Oculus Rift's Dear Angelica: is this short animated film the saddest use of VR ever?

Heartstring-tugging, Geena Davis-starring, 12-minute sob-fest is an overwhelming virtual reality experience

Virtual Reality has served up no shortage of fun novelties and intensive bursts of shooting things with a big gun.

Another potential string to its bow, however, is taking more traditional story-telling, and giving it a deeply immersive, three-dimensional booster shot.

The most significant entries in this field to date are Henry a short, sub-Pixar effort about a sad hedgehog, and the all-too-lengthy and self-explanatorily-entitled Jesus VR: The Story of Christ.

Although neither of these is a great work of art, the use of VR gives both films a definite edge – Henry won an Emmy, indeed. 

Hell, even the Marriott Hotel chain's little VR documentaries about travellers had something undeniably cool about them. 

Dear Angelica, however, raises the bar. From Oculus Story Studio – the same stable as the sad hedgehog – it's a more mature work in every sense. 

As a result, the scenes, rather than being animated in the traditional sense, are drawn around you at epic scale. 

The point of view is what I can only describe as 'f**king close'. Where previous VR movies have generally maintained a middle-distance POV more akin to a standard movie, Dear Angelica finds you pressing your nose up against the glass of the creative process.

Angelica's unnamed teen daughter writes a letter to her mother. As she recalls their adventures – both real and imagined, as Angelica was, it transpires, a film star – it becomes apparent that Angelica has passed away, and that the illustrations etching themselves around the daughter and you, the viewer, are her memorial.

The scale of the visuals allied to the emotion of the story is in fact quite overwhelming. Certainly, it's heartstring-tugging exploitation of the simplest kind, but Dear Angelica is hugely effective, thanks to the VR artwork and the performances of the great Geena Davis as Angelica and Mae Whitman as the daughter.

Ending on a vertiginous zoom up, as a life support machine bleeps to silence, the film left me with a unique double-jeopardy. 

I was perilously close to both bursting into tears and being sick, whilst stood in a bare-walled basement in front of a couple of PR people, wearing the familiar, comically oversized Oculus Rift headset. 

Dear Angelica premiers at the Sundance Film Festival today and will be on the Oculus Store by Sundown. The Quill creation app is also available free on the Oculus Store.

Duncan Bell

Duncan is the former lifestyle editor of T3 and has been writing about tech for almost 15 years. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. His current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy. A cricket fan for over 30 years, he also recently become T3's cricket editor, writing about how to stream obscure T20 tournaments, and turning out some typically no-nonsense opinions on the world's top teams and players.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially like a cross between Reddit and DeviantArt, before the invention of the internet. There was also a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."