This is a first for I Love Disaster Movies – a TV documentary that was also released as a VR experience! On the Morning You Wake Up (to the End of the World) tells the story of a real-life event that place in 2018. The entire population of Hawaii received a text message from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency which simply read: “Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” This experience, available to watch on flat screen TV too, tells the experience of what happened afterwards to various people in that panicked period when everyone assumed they were going to die.

Hawaii as a mixture of real and VR CGI looks lovely at times.

The disasters faced

Text message chaos, fear of dying, the lack of escape and the confusion of an apocalyptic event for a nation whilst the outside world looks on.

The story

This short 35-minute experience is broken up into telling various stories of exactly what happened next to various members of the community. It’s told in a very poetic way through computer animation that allows a low-poly style of graphics but they can be broken up into hundreds of tiny fragments. As one family tell their story of desperately trying to find somewhere to take shelter, the scenes literally blow away like a nuclear blast of polygons off the screen to then join the next story as a lone woman decides to just canoe out into the sea and be at peace with her death. Other stories feature young adults trying to message friends outside of Hawaii about the blast and trying to get information and then getting very little back. Others are families that are stuck too far apart to find each other before the missile would be expected to hit and so they have tearful goodbyes.

Recalling people burnt into shadows on the concrete in Hiroshima was at the forefront of some peoples mind.

Interwoven with these stories and the hopelessness that they felt are nods back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the stories are told, people recollect back to these events with haunting images being blown to smithereens before your eyes. This concludes with a Japanese lady who had survived Hiroshima and moved to Hawaii only to get caught up in this disaster. Her monologue tale is as powerful as it is heartfelt.

Whilst the text message eventually was concluded to be a mistake, it left a profound effect on the Hawaiian community. The experience advocates for ridding our world of nuclear weapons and these stories of what felt like a very real end of days moment at the time, shine a light on exactly why these weapons need disarming now.

The way the graphics are fractal and fractured allows pixels to explode and blow away constantly.

Why is it worth watching?

From a VR perspective, this is an entirely unique experience. Feeling everyone’s phone ringing and the impact waves of missiles firing across the world as stories are narrated of the terror they felt is immersive. As a flat TV experience, you may struggle if you aren’t a gamer or used to stylised computer graphics. The graphics are a mixture of PS3-era backgrounds with really fluid ripple, light and explosion physics so it feels both modern and retro. Get beyond that and listen to the stories and you’ll be immersed. Hawaiian people have a humble mentality and poetic nature to their ways and so that culture is weaved through with provocative poetry reading too.

Ultimately, an experience like this is also judged on a ‘did it make you think?’ scale. For me, it did. I thought about what I’d have done with 20 minutes left to live. What would I’d have said, done and contacted? Then when it was all a false alarm, I’d wonder how my life would have changed afterwards. In a similar way to how the pandemic has changed a lot of perspectives, this is like a violent life jarring moment to the extreme. How can you not reevaluate your life and your stances afterwards?

The effects

As explained above, the graphics are a mixed bag although VR always looks a little strange on flat screens. I still found the stylised look and explosive polygons effective and unique though.

One attack triggers another in the minds of those about to perish.

The characters

The Japanese lady stayed with me long after watching. Having survived Hiroshima as a child, she said she’d rather die than go through that again. It’s the quietest and simplest scene in the documentary and one of the most effective. You can identify with everyone though as they are all regular families just getting the rug pulled from under them.

Favourite Quote

We always back into the future facing the past.

osario explains hawaiian culture

Three memorable moments

  • The poetic finale for taking a strong stance for nuclear disarmament.
  • The Japanese lady scene for being heartbreaking and harrowing.
  • The closing poem is skillfully woven and hits home hard.
Children were thrown down storm drains or left to fend for their selves. They are stories families shouldn’t have.

The obligatory weird moment

This doesn’t really have a weird moment but when I first watched this, I didn’t realise it was a VR experience or entirely computer-generated. When it started up I thought it was an opening scene of our character playing The Sims! Then I quickly realised no humans would be coming on screen at all. I guess the weird moment was me…

Drinking game

Everyone loved a text message during these 20 minutes. Take a drink each time a character’s phone is on screen.


Unique, powerful short documentary experience. It feels quite meditative at times with its pace and tone but its message is strong, clear and decisive. Everyone is glad to have their lives given back and they don’t want their message to be lost.

Rating: 3/5 – Good

If you enjoyed On the Morning You Wake Up (to the End of the World) then you may like:

  • Without Warning – a faux live news feed of impending nuclear attack.
  • Special Bulletin – a similar faux live news feed of a dirty bomb.
  • Countdown to the Looking Glass – a docudrama of an escalating nuclear conflict.
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I Love Disaster Movies is part of the Higher Plain Network. If you like what I do, and would like to help me make better and more content then please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1 or £1. Thank you.

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