Virtual reality documentaries can sometimes feel a little dry, but that’s not a problem for Zero Days VR, a cinematic short shot largely from the point of view of a computer virus. It’s a VR companion piece to Alex Gibney’s 2016 cybersecurity documentary Zero Days. Gibney executive-produced the VR experience. But it was directed by new media artist Yasmin Elayat, who previously co-created the web project 18 Days in Egypt, with studio Scatter. And while it’s a tight, good-looking piece of work, I have one tiny suggestion: make it a music video too.
What’s the genre?
Explainer-y techno-thriller mini-documentary.
What’s it about?
The technology of Stuxnet — the infamous malware, publicly identified in 2010, that destroyed Iranian nuclear centrifuges and may be the most prominent example of a cyberattack with clear physical consequences.
Okay, what’s it REALLY about?
No, really, that’s what it’s about. Where Zero Days was an expansive look at the entire Stuxnet incident, the VR experience’s creators say they chose to focus specifically on the (genuinely unsettling) worm itself. It devastated a high-security nuclear facility by attacking computers in an unusually targeted, sophisticated, and secretive way.
At the end, the experience pivots to an NSA whistleblower who explains more about its societal implications, using the same high-tech glitch-art sleight of hand the film used to anonymize its sources.
But is it good?
Yes! But it could be great, if — and bear with me here — it were also a music video.
What makes Zero Days VR compelling is that it’s primarily a journey through a dark computer-generated landscape. It sometimes switches into more traditional motion graphics like a diagram of the centrifuges, or overlays video onto giant metallic pillars, but you’re almost always supposed to “be” Stuxnet itself.
The art in Zero Days VR is reminiscent of the looming geometric shapes in VR musical shooter Rez Infinite. With a more aggressive score, you’d get a particularly sinister version of Rez’s trance-y vibe. Some of the film’s audio (mostly news reports) is already layered into cacophony, and the rest could easily be delivered as spoken word monologues punctuated with heavy musical beats.
Look, let’s be honest: if you’re the kind of person who watches a virtual reality experience about Stuxnet, you probably already know a bit about Stuxnet. No ten-minute video can provide a truly in-depth examination of any subject, so you’re probably trying Zero Days VR largely for the experience. So why not combine it with a VR format that’s almost purely aesthetic?
What emotions are involved here?
Fear and trembling.
How can I actually watch it?
Zero Days VR is produced with help from Oculus, which means a Gear VR, Oculus Rift, and possibly Facebook 360-degree video release could be on the horizon.
Update January 23rd 5PM ET: Added studio name.