SIN: Halloween Haunted House at the Theatre Sainte-Catherine was an intense and disturbing experience, unlike any other haunted house. The theatre’s small space was transformed into a formless nightmare that played with the audience’s vulnerability. The experience began with the participants being attached to a rope by the wrist, while standing outside the theatre—with no explanation as to why—then the order in which we were lined up was switched around. I was left separated from the friend I came with, a clever way to immediately make us all feel alienated and uncomfortable. Out of the gloom, a hooded figure appeared, taking the rope and dragging us around through an alley to a back entrance.
This alternate entrance was the least of a series of surprises, but like the best horror movies, SIN did not rely on jump scares. Instead, it used close quarters and interaction with its audience to make the space feel ominous and foreboding. The constraint of the rope took away any sense of control and forced you to look at the scenes playing out. A woman in white sang an aria, always remaining slightly ahead of the group. The space was divided using cloth and garbage bags into countless rooms, each of which showcased a twisted vignette. These scenes made it obvious why advertisements for the program warned that “NO CHILDREN OR TEENS WILL BE ADMITTED.” One of the earliest, and tamest, scenes was of a woman being dressed by a stylist before her wedding, until the stylist suffocated the to-be bride with a plastic bag and stole her ring.
The performance featured a large amount of nudity, both male and female, and this manipulation of sexuality was where the event really shined. For a good amount of time, the rope was pulled by a mute, fully nude man, and the apprehension between not wanting to follow too close to him and not wanting to be left behind in a room created an uneasy dynamic. The most memorable scenes were the ones which took advantage of my apprehensiveness about nudity and sexuality. Particularly memorable was a room which mainly featured a man in a wheelchair masturbating and speaking in Spanish. I found myself unable to watch but also unable to completely look away. Another scene showed a woman seducing a man praying in front of a candle, stripping and taunting him. The dynamic between the two almost acted as a mirror of my experience as an audience member, again unsure where to look or how to respond to the experience. The conclusion of this scene resulted in the man self-mutilating his genitals with candle wax. Even though I knew this couldn’t be real, I was stunned.
Other scenes blurred the line between performer and audience, with cast members latching onto my legs. There was an excellent segment in which we were brought to the rooftop and warned to stay low as we travelled through a boardwalk, then were told to run to a door. This culminated in me shouting at my friend to close the door behind us. I was immersed in the experience.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by the cast members’ ability to stay in character and control the experience. The performance kept me constantly uncomfortable and off-balance. It used its theme of sin extremely well, and scared me through the use of my discomfort with the human body. Overall, this was a uniquely disturbing experience, and I can’t wait to return next year and travel through hell once more.