Without meaning to alarm anyone, we have not run out of Skarsgårds on this planet yet. Valter Skarsgård (Lords of Chaos) stars as Kasper Nordin, a recently dumped former backup singer and husband to famous singer Darla Drake (Kylee Bush), and one of a host of D-list reality stars and influencers who have agreed to be on the new “celebrity” game show “Furcus’ House of Fun.” This seemingly harmless “Big Brother”-type show, in which the contestants are on camera 24/7, turns into something far more sinister and deadly in Funhouse, from writer/director Jason William Lee (Alphamem), especially when viewers vote on their favorite players and the lowest-rated one gets the axe…literally.
After agreeing to be on the show and signing contracts to that effect, contestants are drugged and brought to a secret location where the host (taking on the form of a VR panda named Furcus) walks them through each challenge, including the ones the losers must go through in order to stay alive and make it to the next round; the sole survivor wins $5 million. Initially, the players don’t realize how bad things are about to get in their luxury, well-stocked dwelling, so a certain amount of low-level partying goes on—drinking, eating, flirting, hot-tubbing, etc. Once a day, they also must give confessionals in a private booth, but every three days, the votes are tallied and a loser is selected. If the two lowest scores are too close, the bottom two must enter into some sort of contest to the death to remain a contestant. It’s all a bit gross and violent.
Other notable players in the funhouse include tabloid reporter Ximena Torres (played by actor and Into the Dark: Culture Shock filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero); a Bachelorette-style player Lonni (Khamisa Wilsher), who grows close to Kasper; Irish fighter Headstone (Christopher Gerard); Instagram sex symbol Ula (Karolina Benefield); and three others (for eight total). Each develops a personality that they think will appeal to viewers, and form friendships, allegiances, and rivalries to make them seem more interesting. But as the true nature of the game becomes clearer, things also come into focus about Furcus’ hatred of reality show culture and those who become role models for doing nothing more than being famous. The themes and ideas are hardly new, but filmmaker Lee seems to have a clear and vicious vision about the culture and how destructive its impact has been to society. I’m not sure he ever quite justifies murder on this scale, but then again, how could he?
Funhouse is maybe a bit too self aware and sees itself as more clever than it is, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a few points loud and clear. Some of these characters are truly shallow and horrible human beings, but others seem to have gotten more caught up in something they didn’t expect than set out to become celebrities. In addition, the ways in which contestants are killed aren’t especially creative, although the gore effects are top notch. Is the rack really that impressive a death? Or a life-or-death version of Concentration? In the end, giving us a small army of people, most of whom we aren’t meant to like that much, only gives the audience a couple of characters to latch onto as entry points into this story or as people whose fate we’re actually invested in. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite work but some of the main performances punch through as worthy, and blood fiends have something to look forward to as well.
The film is available theatrically and via VOD.
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