Funhouse (CREDIT: Magnet Releasing)

Starring: Valter Skarsgård, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Khamisa Wilsher, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Amanda Howells, Mathias Rematal, Dayleigh Nelson, Jerome Velinsky, Bradley Duffy

Director: Jason William Lee

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: R for Gleefully Bloody Violence and a Little Bit of Sexy Time

Release Date: May 28, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

The satirical horror flick Funhouse offers up a cornucopia of brutal torture and a terribly cynical view of humanity (or at least celebrities), but oddly enough, I found parts of it oddly familiar and comforting. Most of that comes down to the casting. None of the actors are particularly famous, but a few of them have a similar look and vibe as some other somewhat famous folks. To wit: Karolina Benefield looks like SportsCenter anchor Antonietta Collins, Christopher Gerard looks like Puck from Glee, Amanda Howells looks like one of the girls on the Disney+ high school basketball series Big Shot, and Valter Skarsgård looks just like his big brother Bill. That might be a subset of celebrity familiarity that’s highly specific to me and only me, but it speaks to a sense of frivolity and false security that Funhouse quickly establishes.  The cast members mostly come across as reliable, likeable tropes: the cute and sexy girl, the brooding sad boy, the mysterious quiet one, etc. Surely nobody could wish these people any harm!

But of course, someone very much does wish them harm. So, so much harm. A group of eight D-listers who are all basically famous for being famous find themselves in a Big Brother-style competition show in which they test their stamina to see who can stay inside the house and follow the rules the longest. At first the biggest threat appears to be no more deadly than claustrophobia. But then an animated panda avatar pops up on the monitors and reveals the lethal stakes through a friendly mask. You see, whichever residents get the fewest votes from viewers are subject to challenges that will leave them killed if they don’t complete them properly. It’s psychological, physical, and moral torture all wrapped up in one, as the anonymous puppetmaster behind it all really doesn’t like these supposedly fake fame-o’s.

If you’re in the mood for a goofy and frothy takedown of the reality TV ecosystem, Funhouse offers that for its first twenty minutes or so. But then it turns much darker, and you’ll have to make sure you have the intestinal fortitude to handle that. There are some clever touches to the torture, but the dreadful inevitability of the game is overly bitter if you’re not cynically inclined yourself. If you’re like me, you can at least revel in the cheap moments that writer/director Jason William Lee makes no effort to hide, like stock footage-esque shots of supposedly enthralled viewers. Instead of being an unforgivable cinematic sin, I found these editing workarounds a balm to help remind me that this is just a movie and I should really just relax.

Funhouse is Recommended If You Like: Saw, Nerve, Big Brother, The Soup

Grade: 3 out of 5 Amputations