New This Month on Within

Four satisfyingly diverse offerings make up Within’s slate of December new releases, reminding viewers and fans of the powerful creative possibilities inherent in virtual reality technology — and the fun it can provide as a form of entertainment.

RONE |Available 12/6

A still image from the virtual reality experience RONE; courtesy of SXSW

First up is “RONE,” director Lester Francois’ 360-degree, interactive documentary about the Melbourne-based street artist known as Rone. The experience received critical acclaim when it staged its world premiere at SXSW in March, and is now being made available to a wider audience via Within’s streaming platform.

“RONE” takes its audience on a journey through the derelict buildings, decaying factories and abandoned houses that serve as canvases for Rone’s haunting large-scale murals of attractive — albeit melancholy — women.

The juxtaposition of beauty with the mournful vestiges of crumbling, forgotten infrastructure, makes for a potent meditation on the passage of time, the impermanence of everything and the futility of trying to prevent change.

The experience navigates through a series of doleful spaces that the viewer is invited to explore — you can look up, down and side-to-side, marveling at the way the dust motes swirl in the sunlight passing through holes in drywall — before suddenly coming face-to-face with a towering portrait of a woman, staring straight through you, as if contemplating the state of her surroundings and wondering where things went so terribly wrong.

Interestingly, these deserted, often secret spaces, retain a glorious, grubby grace in their own right. It’s as if time has ravaged them, and then simply passed them by, leaving them solemn, yet dignified guardians of their own decline.

Virtual reality allows you to act as a stealth intruder, tip-toeing around spaces where you are surely not allowed to be — ruminating on their magnificent decline — before confronting the woman who shares your view of the apocalypse from her spot of wonder on the dining-room wall.

Water Bear, episodes 1 & 2 | Available 12/13

Water Bear; image courtesy of Within

Looking for a light-hearted break after a jaunt through RONE’s world? Binge episodes 1 and 2 of “Water Bear,” which has been called the world’s first 360-degree comedy series.

Created by the immersive animation company Waffle, the show is the brainchild of actor Lucas Kavner (“Orange is the New Black”), and features the voices of Rob Huebel (“Transparent”), Chris Powell (“Detroiters”), Kate Berlant (“The Characters”) and Amanda Lund (“Fresh Off the Boat”).

As the title would suggest (although you’re forgiven for not figuring it out on your own), the series tells the strange tale of a jaunty bear who fell off a boat during a glass-bottom cruise while he was getting wasted with his pals, only to find that he can breathe underwater.

Trapped in this foreign world, Water Bear makes a slew of new friends including an octopus, a starfish and a squid. Karaoke and bocce are just a few of the raucous activities available under the sea, and Water Bear’s deadpan sense of humor makes every moment there a delight.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the series in VR is feeling immersed in an aquatic environment. It is both foreign and familiar, as if you are literally inhabiting one of your favorite cartoons from childhood. “SpongeBob SquarePants,” anyone?

Fresh Out | Available 12/20

The virtual reality experience Fresh Out will release on Within, December 20th, 2018. Image courtesy of Sandman Studios

Ever thought about the sheer terror you might feel as a baby carrot, nestled snugly in your cozy bed of garden dirt, only to discover that your baby-carrot friends are being plucked from your world, one-by-one, by a scary monster in the sky?

No? Neither have we. But we can’t stop thinking about the scenario thanks to “Fresh Out,” an incredibly cute, and totally chilling new VR experience created by China’s Sandman Studios.

The seven-minute short takes place in the murky netherworld beneath a garden where plump orange root vegetables hang nervously awaiting an uncertain fate. The oldest baby carrot of the bunch, a wizened, but still delicious-looking fellow with broken teeth and wide, frightened eyes, tells his compatriots of the strange monster above who rattles the earth as it walks.

You look down and — gasp! — you discover that you ARE a baby carrot, and that you’re in this mess for real. From there the cute, creepy horror becomes more acute as you watch your friends disappear through newly created holes above.

What will happen to your beta-carotene-rich lifeform? Our lips are sealed, but trust us, you will have a front row seat to your own demise.

Inside the Sound |Available 12/27

Details from the virtual reality experience Inside the Sound; courtesy of Universal Everything

Moving from haunting to silly to just plain trippy is Within’s final December new release: “Inside the Sound,” which explores the visual nature of sound itself.

The experience was created by digital art and design studio, Universal Everything, and it features six 360-degree films that invite viewers to, yes, step inside the sound.

The sound in this case is a series of auditory hallucinations that could be considered a digital mash up of trance, techno and jazz created by longtime Universal Everything collaborator, Simon Pyke. Each soundtrack gradually escalates in pitch in order to intensify a feeling of drama while the visuals provide endlessly looping physical manifestations of the sensations triggered by the various sounds.

There is no narrative, no moral, no higher purpose, just a delicious audio-visual feast worthy of completely zoning out to.

Some sequences are soothing, such as “Burst,” which is shrouded in white and features droplets of sound exploding on the surface of an infinite white expanse. Others are stressful, such as “Planes,” which will drive any aviophobe mad with its skyscape of countless airplanes flying in maddening loops all over the heavens.

All the sequences, however, are endlessly fascinating and will leave you spinning in circles to capture the stimulus surrounding you.

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