The Overlook Film Festival: The Game.

A weekend-long immersive horror game that’s more detailed than you could possibly imagine.

All photos by myself, Cara Mandel, Rachel Walker, Drew Huntley and Garrett Warren, with permission. 

One of the best-loved aspects of the Stanley Film Festival was definitely the immersive horror game, and Bottleneck Immersive was tasked with creating the new iteration for The Overlook. There were three tiers available: Lurker (participating mainly through email updates), Player (playing as much or as little as you like in between screenings and other festival activities) and Hunter (you will eat, sleep and breathe this game).

I selected the “Player” tier, and for Day One, I felt pretty good about my progress. I worked with BMD friend Robert Saucedo, and we solved a few clues right off the bat. (Okay, it was mostly Robert.) We mistrusted an overly cheerful volunteer who, to her credit, never broke character, but who ended up going “missing” on the second day. We grilled a hapless gift shop employee who was definitely not part of the game, but told us about a plant at the other gift shop, a mustachioed guy named Pat who seemed very dismayed to have been made so early in the game.

After 24 hours of collecting clues and taking notes, my little notebook was starting to look like John Winchester’s journal in Supernatural

But after a day or so, as the rest of The Overlook Film Festival got into full swing and the game increased in complexity, I started to realize I didn’t have enough time to follow all of the ins and outs of this astonishingly intricate case. But that’s what’s great about the game: I continued to participate at a level that made me comfortable, occasionally collecting clues, following others’ progress, popping in for the occasional late night clue-breaking rendezvous (of which there were many). Every time I played, I had a blast, but I still got to see a bunch of great movies and participate in the other terrific events of the festival. 

Meanwhile, more intensive gamers broke this biz wide open, and I took cheerful advantage of all of their hard work and sleepless nights via a labyrinthine text chain in which I was far more observer than participant. I’m not going to report on every complexity of this game, as they were innumerable and a retelling is unlikely to generate the same level of excitement and satisfaction of actually solving a puzzle or acquiring a clue, but I will give you a few of the most thrilling impressions of the past few days:

Driving up the winding, mountainous rode to the Timberline Lodge, hours before the festival even opened registration, Robert and I saw a guy in an orange beanie standing next to a blue sedan with the hood up. We stopped to see if he needed help – it was snowing and windy, and he looked miserable – but he sent us on our way, telling us he was fine. Later, when we saw the “Wanted” posters for escaped serial killer Jed Stanton, we realized that he looked like the guy on the side of the road. We reported this to an “authority,” and later received a message that an abandoned blue sedan was in the Timberline parking lot, containing some important clues to Jed’s whereabouts. Jed, who was last seen in an orange beanie. The festival hadn’t even started yet, but we were already accidentally playing the game! 

Robert noticed an H.P. Lovecraft book in a diorama of an old-fashioned Timberline hotel room, a sort of out-of-place title in the midst of all of this ski lodge coziness. (Robert, by the way, would have killed at this game if he weren’t so preoccupied with watching movies. He’s a natural clue-finder.) Turns out that there were three such books hidden in plain sight, all of which provided clues that resulted in a code. We were told later that a 1am rendezvous would be crucial, but were sent a separate email informing us of a strict curfew that would result in severe punishment if broken. Just before the 1am meeting, we hid in hallways and elevators, giggling like schoolchildren. It was so exciting! 

Eventually, we made it to the rendezvous, where we were given this seemingly incomprehensible document. The graph at the bottom led us to a wall of mailboxes, the code from the books gave us the combination to open the mailbox indicated in the graph, and inside were two cassette tapes, which, after “digitized,” turned out to be the taped confessions of Jed Stanton. 


There's a package for you at the front desk...

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There was so much more to the game: P.I.s to call, mystics to read our fortunes, convoluted cyphers to break. And the clues weren’t only sprinkled around the Timberline – we found a code taped to the wall in a small museum in Government Camp, at the bottom of the mountain. The mystic set up shop in a café. 

Eventually the players became the suspects. No one was safe, and no one could be trusted. Daily reports kept those of us on the fringes abreast of developments. The final report ended with this ominous line:

Breaking News - Although the wound is still fresh and after some interesting and intense conversation, the Timberline Lodge has announced Mark will officially be taking over as acting archivist.

Until next year...

And that wraps up my coverage of The Overlook Film Festival. I can’t say enough about what an extraordinary experience it was. The programming is so strong, the events are completely unusual, and the location is breathtaking. Spending four days watching horror movies and participating in scary events in this huge, gorgeous, shadowy lodge, surrounded by snow drifts on all sides, felt like the most singular privilege. If you can get it together to attend next year, don’t miss it.