Ed. note – Tommy McNamara is a comedian, and also a hero, because he took on the task of reviewing This Is Real for me, Megan, a 29-year-old human who is scared of the sound of her own doorbell, and also someone who sleeps with the lights and TV on when house sitting because what if ghosts. Thank you, Tommy! To buy tickets to This Is Real, head here.
By Tommy McNamara
It’s a windy night in Red Hook. My friend Jordan and I walk up to a nondescript building, unsure what to expect. A short woman in a top hat approaches us and asks if we’re here to play. The game we’ll be playing tonight is called This Is Real, an immersive horror experience that falls somewhere between an escape room and a haunted house. Basically, the premise is that you are kidnapped by psychopaths and need to figure out how to escape. Jordan is with me because when I invited my girlfriend she responded (verbatim): “UM. TOMMY. NO. This is for FREAKS. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.” The woman hands us each a waiver and a set of rules. She has a British accent and a dry sense of humor, which I find deeply unsettling because of my Anglophobia.
I read over the waiver carefully. The first line states: “I certify that I am physically fit.” I wonder if signing this would be like lying under oath. Further down, a line states that this activity has a potential for serious injury or death, but I don’t really notice because I’m still thinking about the physically fit thing. We also have to read over the rules of the game. The rules range from mysteriously vague “don’t trust anything or anyone” to alarmingly specific “in order to get of your cage, if you have to back out into the emergency exit in your cell to get around the cage door it’s ok.” We read the rules over a few times, until the British lady makes fun of us for taking too long.
The rest of our team joins us on the sidewalk, a nervous couple and two friends who don’t seem nervous enough. We all size each other up, wondering who will be the biggest asset and who will be the biggest liability (hint: me). We are all forced to put our wallets and cell phones into locked bags, like it’s some sort of Dave Chappelle show. Then a staff member brings out gray jumpsuits that we have to put on over our clothes. My jumpsuit is huge and damp (?) and makes me feel like a kid who stole his dad’s electrician uniform. We are told that it’s time, and we trudge inside and line up against the wall.
We are each blindfolded, bound, and led into our cells while hearing an ominous soundtrack and the occasional scream. I untie my hands and take off the blindfold to see what looks and feels like the room from Saw. A man is tied to a chair, covered in sweat and blood, imploring us to help him. His captor, whose face is obscured by Joker-style make up and pantyhose, informs him there is no hope. He comes to my cell. I am terrified he’s going to touch me. Instead he says “You are beautiful.” Even in this context, it’s nice to hear. He is part of the Psycho Clan, who are apparently a clan of psychos. When he leaves, the victim gives us some helpful hints for how to play the game (“When he comes back, hide!” being chief among them). Eventually, the captive is taken out of the room and we are left to our own devices (and various objects in the room). Our captor returns intermittently, forcing us all to frantically hide. The first time this happens, I quickly stuff myself in the refrigerator. As an overweight young man, I’m no stranger to seeking refuge in the comfort of the fridge. I contemplate waiting it out in there for duration of the mission, until I realize that the lone Budweiser can on the shelf is empty. I steel myself and join my team, and somehow we start to make progress, through sheer ingenuity, grit, and shouted advice from a staff member frustrated with our pace of play.
We get stuck in the wrong room and the psycho catches us. We all die. Fortunately in this reality you get 3 lives and we are able to reset and continue. Different members of the group are separated and escorted to separate rooms with different challenges and we have to rescue them or send things their way. Without giving too much away, here are some of the assorted horrors we encounter in the course of our valiant escape: a man with a chainsaw, a giant bear mask, a fake ID with a picture of Jonah Hill on it (seriously). The game escalates at a terrifying pace as a psycho chases us. I accidentally stiff-arm one of my teammates as we attempt to squeeze through a door. I should apologize but there’s no time.
Then, suddenly, we’re led out and it finally ends. I thought we had only been in there for 20 minutes when really it was over an hour. Time flies when you’re being hunted by the Psycho Clan. The group takes a picture together and exchanges smiles. I hope we stay in touch through the years, but the fact that I don’t remember any of their names isn’t a good sign. Jordan and I leave the building and head to the G train, feeling equal parts pride and shame for our performance. It was an exhilarating evening, and I think I picked up a lot of helpful tips for the next time I’m kidnapped by a gang of sadistic murderers.