Developer Sam Barlow returns with another remarkable FMV experience. Here’s our review of Immortality.
Immortality does much to restore the eeriness that people must have felt back when cinema was still a new medium: the sense of peering back into the past at people and events that have long gone. A similar ghostly quality hangs thickly over developer Sam Barlow’s latest interactive adventure, which, like Her Story and Telling Lies before it, continues to find fascinating new modes of storytelling in the once-derided FMV genre.
The focal point is an actress, Marissa Marcel, who vanished some time in the late nineties after appearing in three unreleased movies. Given the task of finding out what happened to Marissa, you’re asked to pore through fragments of those movies – plus other bits of contemporary footage – in the hope of finding clues. You can fast-forward or rewind each clip, but the pivotal mechanic is your ability to pause the footage and click on people or objects captured in each frame. Doing so will immediately transport you to another clip that is somehow related to your selection: sometimes, the connection is obvious; at others, it’s bewilderingly obscure.
One second you might be watching a scene from a saucy historical drama set in the 1960s; the next, you’re watching a rehearsal for a low-budget thriller shot in the 1990s. But gradually, ingeniously, common threads begin to rise from the chaos: the way Marissa is constantly belittled or leered at by talk show hosts or corpulent movie directors. The biblical allusions and Faustian pacts that only grow more insistent as you follow the breadcrumb trail of clips and tumble further and further into the mystery. Some trails lead to dead ends, others throw out new information that completely changes your understanding of the plot. Still others, cunningly hidden, lead to some deeply unsettling imagery (and implications) straight out of a David Lynch movie.
There can be moments of frustration and even tedium in Immortality, but these are more than matched by those that are thought-provoking and, at times, even shocking. Barlow has taken his ability to tell non-linear stories to new heights here, not to mention his directorial talents: it’s easy to forget that the clips you’re poring over aren’t from the 20th-century time periods in which they’re set. Most of all, Immortality weaves a bleak, unsettling yarn that seems intent on tangling you in its threads. Even after the end credits roll, there’s always the sense that there are more secrets to discover, and more ghosts to lay to rest.
Barlow’s writing and direction is matched by some captivating performances, most obviously Manon Gage in the lead role of Marissa. She subtly, confidently plays the actress at various stages in her career, from wide-eyed newcomer to jaded, would-be star. Then there’s Charlotta Mohlin, whose unforgettable character we’ll leave you to discover for yourselves.