Today I’ve seen a short VR movie: Ashes To Ashes. It is a movie made for VR by Dutch studio Submarine Channel, which has already won a gold prize at Dutch VR Awards. The video is accessible for free inside Jaunt App on lots of VR platforms (Oculus, Vive, etc..) .

The creators define it “a surreal tragicomedy in virtual reality about a dysfunctional family burdened with the bizarre final wish of their deceased grandfather”. Said shortly: a complete WTF in virtual reality 😀

The experience begins with the user immersed into water, like at the bottom of the sea (you’ll understand the sense of it at the end of the movie), with a girl looking at him from above the surface. I liked a lot this first scene because it grabs immediately the attention. It is super-original and makes you curious about the plot of the movie.

ashes to ashes vr movie review
The movie begins this way, with a little girl looking at you from above the surface… and the water waves distorting the visual of her face

Then the movie begins and you find yourself in a room with 4 strange people looking at you and talking. There you start understanding what’s happening: you’re the grand-father of an insane family, and your last desire (oh gosh, you’re dead) is to have your corpse exploded and your ashes launched into the sea so the fishes can eat them (oh gosh, you’re not only dead, you’re also crazy as hell!).

ashes to ashes vr movie review
Hello guys, who are you? Why are you looking at me?

The family members start arguing… then something completely unexpected happens. I’ll make some spoilers of course… if you don’t want to read them, go watching the movie and then return here! The room starts disassembling and you find yourself inside a… movie studio, a theater, whatever. Inside this theater, all the scenes of the plot gets played by actors. Ok, I guess that you understood nothing of my explanation. It’s ok, I had to watch the video twice to understand what was happening.

ashes to ashes vr movie review
When you look at the movie for the second time, you start looking at that aquarium in a new way…

The video starts as any 3d videos (ah, I forgot to say: 3D video, 360 degrees, as all Jaunt stuff… very cool), like a standard movie, but in 360. Then it evolves on some kind of mixture of cinema, theater and real life. So, it is as you were part of the cast of actors in a theater and you were on stage with them… you see all sequences being shot, you see some people of the backstage, you see the real action. And your role on the stage is being the dead grandfather. I say that it is a mixture with real life because all the time you’ve the impression that people around you are actually saying that things to you, are actually doing that crazy stuff… it is not a movie about a show inside a theater… it is like those things are happening, but are happening as a theater plot happens. It’s hard to explain. Imagine that all people around, in your life, are actually actors (Truman show?), and your house is actually the stage of a theater… but even if you can see all the backstage stuff you don’t know it is just a play, so you think that that’s your real life. Well, something like that. Add to that some form of meta-VR (people inside the movie talk about “virtual reality”, as they knew about being part of the movie) and you obtain an absolutely unique mix for this movie (it is real life? It is just fantasy? Catch in the landslide…).

ashes to ashes vr movie review
There’s also some time for a sexy scene…yeeeeaah

As the authors say: “What is unique about this project is that it’s an 11-minute one-shot in VR. It’s live action, and the sets change constantly making it a very dynamic experience.”. Exactly, the other strange stuff is that it is a continuous movie: again, it is your life on a stage… 11 minute of your life (well, actually you’re dead, so 11 minutes of your afterlife) with people doing stuff around you. There’s no scene change. Like in theater, it is a continuous action, with no interruptions. It is either the environment that changes around you (like in theaters, when objects on the stage move) or you that change position: the actors have a remote, that makes you move on a rail back and forth, to live different parts of the action, different scenes. The authors have thought about this trick to never stop the experience.

ashes to ashes vr movie review
In this screenshot you can see lots of interesting stuff: there is the stage where people act and there is the rail along which you move. And then there are also crazy people.

Anyway, you start moving on this rail and enjoying different sequences of the plot, with different actors performing them. All people are completely crazy, so the plot is absolutely bizarre. There’s not a straightforward plot in my opinion, more a set of scenes with a common background story. In the end, well… I’ll not spoil that to you.

ashes to ashes vr movie review
A crazy girl with a remote in her hand. You have to fear her

The project has been very ambitious: it involved Submarine Channel, AVROTROS, WeMakeVR and Jaunt VR and three directors from different disciplines (theater, film, VR). It is surely one of the most original VR movies I’ve seen until now. Well, in my opinion it is not exactly a movie… it is more an experience. And let’s think for a moment what means having 11 minutes of continue shooting. For every error you make, you have to start from scratch. OMG. I’m sure there have been lots of headaches in the making of this video.

It has some little problems: when you move on the rail, there’s motion sickness; when there is the feathers scene, in VR there are some visualization problems (it’s hard to get the depth of the feathers); video has some kind of distortion in some points and sometimes my eyes crossed; my height was wrong wrt the camera height in the video. But I think that they do not ruin the experience.

ashes to ashes vr movie review
The feathers scene. It is super-cool, because you see feathers all around you and with the immersion offered by virtual reality, this scene is astonishing. But there are some problems with feathers visualization

In the end I enjoyed it. But I think it is intellectual stuff and I’m not intellectual. It reminded me the movie “La Grande Bellezza”, the last Italian movie to win an Oscar prize: I watched it and in the end I was like “eeeeeehm… what’s the sense of this?”. I’m a very simple person, sometimes I find hard even to understand the plot of adult movies. So, I’m quite sure there are lots of things I’ve not understood of this movie and that people more clever and passionate about cinema than me will get. I think I’ve missed too many things… and I had to watch the movie twice to get a basic understanding of it.

One of the most bizarre scenes of the movie. Look, the girl is everywhere all around you (in the image you can see her two times), dancing and making strange stuff

Anyway, in the end, sincerely, I liked it: it’s well played, very original, somewhat funny, surely crazy… a bit like me :D. 11 minutes are flied really fast while watching it. So, I approve it and I advice you to download Jaunt app and try it! And if you want to get more info and see the trailer and the making of of this crazy movie, follow this link!