Funhouse is an amalgamation of a few movies — it strives for the gore level of Saw for its kill scenes, it has a sadistic host (Jerome Velinsky) forcing a bunch of desperate people to play a game for money reminiscent of Would You Rather, and apes the social media aspect of films like Nerve and Untraceable. While I enjoyed all the films listed in varying degrees, Funhouse fails to capitalise on these elements in a creative way, and for a film that incorporates so much gore, I didn’t expect to be as bored as I was.
Celebrities from all around the world are invited to take part in a reality TV show called Funhouse, kind of like Big Brother. There’s some serious cash on the line – $100,000 for taking part, with the chance to win $5 million. The film focuses on Kasper Nordin from the beginning (Valter Skarsgård), so as the film’s protagonist we know he’s going to last till the final act. Everything’s all fun and games until the first votes come in and the contestants realise that they are involved in a deadly game. Whoever gets the lowest vote will have to play a game with deadly stakes, and they can’t opt out, otherwise the host will choose for them. They can’t escape as well, since there are hired guards with guns with no hesitation to take them out.
These death trap set pieces aren’t the most imaginative, and I think the film was probably constrained by its budget. Another problem is also the lack of tension surrounding these moments of death. In Would You Rather, I’m drawn in by the suspense of who will be the one who bites the dust, and because they’re given a choice, you experience their agony of having to choose between the devil and a hard place. There is also an element of morality to the whole proceeding. In Funhouse, I just watch people die, which feels more like torture porn than a horror film trying to make a salient point.
The film wants to make a point about celebrity culture and the empty vapidness that surrounds it. The host chose all these contestants because he determined that they are fame whores, part of the entertainment circuit, contributing nothing of value to the world. Their deaths mean nothing to him, and he argues that they mean nothing to the audience as well, who are watching as they take part in one deadly game after the other. The problem with this aspect of the storytelling is that there isn’t much nuance in getting this across to us. The host shouldn’t have to literally vomit out great chunks of exposition about the issues of social media and influencer culture.
The film’s structure is built heavily around the games, so whenever there isn’t a game happening on screen, our attention wavers. These in-between moments could have been interesting, and used to set up some means of characterisation, but instead of an organic development, the film would prefer that the characters tell us who they are – their insecurities, vulnerabilities – a literal spelling out of ‘this is who I am’ just before they die.
I did notice that the film saved its goriest death for a woman influencer, someone who uses her sex appeal and assets to her advantage. The men all die either quick or nobler deaths, while she is painted as weak and shrewish. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it does feel a tad archaic considering the times we live in to see a sexually confident woman vilified and tortured on screen.
The film does throw in a twist, though it’s a twist I saw coming a mile away. I would say that The Hunger Games is the same kind of movie that Funhouse is trying so desperately to be, so watch that instead if you want proper social commentary on celebrity culture. Watch this if you want to watch a Skarsgård on screen.
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Funhouse is reminiscent of films like Saw, Would You Rather, Nerve and Untraceable. There's even a dose of The Hunger Games thrown in there. Watch all these other films instead.
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