There is a missing link in the evolution between escape rooms and immersive theater. Dont get me wrong, there are some fantastic escape rooms that have immersive elements, and there are some awesome immersive shows that have escape room aspects. However, I feel like there has been a disconnect between the two, with no real joining of the elements in a way that truly intertwined them together.
Enter WELCOME HOME, the hybrid show from The Reality X that really brings the two together in a way I had never experienced before. I walked away feeling like I had found Bigfoot, out in the wilds of Frazier Park, CA.
On the day of my show, when I had finally looked up the location of WELCOME HOME, I was a bit concerned to see how far away it was. Living in Orange County, it was quite the trek. However, it was well worth the drive, because it was definitely the most fun two and a half hours I had ever had. The drive out was made even more bearable because they had graciously provided a Spotify playlist to listen to to help set the mood. With a varied selection ranging from rock and roll, Tiny Tim, and religious songs, I was thoroughly creeped out before I even arrived at the location!
The premise is pretty simple; a cousin you had not seen in a long while invites you to his home, in an effort to find a successor to all his earthly belongings. There are some pretty overtly creepy religious overtones throughout the beginning, giving me some weird Far Cry 5-like vibes. The two actors during the opening scene were fantastic, their interplay creating a simultaneously hilarious yet unsettling tone. There was a lot of laughter, and snacking, during this sequence, while the story is laid out in a natural manner.
Everyone is presented with a menu. Alas, there is no food on this list of options. Instead, there is a brief listing of the different tracks; After reading the descriptions, you are instructed to select four options of interest, and you will be assigned one for the evening. Arming you with a flashlight, a drawstring bag (for any objects you might need to carry), and a journal relating specifically to your assigned track, you are ready to go.
And then the game begins. The lights go out, and you are given free reign of the property to complete you task. And I DO mean free reign; the entire house and most of the grounds is open to you. In each journal is a map showing the off-limits areas, but seriously, everything is fair game. I found myself wandering the depths of the woods on property, along with almost every nook and cranny of the house.
While there are 14 people who can attend each showing of WELCOME HOME, there are only six tracks. People assigned the same one are also given a color code, so while you are on the trail of the same mystery, the likelihood of you running into them is highly unlikely. You will spend a good portion of your evening alone (unless you are teaming up with someone, which is also a possibility).
I was given the ABDUCTION track, where I followed the plot of some extraterrestrial visitors. I quite literally ran around the property while figuring out the (incredibly clever) clues and puzzles. I loved how the puzzles were laid out, and how they included some pretty ingenious aspects.
I will say this; these puzzles are HARD. Part scavenger hunt, part escape room, this section takes up the bulk of the show, and will have you scratching your head trying to figure out the mystery. However, though difficult, I felt the challenge level was really good, and I was able to work through the puzzles after putting on my thinking cap. Escape room newbies and aficionados alike will be challenged here, making the playing field level for everyone.
However, there is an extra element of stress here that has nothing to do with the puzzles, and that is where the other immersive element comes into play. Your cousin, whom invited you to begin with, has also invited some other guests to the party guests that are out to get you.
If youve seen films such as The Strangers or Youre Next, youd have the right idea. These masked maniacs delighted in toying with everyone, and keeping us on our toes. They stalked us from every angle of the house and outside property. Imagine being in the middle of the woods, working to figure out a puzzle by flashlight, and you catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye. A slight giggle emanates from the darkness, and you see a flash of their mask. Do you run? Hide? Or allow them to catch you?
This was, by far, the closest youre ever going to get to being in a masked killer horror film. I spent a good portion of my evening running and hiding from these maniacs. At one point, I was in the darkened house, looking for a clue. I turned a corner to walk into a bedroom, and flashed my light inside to make sure the coast was clear. Instead, I caught a glimpse of a man in a bloody rabbit mask, staring directly at me, sitting in a chair in the pitch black of the room. Waiting. For me. With a slight tilt of his head, I got the hell out of there as soon as I could, back into the blackness of the house.
As I ran back down the hall I had come from, I heard a noise in front of me, and realized it was another of these masked terrors, and I had to quickly decide what to do. I jumped into a closet, closing the door as quietly as I could, and held my breath. I watched through a crack in the door as she stalked the hallway, looking for me. I stood completely still, as she deliberately and slowly conducted her search. She left after a few moments, but to me, it felt like hours. This small sequence had me absolutely terrified, and it was just like being in a horror film. It was amazing, exciting, and exhilarating.
This was the entire night, and made the puzzle solving so much more stressful, which is exactly what they were going for. If one of these folks did happen to catch you, they would take you to a trap of theirs. The plague doctor caught me once, and chained me to a fence in the middle of the woods, leaving me alone to figure out the puzzle to free myself.
Seriously, the entire night was filled with moments such as this, ones that we had seen play out a million times in horror films, but now were able to experience for ourselves. I loved every moment of it. The actors were top notch, and really blew me away with their performances. Little nuances they added into their performance made it even more realistic, and completely helped sell their characters.
However, by the end of the night, I am proud to say I came out victorious, and was the first official winner to figure out the end of the mystery! I had outwitted my cousin, and took home the top prize. You have no idea how stoked I was!
And thats another cool thing about WELCOME HOME. Most escape rooms, if you win, you just get the satisfaction of completing the game. Here, though, if you are the first person to get into the key house, you not only get bragging rights, but also the grand prize of $250! Yes, thats right there is a PRIZE for winning, and it ups the stakes even more.
On the drive home, and even now, I am replaying moments I experienced in my head over and over again. Kudos to The Reality X team for creating such an incredible experience, and making it both simultaneously fun and terrifying. When I spoke to Cameron Cooper, the mastermind behind it all, a few months ago about it, I was intrigued as to how he was going to be able to pull it off. I can say with confidence that he accomplished everything he set out to do. WELCOME HOME is a unique experience, and perfectly blends escape rooms with immersive theater in a way Ive been waiting for.
I highly, highly recommend this to anyone. Dont let the location deter you from a fun evening out that you wont soon forget. WELCOME HOME is fantastic, well-done, and scary as hell. Go do this. Now.
For more information, and tickets, visit them online at: https://www.therealityx.com