The future of virtual reality filmmaking can be found within the pages of a children’s storybook. Making its debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Wolves in the Walls is a virtual reality film based on the eponymous short story by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, and it was far and away the best example of VR filmmaking that I’ve experienced to date. The result was a thrilling, emotionally charged style of storytelling that used virtual reality to bring me further into the narrative than any traditional movie could.
Created by Fable Studio, Wolves in the Walls puts you in the shoes of the imaginary friend of a young girl named Lucy. Well, maybe not the shoes, but definitely the body, which she creates with the stroke of her pen. Late at night, Lucy has been hearing mysterious sounds that seem to be emanating from the walls. The sounds of wolves. It’s up to you, her new friend, to help her find the truth. What I found when I experienced the film at Sundance was a level of narrative immersion that is hard to replicate.
The 10-minute short film is mostly a passive narrative experience, but it is peppered with a few moments of interactivity in which you must take hold of a flashlight or a magnifying glass or a Polaroid camera in order to advance the story. Not only did it deepen the empathic link between the viewer and Lucy, but it made you feel as though you were a meaningful part of the storytelling experience rather than a passenger who is simply along for the ride. This blend of passivity and interactivity is a delicate tightrope to walk, but Wolves in the Walls managed to toe the line better than any other VR film I’ve experienced to date. It never feels too much like a video game; rather, it was a scary, thrilling, charming, and ultimately heartwarming way to experience this creepy-cool world.
Directed by Pete Billington and produced by Jessica Yaffa Shamash, the short film will be coming to the Oculus Rift later this year, along with two additional chapters that are expected to run a total of 30 minutes, or 10 minutes apiece. After seeing this first episode at Sundance, I am champing at the bit for more of Fable Studios’ expert storytelling. If other creators can achieve the same degree of emotional immersion, then the future of VR filmmaking is brighter than the ending of literally anything Neil Gaiman has ever written.