The job opportunities may be fake, but the pranks on Prank Encounters are pretty real. The new hidden-camera Netflix show, hosted by Stranger Things' Gaten Matarazzo, turns its subjects into the unwitting stars of their own horror movies, inviting them to complete various odd jobs only to spend the day terrorizing them. In the trailer alone, one woman is hunted by a masked serial killer, another is chased around by haunted teddy bears, and another assists with a routine surgery that's subsequently interrupted by what looks like a person clawing their way out of the patient's stomach. All of the pranks are, in accord with the Halloween season, spooky, terrifying, and supernatural. But while it's easy to objectively think you wouldn't fall for such outlandish tricks, they certainly seem real to the people experiencing them.
In fact, when Prank Encounters was first announced, many people took issue with it exactly because it's so convincing, considering that all the subjects are lured onto the show with the promise of a job. "Yeah because when I get a new job to support myself. What I really want is some rich kid already making 100x more then me pranking my ass on tv for laughs," tweeted one critic.
Reddit user TheNerdyMupton also authored a long post on the r/Netflix subreddit, writing that the show's premise "preys on vulnerable people looking for work," and is "egregiously lacking in human decency."
But Netflix stood behind the project in a statement to Time in June. "The pranks in Prank Encounters are spooky, supernatural, and over the top, and everyone had a great time," it read. "All participants came in with the expectation this was a one-day, hourly gig and everyone got paid for their time." (Netflix declined to comment further when reached by Bustle).
Matarazzo also responded to the backlash on Instagram, echoing Netflix's statement that "those who participated were fully aware it was going to be a one-day gig going in," that no one was promised a part-time or full-time job, and that "when all was said and done, everybody was laughing and having a great time and everybody left the set happy and satisfied." He added that he appreciated seeing the "concern for these [participants] and their well-being," and that he hopes everyone "has as much fun watching the show" as they did making it.
Netflix hasn't released any information about how the pranks on Prank Encounters are pulled off, but the fact that they've provided some transparency about their casting process suggests the subjects' shock and fear are genuine. So whether or not you agree with the criticism, at least you know the pranks are legitimate.