It's like The Truman Show (1998), only way more warped and
instead of being a reality TV show, it's derivative of what's been seen
or done before by writers Joss Whedon and Drew Godard.
Both men worked on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Whedon created those shows and ran them. Godard was a writer and producer who inched up and eventually went onward to ABC's Lost. Elements from all those shows, particularly the ones Whedon created are present here, only it lacks the heart.
The fun for me was pointing out the elements or the parallels to Whedon's shows. First off, there are actors from each. One of which is Amy Acker. Acker first appeared at the end of Season 2 of Angel. Anyone who knows that series is aware that Acker's character, Fred, has a relationship with Charles Gunn, played by J. August Richards, a tall, handsome, black man. It's not long, but I did find it interesting when Acker's character in this movie, Lin, gets friendly with another tall, handsome, black man, ironically named Truman, and played by Brian J. White.
Another actor recognized by Whedon followers is Fran Kranz. Kranz was featured in Whedon's short-lived FOX series Dollhouse. Franz played Topher who manipulates people as if they were dolls or puppets. After discovering an actual toy dollhouse in the cellar, Kranz's character here of Marty is the first to realize that he and the other four young college-age kids are in The Truman Show and he even calls them all puppets.
In fact, the people who are at the controls of this "Truman Show" are also reminiscent of those same sort of people in Dollhouse. At times, they even reminded me of the Initiative from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I get the feeling that Whedon and Godard didn't want the people at the controls to be merely the villains of this story, but there's no reason for us to care about them either. A reason for us to care is given at the end, but, by then it's too late.
A lot of other critics have argued that this movie is a deconstruction or critique of horror movies. A lot of them have commented on how it takes the stereotypes in horror and upends them, but not really. This movie presents those stereotypes and gives a little bit of lip service to the fact that these young people aren't just their stereotypes, but, besides the two characters who survive the longest, lip service is all that remains.
One moment stands as a genuine scare, but almost all the rest is played for laughs, even as an assortment of monsters is thrown at the screen. It's almost as if Whedon took every monster not only from his TV shows but all scary movies and regurgitated them. The one exception was vampires. After doing two TV shows about them, you'd think at least one would show up but no.
All of it builds to an ending that didn't resonate. It's supposed to come down to a choice. Godard's influence can be felt here, if you're familiar with Lost. Having it be a choice, essentially you having to pick your own poison, was a good idea, but they immediately pull the rug out and take away that choice. The beauty of Lost is that people made decisions. Decisions weren't made for them. That's what this movie muddles, not only at the end but all throughout. Despite being about free will, no one here has any.
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.