If the Saw movies impregnated the reality TV show Big Brother, their offspring would be Funhouse. The premise is that a bunch of celebrities – or, more accurately, “celebrities” – sign on to take part in a social experiment that will be broadcast across the internet. They include a washed-up pop star (Valter Skarsgard), a perky blonde social media influencer (Karolina Benefield), an MMA fighter (Christopher Gerard), an online gossip monger (Gigi Saul Guerrero), and a Bachelorette-type contestant (Khamisa Wilsher).
The show is called “Furcus' House of Fun,” and it's hosted by a CGI panda that's actually a front for deranged rich guy Nero Alexander (Jerome Velinsky). Here are the rules: The players have a few days to endear themselves to viewers, after which time a vote will occur. The person who has the lowest vote will be forced to participate in some kind of torture game that will undoubtedly lead to their death. If two contestants tie for the lowest, they square off in one of these games. Whenever a player dies, the process starts all over again until only one person is left.
Basic and gruesome, right? Of course, once the gang realizes what they've signed up for, panic sets in. They have good reason to panic. One unlucky soul is lowered into a tub of acid, where he dangles until his body from the waist down completely disintegrates. That's one of the nicer games. A CGI panda isn't nearly as disturbing as Saw's Billy the Puppet. Both have quite the fondness for sadism, though.
Funhouse has a clever idea, but this is the kind of movie that continually comes up just a bit short in every area. It's got a satiric quality, as it attempts to make fun of the perpetual attention-seeking behavior of C-list celebs, yet it's never particularly funny. It tries to generate terror by making us wonder what awful fate each character will meet, but it really isn't scary. It wants to say something about the viewing public's thirst for extreme content, despite other movies having already done that. Some of the actors are credible in their roles, while others give performances that are on a high school theater production level.
There's nothing here that allows me to fully recommend Funhouse. At the same time, there's nothing here that makes me flat-out discourage anyone from seeing it either. It's not great, and it's not terrible. It exists somewhere in the middle. Having said that – and perhaps this tips the scale slightly in one direction – the concept contains enough promise that I wish the movie was a little better and smarter than it is.
out of four
Funhouse is unrated, but contains graphic violence, nudity/sexuality, and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.