Daniel Montgomery and Justin Fix know that for most people, the scariest thing to do to someone is to stare into their eyes.
“There was this poll that went out that said, ‘How long does it take for a stranger to look into another person’s eyes before they creep them out?’ It was three seconds! And that just astonished me, that we can’t look at a person passing the street for more than three seconds before a person get the creeps. To me that speaks to a human condition,” Fix said.
So it’s no surprise that shortly into “Lore,” the new CreepLA haunting experience based on the new Amazon series and the podcast that inspired it, there’s a woman looking at you, almost directly through to your soul.
That introduction kicks off a series of small stories from different eras, national regions, and states of emotional duress that make up “Lore.” By design, groups of eight travel through this jungle of storytelling, peopled by accused witches, would-be murderers, and unexplained phenomena.
Montgomery and Fix take pride in subverting the tropes of a typical haunted house, where participants shuffle through a series of spooky rooms with fake brains and chainsaws, shuffling through single-file. As with their previous installations, CreepLA wanted to highlight an interactive experience that gave audiences some agency in absorbing the story in their own chosen way.
Going through this journey through American mythmaking might be a group experience at the outset, but there’s a personal aspect to the process built into the DNA of the show.
“We always try and have what we call ‘one-on-ones,’ where you get pulled away from your group and have an intimate encounter with one of our actors, and get their own personal little story,” Montgomery said. “So, when we are constructing our stories we start with eight and then we figure out ways we can have one get pulled away, or two, or sometimes three, and then come back together.”
CreepLA’s “Lore” also utilizes space well. Some stops are populated with a dense set design, dotted with foliage and strewn pathways. Others prey upon a minimal atmosphere to let the mind fill in the gaps. What the audience can’t quite see or hear is the time that the performers put into helping craft that specific sort of unsettling world for each group.
“Our audition and callback process is pretty rigorous, especially this year for ‘Lore.’ It was hard,” Montgomery said. “The audition was workshop-style — long, long hours — and we did a lot of movement exercises. Not only do the actors have to be good actors, understand the text and be able to deliver it convincingly, but they have to have an awareness of their body, and have an awareness of how to move bodies in character.”
Much like the anthology that inspired it, these disparate stories literally spill over into each other as cries and clangs from previous rooms can be heard at other places in this storytelling maze. What could easily have been a weakness or a sticking point, the creative team worked to turn into a plus.
“Lore is verbal storytelling. For us we say ‘listen carefully’ at the very beginning of the show, so it’s a multi-sensory, oral experience. You’re hearing all of these stories in a way at once echoed with one another, living in the same environment, in a way,” Montgomery said.
Like many other experiences in the emerging haunting world, the performers in CreepLA’s “Lore” have the permission to touch the participants, whether to hold their hand and guide them to a new location or to establish an immediate psychological connection.
“The simplest form of storytelling and connectivity is through touch, and it’s always been an apparent thing we’ve always wanted to incorporate. Because it grounds you instantly when you have someone grab your thigh or your wrist, or recognize your cheekbones,” Fix said.
Of course, that participation comes with parameters and is built on a mutual agreement.
“We always have to set the precedent at the start of the experience of ‘you will be touched, you will be isolated, you may be put in confined spaces.’ Because we’re trying to allow the normal guests to be able to escape, discover, get lost, misbehave, and allow themselves to step out of reality and to confront these limitations we may put on ourselves on a day to day basis, that we may normally not explore,” Fix said. “In shows past, it is so fun when audiences really give themselves over to the experience and give themselves over to the story and what they’re willing to do.”
Though the podcast, the Amazon series, and the haunting experience all deal with centuries-spanning stories, Montgomery and Fix recognize that the effectiveness of each is based on how well it relates to current times. There’s a specificity to the twisted hospital stories of “Lore,” or a family in a colonial cabin torn apart by strange behavior. But there’s still a universal feel to each of them, even as they’re separated by generations.
“We’re afraid of what’s right outside our door. All of these stories come down to a primal fear, and I think each one of them can be applied to everyday life right now. ‘I’m scared of who’s outside and who’s going to hurt my family, I’m scared of getting sick and dying’ is very real right now. With all of these different stories, these are the victims that come up with the explanations for why this is happening, the fear of the unknown. Everybody has a fear of the unknown and a fear of the other,” Montgomery said.
“Lore” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. CreepLA’s “Lore” is open in downtown Los Angeles through November 12.