Funhouse will work for you reliant on one very specific caveat: how much can you deal with reality shows? If the answer is “not very much,” you can probably steer clear of the new horror film from writer/director Jason William Lee. As a passive guilty-pleasure fan of shows like Jersey Shore, I had a blast with Funhouse and its despicable cast of washed-up personas.
Eight notoriously hated celebrities from around the world are brought together to compete in a new reality show competition, known as Furcas’ House of Fun. The winner will walk away with a $5,000,000 cash prize, but there is a big catch. With every round, the person with the lowest number of votes must fight for survival against impossible odds. If the tally is close enough, both with the worst votes are involved. Getting killed off one by one, broadcast over the Internet for all to see, the contestants in Furcas’ House of Fun must follow the sadistic rules of an animated Panda and his twisted lackeys.
Like any good reality show, the film is sold by the strength of its colorful cast of characters. They all start out as silly caricatures—the Irish prince of pain, the British YouTube sensation, and the pop culture blogger. The ridiculous drama, love triangles and desperation to survive kept me hooked. Confessionals, where each cast member is required at least five minutes each day to unload their emotions, evolve from fun and silly to dark and upsetting. The ones who make it to the final five in particular get a significant amount of development. My favorite of the bunch is Kasper (Valter Skarsgard), the ex-husband of world-famous singer Darla (Kylee Bush), who was forced through a messy public breakup during their reality show, Back Up Love. The actor is instantly recognizable as being related to Alexander and Bill. I found echoes of both actors in the Swedish charms of Valter’s performance.
Funhouse has several excellent signature kills, with my favorite involving a pinata party. Every scenario is unique and provides a disturbing avenue to enact torment. From death matches to wheel spinning to “blind rage”—each time we follow a character into ‘the kill room,’ we are not quite sure what to expect. The creepy nameless henchmen in giant panda masks that are always standing by add a touch of bizarre imagery. They have nothing on the mystery man behind it all, Nero (Jerome Velinsky), a crazy maniac who relishes each kill. Commentary on the Kardashianization of America, the way we consume media, and questions of morality fail to put a damper on the fun of it all. A knife-twist ending left me curious about potential sequelization. Funhouse is a demented deep-dive into the perils of reality programming. Think Saw meets The Real World.
Funhouse calls for your vote when it releases theatrically and on-demand on May 28th.