Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Funhouse: Reality Kills

If you think Big Brother and its lookalikes have pretty much run their course, then you aren’t Brazilian, because Big Brother Brasil just set global franchise records, most notably with the 99%-plus vote to evict the universally despised Karol Conka (Karol “With a ‘K’”). She would be a perfect contestant for this secret online series. They will recruit the most notorious tabloid-fodder and reality shows losers for a contest to the death in director-screenwriter Jason William Lee’s Funhouse, which releases on-demand and in theaters this Friday.

Kasper Nordin really isn’t such a bad guy, but he is only known as the ex-husband of a pop-star (and of course, the co-star of her reality series), so he mistakenly signs up for
Funhouse. Shortly thereafter, he and his fellow grade-Z celebrities wake up from their drug-induced slumber in a smart-house prison, equipped with plenty of hidden cameras and booze. Every three days, they will face a fatal elimination.

The FBI cannot shut down
Funhouse, because the shadowy mastermind is too tech savvy. Nordin’s horrified ex gives teary interviews, but the voyeuristic public still watches compulsively. It probably does not hurt that Insta-shallow model Ula La More deliberately turns off the privacy safeguards when she showers. Most troublingly, the psychotic panda bear avatar-host always keeps changing the rules on them.

has plenty of forerunners, like for instance Girl House, but it more diligently returns to its critiques of online voyeurism and exploitation. Rather awkwardly, Lee pretty explicitly implies the target viewers for his film are definitely part of the problem. On the other hand, there is no real expectation of a third act pendulum swing either, because the Feds are so helpless, which is frustrating. In fact, whenever the film reaches a crossroads, it also opts for the less-satisfying branch.

It is too bad there isn’t more to latch unto and get behind here, because the cast actually creates a reasonably well differentiated group of D-list victims. Valter Skarsgård and Khamisa Wilsher develop such appealing chemistry together, we feel sorry they are in this film, playing Nordin and Lonni Byrne, a would-be
Bachelorette­-style bride, who crashed and burned. Christopher Gerard is way better than anyone would expect from a film like this as James “Headstone” Malone, the disgraced MMA fighter. Unfortunately, pompous villain is pretty bland and boring, but his panda avatar is pretty sinister.

We have seen this sort of thing before and we will probably see it again, but hopefully with more suspense. Granted, evil geniuses are supposed to be smart, but the protags should try to mount some kind of resistance, or the film in question just gets dull and depressing. In the case of Lee’s narrative, there are no emotional peaks-and-valleys, just a steady and increasingly steep decline. The execution is slick, but
Funhouse still isn’t recommended when releases Friday (5/28) in theaters and on VOD platforms.