Bile rose in my throat as I got off the highway in Acton, California. Nearly 60 miles of anxiety had built up in the hour-long drive to Ultra Dark Society’s ROTTEN. Nothing could have prepared me for the fear (and fun!) I was about to experience (and ultimately conquer). ROTTEN proved be the absolute perfect show to introduce me into the world of extreme horror.
Founded by Tristan Wells (Death Project; I Pledge Allegiance) in 2019, Ultra Dark Society prides themselves on hosting members-only, underground extreme horror experiences. These experiences range in ratings of intensity from 1-5, but typically have not fallen below a rating of 3 and have potential to run above a 5. Ultra Dark Society’s dark ascent into the limelight rose from humble beginnings with the show Death Project, which explored themes of life and death and is the first part of a trilogy. They have since held 4 different shows, with the most recent being ROTTEN, which boasts a 3/5 Intensity rating. ROTTEN was co-produced, written, and directed by Tristan Wells and Daniel Hasenstaub.
My experience with Ultra Dark Society started over a year ago when I applied. It was May 2020, so I was freshly in the quarantine and craving any form of relief. My application was finally approved at the beginning of August 2021, and I got notice of the opportunity to participate in ROTTEN the day after.
Two weeks later, I found myself outside of the property we were instructed to go to. My anxiety had reached a fever pitch as we parked and waited to be coaxed out of the comfort of our cars. Daniel Hasenstaub (playing himself) welcomed the group of four that I found myself in and got us up to speed on the strange occurrences in his new home. We were there to essentially help the psychic he hired (Shar Mayer) to cleanse the house, since there seemed to be aggressive energy (known as Jacob) on the property. Daniel and Shar did a phenomenal job at providing the context needed to understand the compelling narrative. These two managed to create elevated stakes from the beginning of ROTTEN.
Our journey in ROTTEN took us into the alleged haunted house where Shar proceeded to perform a cleansing. The cleansing ended up going haywire, and robbers entered the home searching for an artifact of sorts. The four robbers soon claimed each of us and took us to our own individual horrors. Two of us were led upstairs while the other two were seemingly dragged outside. I later discovered that each robber was named after the archetype they resembled, for instance “Ringleader”, whom I had the absolute pleasure of spending time with. I loved this detail as it focused on how these individuals worked rather than who they were.
My captor was the complete opposite of friendly and gentle. They roughed me up quite a bit by shoving, choking, and pinning me down, all while having me search for the artifact. While unpleasant at times, it was nothing I couldn’t handle. This was also the only moment where I briefly considered using the safe word, but I knew that it would immediately terminate my experience and wanted to avoid that at all costs.
After my wonderful time being treated like a human sock monkey, I essentially summoned a demon with a Ouija board. She was horned and flocked with jet black feathers. Where the Ringleader’s actions were harsh and cold, hers where gentle and warm. The contrast seen throughout ROTTEN provided immaculate balance and ended up being one of my favorite elements in the experience. From there, I got to interact with the demon lady and Jacob and thoroughly enjoyed that portion. I mean who doesn’t enjoy getting their face covered in blood and some late-night closet talks?
The ending of ROTTEN left me questioning my sanity yet felt satisfying and worked well with the storyline. ROTTEN boasted an incredible lineup of actors who were committed to their roles. Their talent was marvelous, and I felt like I was in great hands throughout the experience.
ROTTEN provided a great resource to explore my fear and ultimately conquer it. I realized that I was tougher than I thought and enjoyed my entire experience. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely an anxious mess prior to ROTTEN. I mean, my knees were literally shaking when I was getting the rundown of the chaos occurring on the property. However, Ultra Dark Society managed to harness that anxiety and fear and mold it into constructive understanding and satisfaction. With that being said, if you have no interest in pushing physical limits or simulated aggression, then I would stay away from extreme horror. However, if you want to explore your personal limits, I would highly recommend applying to Ultra Dark Society. Ultra Dark Society also boasts immersive pop-up speakeasies for any individual interested in exploring a more casual version of the unknown.
For more information, visit http://www.ultradarksociety.com/, or check out Ultra Dark Society on Instagram.