A high concept dark Big Brother film
With an opening scene that captures your attention immediately, we’re thrown into a funhouse created by a mad man full of reality TV stars. The acting is about on-par with what you might expect from real life reality stars, but Funhouse is actually, quite fun.
Directed by Jason William Lee, he manages to keep a good build of tension throughout the film thanks to the high concept. Funhouse is at its best when we move quickly through time, utilising montages to full effect. The challenge scenes and any scenes with our antagonist are excellent and perfectly pitched, with Nero’s command of the screen fusing perfectly with Lee’s direction.
The scene transitions at times feel poor with flashbacks and dream sequences disturbing the film's tense atmosphere, they feel little more than filler to spread out time between the high-pressure challenges.
A bunch of failed reality stars and influencers sign on to a new reality show for the hope of money and a revitalised career. When they arrive at the house drugged, with no concept of how they arrived or how to leave, they discover they will have to charm audiences for their place in the funhouse or take part in challenges to save their spot. But these challenges may ask a little more of them than they first realised. The concept is great. When you get to the first ‘challenge’ you feel it. They’re terrifying and tough to watch.
Unfortunately, the plot fails to hold interest when it’s just the characters conversing. A break between the intense challenges is needed, but it slows too fast. The plot starts to wear thin around the hour mark, moving dangerously close to dull by the end. The challenges and antagonist Nero are the winners of the film and the plot built around them are not enough to go on. An attempt to manufacture a love story towards the end feels unnecessary and thrown in, and the ending overall is anti-climactic despite a thrilling first half.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The acting in Funhouse is poor and really lets the fun and interesting concept of the film down. Perhaps it’s the wide ranging but awkward accents, or perhaps it’s the bad dialogue, but the cast are why the film struggles when they aren’t in challenge mode.
The characters themselves are awful which is perhaps the point – they’re meant to be a multicultural world ranging bunch of reality show delinquents, but they don’t work and just end up feeling grating when we spend too much time watching them socialise. The weak acting does however stop the gruesome challenges from being too horrific, which is one merit.
Another positive is Jerome Velinsky’s Nero, our antagonist and creator of the "Funhouse". Incredibly charismatic, he commands the screen from the opening scene and it’s just a shame he spends so much of the film as a CGI panda.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The make-up is excellent as is the set design of the challenges, the production team have gone all out for this film. The violence is horrible – it’s the film's best asset but it’s awful. A challenge called ‘The Rack’ is particularly unbearable and a tough watch. The set design has done a little with a lot, we see very little of the Funhouse other than the bar room and challenge room, but they keep it light and manage to provide that Big Brother house vibe to the set.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
There’s nothing special about the music or soundtrack, it’s very generic and inoffensive but it does work very well within the context of the film and helps to ratchet up that tension and fear.
Funhouse was surprisingly enjoyable despite falling somewhat flat to the end. The points it tries to make around reality TV stars and censorship are quite dull, but for a high concept dark Big Brother film, it’s fun and engaging for the most part.
Magnet Releasing will release FUNHOUSE in theaters and on demand May 28th, 2021