Sundance’s VR Films Will Break Your Brain

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If this year’s Sundance Film Festival is any indication, virtual reality is about to hit the mainstream. Under a program called New Frontier, the festival is promoting eleven independently produced VR films on a smartphone app. The finalists have been chosen from hundreds of entries, and among them are some short documentaries, horrifying acid trips, and even a Reggie Watt music video.

You can watch them using Google Cardboard on your smartphone by downloading the Sundance VR app. The shorts will be available until February 12.

One of the standout shorts, Defrost, is a sci-fi futuristic drama that follows a woman who suffered a massive stroke and was cryogenically frozen. (It’s the VR debut of Grease director Randal Kleiser and it stars Carl Weathers.) The woman’s waking up 30 years later as the film begins. The viewer experiences the story from the perspective of the woman, Mrs. Garrison, who’s wheeled around the hospital after awakening and is reunited with her very emotional family.

Though it’s not exactly the most original story, it’s the first time I’ve seen VR add a new dimension to storytelling. Experiencing the scenes from the perspective of the woman adds more of an emotional wallop, because it feels so much more realistic than a 2D movie. When a doctor leans in to touch the Mrs. Garrison’s knee, it feels real. It feels like there’s a doctor in the room you’re sitting in. And when you look behind you and see the guy pushing your wheelchair, it immerses you that much more in the fictional world.

Another great VR story from Sundance this year is Sonar, which places you in a command center where you’re watching a drone explore the insides of an asteroid following a distress signal. Spoiler…