In i-Lived, a young man makes a Faustian pact with a mobile app so tempting and sinister that it seems to quite literally be The Devil, and while at first he lives the high life, he soon finds that deals with The Devil have a tendency to bite the end-user in the ass, as his life descends into depravity, madness, and paranoia. For those who think that sounds like quite an enjoyable experience, technology – and tie-in promotional activities – comes emphatically to the rescue, as users can now download the very app that wreaks such merry Hell in the film, and experience it for themselves!
Once you’ve gotten over the weirdness of the film’s marketing encouraging you to repeat the greatest mistake of its protagonist, the app is available to download for free from Google Play; due, presumably, to some sort of exclusivity arrangement it is absent from the App Store. There’s a touch of irony to this as the film itself depicts Apple products being used, but either way Apple loyalists will just have to imagine the interactive fun they could be having – or read about it here.
For me at least, the app downloaded and installed in seconds. On launching, it takes users to the faithfully recreated home screen from the film, then to a menu featuring three options: Self Help App, Sync To Movie, and Promos/Links. Neither the first nor third one seem to do anything at all, so it’s the Sync To Movie feature that the app is actually built around, offering a live interactive experience to viewers. Using the built-in microphone, the app is able to identify where in the film the viewer is, and makes things happen as appropriate: it sends “texts” (actually just in-app notifications); displays images and videos; vibrates in time with jump scares; and sometimes even turns on the device’s flashlight.
Of these features, the more ambitious ones are actually the least effective. The vibrate idea is fine, but for me it wasn’t always clear why the app had chosen to vibrate at moments that weren’t high points of tension, or anything like that. It’s less clear what, in context, the strobing flashlight is meant to even mean, but each of the (thankfully few) times it occurred, my device’s light got stuck and wouldn’t turn off until I quit the app, relaunched, and resynced to the movie. Another time, the app simply got confused and wouldn’t stop showing me the same image, long after it was relevant to the film, so yet again I had to quit, relaunch, and resync. This means that I don’t know how much neat stuff I missed while dealing with technical issues.
That’s a shame, because the stuff that I did catch was genuinely neat. Receiving the same texts on your device that Josh does in the film isn’t as tedious as it may sound; the font size the film uses is tiny, so it’s helpful for anyone not watching on the big screen (please, nobody use this app in the cinema). Because the “texts” are actually just images, as are most of the things the app does, there’s less interactivity than one may, at first, assume (ie., buttons reading “confirm” et cetera aren’t actual buttons); on the other hand, film isn’t exactly interactive to begin with, so you’re still getting something more than just what’s onscreen. In the early part of the film – which is also the part in which the narrative is densest, establishing everything that’s going to come into play later on – the app is the most fun, offering all sorts of silly little tie-ins in the form of in-universe webpages, advertisements, dating profiles, and so on. That said, it does take until somewhere around seven minutes in for the app to send its first text. On the one hand it ties in nicely, as it’s also when Josh receives his first text; on the other, it’s a long time to go not even knowing whether the app is working, and the film’s five-minute opening credits are tedious to begin with. The lack of any score or other sound over the opening logos also meant the app took an unnecessarily long time to sync. But when it works well, it makes a genuinely fun experience out of a disappointing film, with the interactive additions by turns offering humour, background insight into characters, foreshadowing for later events, pure titillation in the form of additional angles during the sex scenes and, in the final few minutes of the film, turning a somewhat weak ending into one much, much more affecting. While I don’t recommend i-Lived by itself – see my review here – I do recommend watching it unassisted first time around to get the full benefit of the app, as watching two screens simultaneously is difficult, at least for those of us old enough not to make a daily habit of it.
Value for money: 100%
Frequent technical issues mar the app’s high enjoyability, but the concept is novel and may see improvement in the future.
The app singlehandedly got me to rewatch a film that I didn’t like, that I’d seen just one day previously – and actually enjoy the second viewing, at that!
I can’t see much chance of users wanting to go through the movie with the app more than once; that said, it still provides 92 minutes of solid entertainment, which is better than can be said for many apps out there.
If some major studios pick up on this idea and apply it to big-budget pictures with the marketing budget to deliver an app that really works, then i-Lived might go down in history as the first of its type, for better or worse.