about Marissa’s work.
As a fan of “Her Story,” I found “Immortality” very compelling in scope. Found footage content is a new favorite of mine thanks to the “Mandela Catalogue” by Alex Kister, so I had a good time watching “Her Story” playthroughs. I jumped on the opportunity to play a found footage game myself. There are no puzzles and no little mirror games, as there were in “Her Story,” just videos, scrubbing and scrolling and looking for clues.
However, there’s more to “Immortality” than meets the eye, and I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy it thanks to the incredible art direction, music, storytelling, and character relationships. First, though, be sure to read the content warnings; they aren’t there for show. There’s a lot of nudity, Catholic “blasphemy,” and other themes that may make some players uncomfortable.
Marissa Marcel is described as a woman chosen over 20,000 others, a soft-faced, red-headed actress who began her career as a model before being cast in the film Ambrosio and beginning her rise to fame. I was reminded of “Who is She,” the song by I MONSTER, and its lyrics “Oh, who is she? A misty memory. A haunting face. Is she a lost embrace?” The scenes that include Marissa are usually sexual, thrilling, and of course, mysterious. When she’s in a scene, all eyes fall on her, as if she’s the only one onscreen.
The game begins with basic controls that teach you how to navigate the videos with the controller (or mouse, if you prefer) and scrub back and forth through them, as well as how to investigate faces and props to add to your gallery of videos. In the beginning, you’re given a massive grid of videos to start with, but as soon as you click the first one, the game removes all the other videos and makes you remake your progress by clicking faces and props. You can click on nearly anything, and it will lead you to another scene in the same movie, or a scene in a different one. For example, clicking Marissa’s face from an interview might lead you to a scene from Minsky, where detectives are questioning her. But if you catch Marissa from a different angle, you’ll be taken to a different scene entirely! You can choose to focus on people or on scenes, whatever strikes your fancy. And there are a lot of scenes you need to unlock, so it’s a good idea to keep track of where you initially started.
Playing “Immortality” was like watching a movie that you need to build yourself. There are three movies you need to analyze and recreate: Ambrosio, Minsky, and The Two of Everything. (Of the three, I was most taken with Ambrosio, since I’m a big fan of religious and cult-themed movies.) I decided that the best method was to navigate by faces, so I started collecting faces, everything from Marissa to actor Robert Jones, producer Arthur Fischer, and actor Carl Greenwood.
But when I just clicked faces, I forgot about props, which are also very much clickable, so I had to go back and research those as well. After clicking for a while, I remembered that the main point was to find out what happened to Marissa, and by this time, I was honestly a bit confused about how to accomplish that. The clicking felt aimless at times, and I started to wonder if some parts of the game were even worth watching. But then some things began to look different than before. I needed to slow down and reverse a lot, in order to reveal the secret scenes and discover other interesting moments. And it was very rewarding to find out the mystery behind Marissa and a few of the other important people in her films.
The dedication of Half Mermaid and Sam Barlow to building sets, writing scripts, and crafting scenes only to dissect them is pretty impressive. While I did struggle a bit when searching through the videos – at times it seemed as if I was looping through scenes continuously in order not to miss some of the eerie moments – it was well worth it to see how everything played out. While trying to solve Marissa’s mystery, you end up unlocking and solving a few more, since the people around her were dealing with their own problems, and Marissa’s presence seemed to intensify them. The game is quite lengthy, so I would recommend “Immortality” to players who have plenty of spare time, as I did because I was dealing with Covid during my second week of college. The game was one of the only things I could do to pass the time. “Immortality” might not be for all, but those who do play it will thoroughly enjoy it. Another Sam Barlow masterpiece!