Once you book you get emails from a mysterious person advising you of where to turn up, and what fashions you should sport, but until you get to the venue and actually sit down to watch the movie, you don't know what you're seeing. Mine and Stephen's opinion before we went was that we hoped it was something we hadn't seen, because we didn't want to pay all that money to see a movie we already knew and potentially didn't like. In retrospect, I'm not sure that's the attitude to take.
We met at the prescribed meeting point, wearing attire which proved we were part of the adventure and were guided to the secret venue, which just happened to be up the road from where I used to work. It seemed to be a massive, out of use building, with several floors, each floor kitted out to match, what we thought, was the general era of the film we were about to see. You are invited to exchange your money in order to purchase food or drink. I was kind of hoping that you might get some refreshments for free considering the steep price of the ticket but unfortunately not. There was popcorn, sweets, several bars and a few different types of food, from hot dogs, to cafe-type stews to a full sit down meal. I wasn't sure there would be food and so had eaten something before I got there, but that didn't stop me from having a bag of popcorn, freshly made for £3. The drinks prices were typical of London and there was mulled wine and spiced cider on offer as well as the usual beverages. By the time we'd had two drinks each and some snacks, we had paid another £25. This is not a cheap night by any means.
But I think it is just about worth it. It is definitely fun, and they put a lot into it. You are free, and indeed encouraged, to fully explore the arena you are in, and to interact with the characters you may find there. Stephen and I found ourselves rushing to pray with a nun when the children's hospital we had wandered through moments before turned out to be infected. They also re-imagine scenes from the movie, and re-enact the key scenes. All of these are, of course, clues as to what movie you are about to see. Right down to the names of the bars and food stalls.
As we sat down to watch the movie (which opened with a very amusing short film - Future Shorts are Secret Cinema's sister) we started to realise that contrary to our early thoughts, it might have been better to have seen the movie beforehand. It turned out that it was a movie that I hadn't seen all the way through (though had, oddly, seen the end and its memorable scene). As you watch you realise that everything you have witnessed in the hours before the movie has some connection to it and I think I would have enjoyed it, or appreciated it more, if I had recognised what they were recreating. Having said that, it was fun to watch the movie and think 'ohhh, that's why they did that' as it unfolds. Every key scene and set has been alluded to before you sit down.
The movie was shown in a separate building to the rest of the goings-on, which was clever because as we wandered around we came across two 'red herring' cinema set ups which threw us again as to where we'd be watching the film. And this was probably the biggest let down of the night. As much as I enjoyed the movie, being in a massive, deserted and draughty warehouse meant freezing temperatures made it really hard to concentrate. Also (and I hope this isn't always the case) the audience seemed to be one of the worst I've ever been a part of. People kept getting up and down, and going in and out of the warehouse we were in, causing more draughts each time the door was opened and disturbing you again, just as you had warmed up enough to enjoy the viewing. I don't know whether they were getting more drinks, or going to the loo after having imbibed too much in the preceding hours. Whatever the reason, it was very distracting. The movie itself was very good, I can't fault the choice.
This is definitely not something you can choose to do on the spur of the moment, like an ordinary trip to the cinema. Much as I would like to do it again, the price means it is always going to have to be something I do as a special treat. And of course, the very nature of Secret Cinema means that you never know what you're going to see, which is always a gamble. Fingers crossed that next time it's something I've seen and like!