Confession time: I did not actually know that WELCOME HOME was an escape room nor have I ever done an escape room before. Even with that, I still came pretty close to winning the prize which wasn’t my aim since I didn’t realize there was one in the first place.
WELCOME HOME is a very well done, free range escape room that has excellent casting and really good performances from those actors, especially after the lights go out.
The night that I attended WELCOME HOME, it was set in a big house in Santa Clarita that is actually located in a part of the Angeles Forest National Park. It is quite remote even though there is a small town around it and there is no cell phone coverage, which is the hallmark of remote areas in our age of technology, I guess. This is excellent location finding as well, because from the start you feel weird and isolated just by driving up there and getting out of your car. The full night sky is visible from the parking area because there is no light pollution. It is very pretty and mildly upsetting at the same time.
Most escape rooms don’t appeal to me for the reason that they are generally set in a room that you have to break out of. I don’t really find a challenge in that. What WELCOME HOME has that the others don’t have is that scary quiet location where you feel like if things went wrong, they could go very, very wrong in a hurry. WELCOME HOME has a DIY air and the feel of a horror film like The Strangers or You’re Next or the comedy Murder By Death. What is also nice about the show / escape room is that there is an element of absurdist humor to the opening segment that is probably bewildering to a lot of people, but really tickled my funny bone. It seemed to confuse the other attendees as much as it delighted me.
One of the best thing about the performances of the actors, two in the opening and then more once the game begins, is that they were very game to play and to improvise outside of what the original parameters of their roles probably were. Another confession, I am an actress who has worked in both traditional haunts and immersive and interactive theater for almost as long as they have been around and it was a real pleasure to be able to throw the actors some curve balls and have them respond without batting an eye, but staying true to the characters. Director/Creator Cameron Cooper chose wisely with these actors. They come up with ideas that expand the experience, not limit it, which is the true spirit of immersive and interactive theater and the spirit of the acting craft as well. They are Ian Heath as Ian, Anthony Olivares as Gerard (GERARD!), Elisabeth Stranathan as Woman, and Cason Macbride as Dr. Plague.
The set up is simple: a bizarre and religious man who claims you are his cousin is holding his birthday party with his butler, Gerard, serving the guests while, the man, Ian waxes philosophical about mortality and how he needs an heir. You are asked to make a few choices via menu and then the lights go out and it is off to the races. Another thing that is great about this is that not everything is explained and there is a learning curve to the whole experience. While exploring I was caught twice and the second time I was put in horse jail. I managed to escape the first time, not by running, but by playing. While exploring after that, I realized that I needed to expend more effort to remain unseen and became much more stealth. This was after I heard a masked creature say, “You aren’t very good at hiding are you?” At that moment, I engaged my immersive theater skills as if to say, I’ll show you buddy. After that, I actually saw more of them than they did of me and I got to the point where I was a step or two from the prize.
There were a couple of hiccups and it is really dark and pretty physical in all the hiding and walking and other tasks that you do, so be ready for a much more interactive experience than you may usually get. WELCOME HOME engages your critical thinking skills, your physical stamina, and your sense of fun and adventure.
Cameron Cooper has crafted a real winner with WELCOME HOME and I look forward to seeing what else he and his group can do. He put a lot of attention into the details and even created a Spotify playlist to get you in the mindset for the event.
WELCOME HOME fulfilled all my weird wishes to be a part of a horror or mystery film or novel without having to be in real danger. It really is like being in a film and having to survive and think on your feet. I consider it highly successful and loads of fun. I would totally do it again.
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