I recently got a very intriguing invite – to a cinema screening where the viewer controls what happens. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the choose your own adventure/visual novel games that have been gaining traction in the last couple of years, and CtrlMovie managed to capture this vibe perfectly. It’s fun, it’s immersive, and it really gets people involved. Gone are the days of people sitting in silence in a cinema theatre – with movies like this, you’re more likely to hear them arguing with each other.
The plot of Late Shift is a simple premise – an average student, working the late shift as a valet at a car garage for London’s spoiled upper class. He witnesses a crime, and the choices are simple – go along with it, and earn a ton of cash, or do the morally right thing and go to the police?
Normally, this would be a very simple set up for either a good guy superhero or the beginning of a criminal, but thanks to the nature of the choices, the narrative is left almost entirely in the viewers’ hands, and in a way, lets you fill in the blanks for Matt’s storyline on their own. Are you making the choice to show the guy where the train is because your protagonist is just a bit prickly on the surface, or refuses because he’ll just be late for work? On the flip side, is he deliberately not helping because he’s cold and cruel?
I liked that the choices weren’t just major ones. I mentioned the one about the train, but you can choose whether to push your luck in a bet, or to bluff your way out of decisions or not. There are so many choices, it sucks you right into the plot, to the point where you don’t want to look away, lest you miss something. Unless, of course, you’re too busy marvelling at the gorgeous cars provided by Audi [Editors note: it’s okay, we haven’t been paid/sponsored/bribed to say that. Honest, guv].
The choices themselves are implemented via a phone app, and will pop up every time there’s a choice to make on screen. You’ve got the big screen showing the options you have, and a timer counting down before you’re forced to pick one, and will eventually go with the majority vote. It’s absolutely masterfully shot; you’re not at all able to tell where the transitions from one storyline to another occur. I’m honestly not sure how they did it, and honestly? That’s a good thing.
Whatever your feelings on the state of the film industry, there has obviously been so much love and effort put into this film, and not just because of the idea. The camera work is flawless, the acting is excellent, and the writing is watertight, which is becoming a rarity, these days. My one nitpick is that the pauses when the audience is making choices can feel a little artificial at times, like the characters are just staring blankly at the scenery, waiting for something to happen. While this works really well when they’re trying to talk to Matt, whether to plead with him to change his mind or work their way to a decision of their own, it flows much better than just empty space. However, if the time for the decisions to be made was shortened, it might end up with people missing the window, so it’s probably this way for a good reason.
It was interesting how much people were willing to risk in their choices, whether it be for humour or sheer novelty. People were constantly laughing and pushing their luck, just to see how far they would get and what the consequences would be, rather than opting for a good or bad choice. It has a lot more curiosity tied up in it, and draws the audience in, engaging them much more than a regular movie would. It feels like an experience you can have and enjoy with a bunch of mates on a night out, with a long, heated discussion in the bar after. It generates a lot more togetherness than a regular movie, and it’s something I could see myself doing often.
You’ve also got the rewatch value. Late Shift had between five and nine different endings, depending on how you were counting them, and a ton of different story paths. My viewing apparently got the second worst one, and took the more negative storyline choices, so there were a whole lot of scenes none of us got to see at all. The relationship between May Ling and Matt would have apparently been different, dependent on choices, so there’s extra incentive to go through it again. There was another, albeit later showing, and I would have cheerfully gone again to see the difference, despite having sat through the entire thing not an hour before.
If you want to see this for yourself, you can download the app and the first chapter of the movie for free, though you’ll have to pay for the rest, but trust me when I say this is well worth your money. When this film hits the cinemas, I may well go and see it again. And who knows? Maybe I’ll see a happier ending this time.