Last week, we visited Hauntu’s latest event, Pepsi Lost in Karak, designed in collaboration with The Livescape Group and sponsored by Pepsi.
Hauntu, for those who don’t know, is an immersive and interactive haunted house in Malaysia that provides unique, episodic experiences where players are part of the cast. It’s the unique brainchild of Superdough, the parent company that’s also behind escape room brand Breakout.
Seven of us from the Vulcan Post team mustered up the courage to join the experience, and we were joined by a few more strangers, comprising two other duos and a solo player whose friend had supposedly chickened out and abandoned her.
While Lost in Karak is a limited edition pop-up event from Hauntu, who knows whether or not this story will be revisited in the future. If so, beware: there may be some spoilers up ahead.
A “night” of drama, tragedy, and scares
As per the usual Hauntu experience, before entering the haunted house, we were briefed by a staff member on the general storyline and what we could expect. For Pepsi Lost in Karak, we were roleplaying as scientists whose main goal is to find the cure for a deadly disease (AKA the pandemic).
The cure lies in a red flower in a village. But here’s the catch—it’s sacred to the village it’s in, and taking it would result in dire consequences for the villagers, possibly leading to their mass demise. Thus, the decision and dilemma—to take the flower and save humankind at the cost of the village, or leave the flower for the village’s prosperity, and leave the rest of the world to waste away?
Once the briefing was over, it was time for us to begin making bold decisions. Scene one took place inside our company bus, which was cruising through the night along the very dark Karak highway, when all of a sudden, BAM!
We crashed, and our injured bus driver apologised profusely as he explained that he had been spooked after seeing a tree-shaped monster in the darkness. (Later, we would learn this was Begu Rimba, the protective spirit of the village.)
Unable to see much of anything outside the bus ourselves yet, we were all immediately freaked out. It didn’t help that we could hear random thumping on our bus every now and then, while the weather suddenly changed.
Lighting began to flash, and thunder rumbled. When we used a cellphone to call for help, the other person on the line told us to find an important briefcase stowed on the bus.
This came at the cost of our bus driver’s death, after which we were simply stranded on the bus.
While we were all at a loss as to what to do, a shadowy figure appeared outside our bus doors, and of course, we screamed.
Thankfully, it turned out to just be a kinder native of the village, Garhan, who brought us to his home. Garhan had decided to help us find the flower, believing that it’s the better of two evils, and sets up his preparations to guide us.
But his plans are foiled all too quickly. Someone knocked on the door, and Garhan urgently asked us to hide. It felt like a video game when my colleague and I slid underneath a table to hide from the cruel village head, Tok Rasne, and his henchmen, who began questioning Garhan on whether he was hosting suspicious visitors (us).
Though we knew we wouldn’t actually be “killed off” if we were discovered, we still held our breaths as one of them sat down right next to us. The suspense was real.
Eventually, they appeared convinced by Garhan’s defence and left, but the moment we crawled out of our hiding spots, they threw his doors open again. We were rounded up, then forcefully taken away into the village centre.
Atop the village stage, Garhan was tied and quickly executed. Now left without our guide, we were helplessly led before the sacred tree, where the villagers began taunting us, when all of a sudden, one of the participants had a meltdown. She acted almost as though she had been possessed, hysterically screaming and lashing out.
The rest of us were fearful and confused, and even the villagers themselves were thrown into disarray. They decided to take her away, multiple henchmen restraining her.
And then we were left alone before the sacred flower tree, important briefcase in our hands. This was our chance to grab a flower and store it safely.
As the group didn’t have much time to discuss amongst themselves what the right course of action is, one person’s decision to take the flower essentially drove the whole story in a different direction. It was eerily reminiscent of what real life is like too—one person’s action could affect the whole situation, for better or for worse.
In the end, we still got out safely, the flower cure in our hand, but behind us, we had doomed a village to die, the rage of the Begu Rimba palpable as we ran off.
Admittedly, we didn’t make many bold decisions other than taking the flower, but we were left with curious questions after the experience. For example, if we had come to Garhan’s defence earlier on when we were made to hide, would that have changed the course of events? What if some of us had boldly objected to taking the flower?
Ultimately, there’s no real right or wrong answer to any of Hauntu’s episodes, and Pepsi Lost in Karak was no different. We had made our decision, and would have to reap the consequences later on.
Convincing recreations of the outdoors, indoors
Being Hauntu’s first go at creating an outdoors set consisting of a chunk of highway (bus scene), village, and forest area (Garhan’s home, the execution stage, the sacred flower tree) we have to commend them on the quality.
The place was darkened sufficiently to mimic night, and bright flashing lights made for convincing lightning. The sound system was placed strategically throughout the set, surrounding us with an almost-realistic atmosphere of the outdoors. Dried, crunchy leaves were strewn on the ground while green plants surrounded our sides, adding more realism.
One thing I would recommend would be to perhaps make the fans a bit more hidden next time, perhaps through the use of thicker foliage, to better immerse the players.
I liked how we could interact with the set though, such as in the bus with the windows, and then later in Garhan’s house, where we were given the opportunity to hide in various spaces. This made more than just a walk-through experience; you were part of the performance and encouraged to play along.
Props further added to the interactivity of the experience. For example, the use of a phone to make a call after the bus crash helped inform players of what was happening in a way that made sense.
According to my colleagues who had been to Hauntu before, the brand’s previous sets might have been a bit more detailed, though perhaps that’s because they were set in indoor environments.
Amazingly persuasive performances by skilled creatives
But honestly, the performances of the actors were really what sold the whole experience. Their ability to direct and interact with the players while not breaking character was truly fascinating. For example, when we were being taunted by Tok Rasne, some of us retorted with silly things to try and throw him off, but he simply took them in stride and further frightened us into submission.
Their performances were no mere memorisations of a script; they were fluid, adaptive, and impromptu. Oh, and did we mention, the villagers conversed among one another exclusively in a fictional tongue?
Yes, the Hauntu team developed a fake language, learnt it, and were able to execute their performances fluently in front of us. That’s how dedicated they are.
I was also particularly impressed with how they projected their voices and maintained the tension of the scenes. There was no denying that these were extremely passionate, creative individuals at their best performance.
One of the most memorable and, dare I say, iconic moments of the experience was when one of our team members—the solo player—suddenly became hysterical.
Having bonded with her through the trials of our haunted experience (no joke, she and I held on to each other for quite a while), I was extremely concerned at seeing her meltdown—until we realised it was all a part of the experience. I was partially impressed, partially betrayed; her act had been super convincing.
Apparently, I learnt from my colleagues that moles (fake players) were indeed part of the usual Hauntu experience, but they themselves had forgotten about this fact and were completely fooled by the team’s amazing performances.
When we were done with the experience and sharing our thoughts with Ka Wai, co-founder of Superdough, we learnt that he, too, had been well fooled by the mole when he did a test run of the game!
It left us wanting more
One thing that we all agreed upon by the end of it was that by the time we finally felt fully immersed, it was already the end. Since the experience only lasts for 30 minutes, things do move pretty quickly. The ending also felt a bit rushed for my liking, as there’s not much resolution—but that’s why it’s a haunted house, not a movie.
The game involves some decision-making and interactivity, so if you’re a shyer or quieter person, you might feel thrown off, especially as your other team members take charge.
It was still a lot of fun, even if we didn’t make entirely bold decisions. We’re just proud of making it through without embarrassing ourselves too much.
With this as my first taste of Hauntu’s creations, I can say boldly say I definitely look forward to the team’s future events.