Five Emotionally Draining VR Films

Beacause who doesn’t love crying in a VR headset?

VR technology has proven an effective tool in nearly every field it’s been tested in. This is especially true for the entertainment industry, impacting everything from gaming to filmmaking. VR’s capabilities as an empathy building device make it a natural fit for creators looking to introduce the next generation of storytelling.

Thanks to enthusiastic filmmakers–both independent and established–we already have a solid collection of impressive VR films available, many of which have audiences fogging up their headsets. Below is a small selection of incredible VR films that had us emotionally exhausted by the end credits. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve limited our selection to VR films with little-to-no player interaction.

ARDEN’S WAKE: TIDE’S FALL

We can’t talk about emotionally draining VR storytelling without mentioning Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall. Released back in 2017 on the festival circuit, Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall is an absolutely jaw-dropping experience that blends captivating visuals with an equally enthralling story.

Developed by Penrose Studios, the story follows Meena–voiced by Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider, Ex Machina)–a strong young woman living in a post-apocalyptic world in which the seas have swallowed the entire Earth. After an unexplained accident befalls her father–voiced by Richard Armitage (The Hobbit Trilogy, Castlevania), Meena ventures into the unknown depths on a daring rescue mission, discovering various sea life scattered among sunken remnants of the old world.

What follows is a heart-wrenching journey about love, regret, and acceptance. Sufficeth to say my time with Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall was some of my favorite spent while in a VR headset. The Pixar-style visuals and unique viewing format hooked me within the first 10-seconds, while the well-crafted story kept me captivated for the duration. In fact, the only negative I can find in the project is the fact that it’s still unavailable to the general public.

CROW: THE LEGEND

Developed by the storytelling experts over at Baobab Studios (Asteroids!, Invasion!, Jack (Part One), Crow: The Legend is another star-studded masterclass in VR filmmaking. Featuring the voices of AAA talent like John Legend and Oprah Winfrey, Crow: The Legend is a modern-day retelling of the historic Native American origin legend of the crow that mixes storytelling, music, and light player interaction.

Users step into the role of “Spirit of the Seasons,”–an invisible embodiment of the seasons–and use their hands to periodically change the seasons and progress the story. The light-hearted adventure follows Crow (voiced by Johne Legend), a charismatic forest creature whos colorful feathers are outshined only by his magnificent voice. During an especially bitter winter season (way to go user), Crow and his fellow forest friends struggle to survive the harsh conditions. It’s then up to Crow to travel past the sun into the unknowns of the cosmos and seek help from “The One Who Creates Everything By Thinking” (voiced by Oprah Winfrey).

The entire film is littered with jaw-dropping visuals, from the dreamy atmosphere of the fall forest to the chaotic beauty of space. Combine this with an emotional story about commitment and sacrifice, and you have one hell of an impactful VR film.

You can watch Crow: The Legend for free via YouTube.

CYCLES

I guess it should really come as no surprise that Disney’s very first foray into VR storytelling would be an unmitigated success. Developed by Disney Animation Studios (Frozen, Zootopia), Cycles is a uniquely-told story inspired by Gipson’s childhood spent at his grandparents home before having to move them to an assisted living environment. Told from the perspective of the home itself, the film centers around the trials of a family over the course of 50 years. Throughout the emotional experience, you’ll watch as the family goes about their day-to-day lives throughout the warm domicile.

“Every house has a story unique to the people, the characters who live there,” states Director Jeff Gipson. “We wanted to create a story in this single place and be able to have the viewer witness life happening around them. It is an emotionally driven film, expressing the real ups and downs, the happy and sad moments in life.”

By employing several unique VR storytelling techniques, such as fading the visuals to gray and lowering the audio when the user breaks focus from the primary actions of the scene, Disney has ensured that audiences catch every second of this raw, relatable tale. Cycles serves as an excellent example of the future of VR filmmaking, both in technology and storytelling.

Disney has yet to announce an official release date for a public release.

DEAR ANGELICA

Illustrated entirely in Quill, a VR creation tool for PC VR headsets, Dear Angelica follows a young woman who’s writing a letter to her mother, Angelica. As we progress through the story, the daughter falls asleep; it’s then you realize that she’s coping with the death of her mother, a famous actress. She is, essentially, keeping her mother alive through the memories and movies she left behind.

The experience keeps you in a dream-like trance throughout your journey, the world twisting and morphing around you with every new stroke of the brush. Narrated by Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise, The Long Kiss Goodbye), Dear Angelica features the perfect blend of conventional art, filmmaking, and technology, resulting in a memorable journey throughout which you gain a genuine sense of who Angelica was.

You can check out Dear Angelica for free via Oculus.

GLOOMY EYES

The newest film on our list, Gloomy Eyes is an adorable reimaging of the classic ‘ugly duckling’ tale. Narrated by Colin Farrel, Atlas V’s three-part adventure follows Gloomy, a tiny half-human, half-zombie hybrid struggling to find a place in a world fractured by an ongoing war between zombies and the humans who hunt them. Eventually Gloomy falls in love with an equally adorable human girl; the only issue is her uncle, who just so happens to be the most celebrated zombie hunter in history.

“Anything that invokes a sense of magic and total immersion is worth gold, and it was amazing to be a part of the vision Fernando and Jorge created in Gloomy Eyes,” spoke Farrell during an interview with Variety. “It’s a completely transportive and beautiful experience, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and really connected with my passion of storytelling.”

Gloomy Eyes is somehow adorable, thrilling, and heartbreaking all at the same time. It’s truly one of the more unique VR films available, offering users an inspiring journey set within a dark, Tim Burton-esque universe.

Unfortunately, Gloomy Eyes has only been available at festivals and special events. No word yet on a public release.  

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