randonautica

Randonautica: Is There Something to the Hype?

I’m going to do something a little bit different here. I’m going to review a game.

Randonautica.

Heard of it?

I hadn’t until last week.

Background

Randonautica is billed as a “choose your own adventure reality game.” It’s an app that you can download for free onto your phone that generates random GPS coordinates in response to your “intention”, or what you want to find. The idea is that you think about something you want to find, and the app will randomly generate a location for you to plug into your GPS and have an adventure. It’s like one big random scavenger hunt where you may or may not find something interesting. Sounds like fun, right?

Well, I’ve heard the hype. After some digging, I’ve come across hundreds of YouTube videos posted in just the last couple of months claiming to have found some strange things. Some people have searched for “creepy” and found pentagrams spray painted on trees. Some people have searched for color and found a field of wildflowers. Most notably, some people have found human remains in a suitcase (I’m sure you guys have heard about that one.)

Color me intrigued, but how does it work? I tried to find neutral information on how the app was developed and how it really works. The only information of interest was the Randonautica website itself, which states:

Randonauting is the act of using the Randonautica app to generate truly random locations sourced with quantum entropy. The user can then choose to venture to these locations to see what they find. They often discover that what they see lines up with their intention, which is what they were thinking about when they generated the point. But even if this doesn’t happen, it’s a way to mindfully explore the world around them.”

Okay. I can dig it. But what is quantum entropy?

Quantum Entropy: A measure of distinguishability between two quantum states.

Mm. Yup. Cleared it up.

All right. Still doesn’t answer my question. Can this app read your mind? If so, how? Or is it literally just giving the player a random set of coordinates and you hope for the best?

There’s no way to really know unless you try it, so try it I did.

My Experience

I downloaded the Randonautica app. I opened it and set it up. I was ready to go.
My first intention was “something creepy” (I am a horror writer, after all). It generated a location that was 15 minutes away from my house. My initial thought was, “Lame! I’ve been all through that area and have never seen anything that would fit the ‘creepy’ vibe.” But I got into my car and drove out to the address given on the GPS.
Everything was familiar to me until I turned down a gravel road that ran behind an abandoned horse racetrack. I knew this road was here, but had no idea that it went back behind the racetrack as far as it appeared to. One point for Randonautica.
I was still four minutes from my destination. The road curved toward the highway that was about a mile to the east of where I was. I thought for sure it was taking me to a dead end with nothing to look at. The road sure did take me to a dead end, but at the end of the road was an old, burned out barn. I parked the car and got out, staring at the shell of the building. There was no house, no farm. Just a shell of a barn. I was surprised. Two points for Randonautica.
As I explored the building, I noticed there were rusted farm tools inside. I didn’t go in (I didn’t think it was safe and I was alone), but you could see most what was left of the interior. The isolated location and the state of the building did send a shiver down my spine. Three points for Randonautica.
Okay. So, Randonautica won this round. Encouraged, I thought of another intention. I wanted to be specific this time. I wanted to test this thing out. To make it harder for the app, I didn’t speak my intention out loud this time. My second intention was “ice cream.”
The app generated a location that was five minutes up the highway from the burned out barn I was currently parked in front of. By the look of the map on the GPS, I knew it was a Shell gas station. I drove there anyway. 
Sure enough, I parked at the Shell gas station and the GPS said that I had arrived at my destination. I scoffed. I had beaten the game. One point for Liz. Zero for Randonautica. 
As I was patting myself on the back (literally because I’m dumb like that), a thought entered my brain cells. Gas stations sell ice cream. Damn. One point for Randonautica. Zero for Liz.
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I don’t know what to make of this app right now. My first exploration took me to a creepy place when I wanted to find something creepy, but the creepier exploration, to me, was the gas station. I never said “ice cream” out loud. I figured the app could be listening and generating locations based on what was said. That would make sense. But I never said it. It didn’t even occur to me that ice cream is sold at gas stations until I arrived at my location. The experience made me sit in my car for a few moments, stupified. 
This may be an ongoing series on this blog. I am more intrigued now than I was when I had heard all the stories surrounding the app. I still have questions; The main one being, “How does it know?” I’m going to dive deep into this. This is my new pet project. I want to figure out how this app works.
If anyone else has used this app and has an experience they would like to share, I would love to hear it. Please post it in the comments below or email me privately at nefariousgoulash@gmail.com. 
There are two main parts to Randonauting: exploring blind-spots, or places nearby that are outside of your conscious awareness, and experimenting with mind-matter interaction, the hypothesis that consciousness can influence the distribution of random numbers. 
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book and movie reviews

In Search of Darkness (2019)

in search of darkness horror movie documentaryI have been looking for this movie everywhere. I found it two weeks ago online somewhere (I forget the website) for $2,000. Yeah. I didn’t want to see it that bad.

But then I found it later that same day on Shudder. I couldn’t believe my luck. After a year of looking, I finally have easy access to it. When did that happen? “All right.” I thought. “Let’s go.”

In Search of Darkness is one of the few horror documentaries out there. Directed by David A. Weiner, this flick focuses on the horror movies of the 1980s. There are only a handful of others like it, such as Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue and Horror Noir (Both fabulous documentaries that I highly suggest), but In Search of Darkness goes deep. I’m talking four hours deep.

This movie takes things “first date” slow. Going through each year individually, then focusing on two or three movies within that year, In Search of Darkness is stuffed with talking head interviews from all of your favorite horror film directors, actors, and special effects artists. These interviews recount personal experiences on each film and how that film or subgenre affected our society. These interviews certainly have room to explain and theorize the horror genre. While these interviews are gold to a horror fan, it borders on overload.

I’m going to make this easy. I’ll list the pros and cons of this film below.

PROS

Nostalgic – Great 80s graphics and use of individual films’ original trailers or ads.
They interview all the greats for this – John Carpenter, Greg Nicotero, Joe Dante, etc.
The interviews are inter-cut generously with scenes from the movie being focused on.

CONS

This film is four hours long. I had to watch in between two sittings.

Okay, so there’s only one bad thing about this movie, and it’s the running time. I get it. A filmmaker needs space to put in all that information, but after a while, it tires the viewer. I loved every minute of my two-sitting viewing, though.

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I give this documentary 4 out of 5 spooks. I love the 80s vibe and watching people close to my favorite films talk about them on such a personal level. What I didn’t love is the running time. If it could have been cut in half, maybe make it a two-part film, it would have been better. Despite this, though, I definitely recommend it for horror-lovers and film buffs alike.

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book and movie reviews

Host (2020)

      Ah. Quarantine movies. They’re everywhere now, aren’t they? But this one… This movie combines the quarantine narrative with found footage to attempt to scare me. Color me intrigued. 

Host is a 2020 found footage horror movie directed by Rob Savage. It is a story about five friends inviting a medium to join their Zoom meeting for a little seance excitement during COVID-19 quarantine. When Gemma claims she is touched by the spirit of a deceased friend named Jack, candles begin to flicker and strange noises can be heard. 
When the paranormal activity increases to more dangerous levels, Gemma reveals to the medium that Jack isn’t real. She improvised the “spirit touching” for laughs. The medium then tells the group that this was a dangerous thing to do; That evil spirits or demons can hide behind the “mask” of an invented spirit. Gemma made a mistake. Now, she and her friends are going to pay for making light of the spirit world.
Based on it’s premise alone, I found this film to be quite gimmicky. In the vein of movies that came before it, such as Unfriended, Host takes place entirely within a Zoom meeting. To add to the gimmick, the friends are using Zoom because of the newly-instated social distancing rules due to COVID-19. I can’t help but think “convenient.” 
Host leans heavily on its format for scares, nearly ignoring plot. The story as a whole is simple and the characters are one-dimensional and stereotypical, but the scares are great. When this movie was over, I couldn’t help but think that all this film was was a vehicle for creative kills to entertain the masses (sort of like the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises were toward their ends), and I wasn’t mad at that. I was definitely entertained. I admit, I jumped at a few well-placed jump scares. I 
smiled when it was over. 
Did it make me scared to go into the bathroom right after watching it? Yes. 
Did it make me think, or did it linger in the back of my mind to scare me until morning? No.
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Host is… Dare I say it… Trendy. It’s a product of its time. Ten or twenty years from now, it will look dated and dull, but right now, it’s creative use of the Zoom platform is unique and fun to see. However, this novelty is all this movie has going for it. The plot is nearly non-existent and the characters are interchangeable. So interchangeable, in fact, I couldn’t keep the characters’ names straight and there’s only six of them.
If you’re looking for an entertaining night in front of the T.V., Host is definitely worth the watch. If you’re looking for a fleshed-out plot or interesting characters, you’re going to have to look somewhere else.
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book and movie reviews

Hunted (Darcy Coates, 2018)

Is anyone afraid of getting lost in the woods?

I am.

How about if the stakes are raised? Like… Your friend is lost in those woods, possibly hurt, and you must go in to try to find them?

Definitely.

That’s the premise of Darcy Coates’s novel Hunted. Having no faith in the police, four friends go into the woods where one of their crew has disappeared on a solo hiking expedition. In doing so, the group discovers that someone, or something, is following them. This creature sees them. This creature has set traps. This creature is causing the group to become more lost the further into the woods they go.

What would you do?

This book conveys the type of story that niggles at our innate fears. The fear of the dark. The fear of the unknown. The fear of the “other”. These fears are ingrained in us from birth as survival mechanisms. This is precisely what makes this story so compelling.

I have always had a fascination with how fear plays on our psyches and what roles those fears play in our survival. Darcy Coates taps into those fears while we are sitting comfortably in our homes or in a coffee shop. The most frightening part of the story is that these incidents happen all the time. The story provokes the reader into considering what we might do in the same situation. The decisions are not comfortable, nor are they safe. However, a path needs to be chosen either way, and a person’s survival depends on that choice.

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I love this book. The story grabs you and doesn’t let go. The pacing is spot on, and the various subplots converge into a maddening crescendo. This book is definitely worth the time as makes you ask yourself…

What would you do?

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book and movie reviews

Jynx (Simon Corn, 2020)

I’m traveling outside my comfort zone a little bit. Okay, a lot. Usually, I’m a serious mystery/horror/thriller reader and watcher. I haven’t had much love for comedy in any sense, even dark humor, because rarely is it done right.

So, I’ve left it alone. Until now.

Jynx, written by Simon Corn, is a delightfully dark comedic mystery. The story follows Jynx, a germophobic man who generally keeps to himself and harbors an eerie secret. Jynx’s secret? Death inhabits his body from time to time and forces Jynx to watch Others die. When Jynx meets Chelsea, Sea for short, Jynx’s small, quiet world gets turned upside down. He becomes involved in the biggest mystery/scandal the small town of Hazyview has probably ever seen, and Mister Death is a part of it.

I just want to start out by saying I adore this book. It’s not straight up horror or thriller or comedy. It’s a combination of all three genres. After the first page, I was hooked, and I’ll tell you why.

The character of Jynx is very special. Jynx is an intensely germophobic man who can be self-conscious about the scars on his body from a car accident when he was a child. Jynx is one of those quirky characters that you don’t understand at first, but begin to love as you read on. What I love most about Jynx is that he has a biting wit that serves him well throughout the novel (and it makes for good storytelling in general).

The character of Sea is Jynx’s foil. She is an attractive, brash, and, in Jynx’s mind, unsanitary woman who gets Jynx involved in the mystery in Hazyview. Sea’s intentions are good, but she gets them into a lot of trouble. Because I like the character of Jynx so much, it is difficult to like the character of Sea. But much like Jynx, I tolerate her because for all her faults, she has a charm about her that is easy to love.

The novel is written in first person, from Jynx’s point of view. Because of this, I identified with Jynx’s character the most. Jynx addresses the reader directly throughout the novel, reinforcing that bond that keeps the reader reading. In a way, Jynx and the reader become friends; Whatever Jynx does, I found myself generally supporting his decisions. Whatever Jynx thought, I found myself agreeing more often than not. You get the idea.

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I give this novel five out of five spooks. Jynx is a well-crafted novel that refuses to let go. The mystery, thriller, and comedy elements are expertly balanced throughout the story. The characters of Jynx and Sea are also perfectly balanced, making them the perfect team. The first-person narrative hooks the reader, investing the reader in the story for the long haul.

Finally, dark humor done right.
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book and movie reviews

Lake Mungo (2008)

This. Movie. Was. Amazing.

Okay. That’s not all I have to say, but that’s the main point.

After a few years of hearing about this film – It’s good points and bad points – I finally decided to give Lake Mungo a try. Well, I tried to give it a try in the past, but could never find it (I suspect that because this is an Australian independent film, it was quite scarce in the United States). But now, thanks to more prevalent streaming services (and in particular Tubi), I was finally able to watch this gem.

Written and directed by Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo is a mockumentary that tells the story of a grieving family who has lost their daughter, Alice, due to drowning. After her death, the family experiences inexplicable supernatural events, or so they think. In reality, it is the family’s son creating ghostly photographs and video, claiming the ghost is his sister. In the only genuine piece of “evidence”, the “ghost” turns out to be a neighbor who is looking for something in Alice’s bedroom. Without going too much into spoilers, the creepy neighbor and his motives propel the story forward, and we find out the truth about Alice and Lake Mungo.

I was outraged when it was revealed that the “ghostly” evidence was not ghostly at all. Only Mathew grieving in a strange way. I felt duped. I felt dumb that I didn’t catch it before. But this is not the end of the story. I initially failed to realize that there is 20 minutes left of this movie when it’s revealed that Mathew faked the evidence. I continued to watch.

I’m not going to go into what the rest of the movie holds because I’m hoping that if you haven’t seen this movie, that you go watch it post haste. One tip I’ll give you… Watch the closing credits. You won’t be disappointed. (But if you are, it’s not my fault.)

There’s not much I want to say about the cinematography or the score or anything like that. All of that was pretty average. However, what I do want to say is that the acting is incredibly believable. The characters are what pulls you into this story, and without the phenomenal acting, this film wouldn’t be as great as it is.

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I was looking into dark corners and watching shadows all night after watching this film. It’s rare that a movie does that for me anymore, and for that, this film gets five out of five spooks.

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The Rohl Farms Haunting (2013)

I have always loved found footage. There is something about this sub-genre of horror that I can really get into. I’ve seen a lot of bad found footage throughout the years, but there are some independent gems out there. One of these gems is The Rohl Farms Haunting.

The Rohl Farms Haunting is a 2013 found footage horror flick directed by Cordero Roman. The film details the making of Cordero’s documentary of life on his friend Luke’s farm. While filming, Cordero manages to capture strange knocks at the door and things around the house being moved. This happens at the same time every night, leading the friends to believe that the farm is haunted. However, something more sinister than a ghost is visiting the Rohl Farm.

Cinematography and Authenticity 

It is set up early in the film that the character of Cordero is an amateur filmmaker currently in film school. This is evident in the way Cordero uses the camera and articulates everything he is doing while adjusting it. There are times throughout the second half of the film when the presence of the camera seems to be an afterthought. For instance, the camera bounces, shakes, and is unfocused when Cordero is running or otherwise frantic. This creates an authenticity that many found footage films just don’t have anymore.

While watching, I never once asked the question many always ask while watching a bad found footage film: “Why are they still filming?” I was so engrossed in the content of this film this question never entered my mind. This is probably because the film answers this question for the audience in the way Cordero utilizes the camera through the tense times. For example, when Cordero is chasing someone or something in the milk house, he uses the camera’s light to see in the otherwise pitch black building, accounting for the “inadvertent” filming. Many times during tense moments, Cordero simply puts the camera on a table, “forgetting” to turn it off, therefore capturing the action for the audience. These techniques work well to maintain the film’s authenticity and allow for the audience to become almost like a part of the guy’s group.

Pacing and Acting

For me, the pacing was perfect. There are some found footage films that fill the beginning of the movie with trivial banter between the characters just to pad the run time (I’m looking at you The Final Project), slowing the pace to the point where you can’t even watch far enough to get to the spooky stuff. This is not one of them. After establishing the location and the reason for the documentary, spooky stuff begins to happen right away. Much like The Blair Witch Project, the spooky incidents start small and steadily build as the movie progresses. Each night, the spooky occurrences become worse until they come to a head in the climax. This is how any movie should be paced.

The acting was decent. I did believe that Luke Rohl was a tired, rugged farmer who didn’t believe in the supernatural. I did believe that Cordero was an ambitious amateur filmmaker who may be just a little high-strung. These characters’ personalities played well off of each other, even clashing at some points, making the friendship and situation that much more authentic. There were times when Cordero seemed a bit over-the-top in his reactions, but who am I to say how another would react in that type of situation? I’ll give him a pass.

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I give this film four out of five spooks. While this is one of the best found footage films I have seen in a while, there are things that could have been improved. The location, pacing, and authenticity were wonderful, but the acting could have been a bit better. Overall, this movie is definitely worth the watch.

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