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 (opens in new tab) 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 has been writing about tech for almost 15 years and fitness ever since he became middle aged and realised he could no longer rely solely on his boyish good looks. He 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."
Pre-lockdown Duncan was widely regarded as the best-dressed man ever to work for T3 – admittedly not saying much. Post-lockdown he is looking forward to wearing clothes other than shorts and hoodies again very soon, assuming he can still fit into them. He currently writes about cycling, fitness tech that isn’t too heavy, and all things kitchen and home related.