Top positive review
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Future of Reality Television?
on 25 January 2006
This was a phenomenal film. Wicked and hateful satire, extremely black comedy, content which seemed at times over the top but retained its credibility all woven together into a nightmarish suburban landscape.
The film's premise is simple: There's a gameshow, called The Contenders. It's currently shooting season 7. You "win" your way onto the gameshow by a national lottery, and you have no recourse but to enter, even if you don't really want to play.
The downside is that the game is Last Man Standing. Each of the seven contenders is given a gun and a cameraman to catch the action, and they have to hunt each other down. The last one standing moves into series 8.
Theoretically, with the dearth of reality shows around, this is an extreme scenario which may need to be employed purely to hook viewers. This is the main theme of the film - violence for spectators. Conceptually, perhaps, not that different to The Running Man - in that film, convicts on Death Row are given an opportunity to play for their lives against futuristic Gladiators who have all the celebrity of today's pro-wrestlers. Series 7, however, has none of that glamour. It's set in the here and now, and all anyone unlucky enough to be in it wants is to get out alive.
The filmmakers, though, have gone one step beyond that, and stereotyped the Contenders into recognisable moulds. Dawn is the reigning champion, pregnant and unmarried, with some history of a turbulent childhood. Tony is an angry old man who has no intention of playing the game. Jeff is Dawn's childhood friend, unhappily married now and currently dying of cancer and preparing to commit suicide. Connie is a conniving nurse with delusions of grandeur who seems to have thought more about a gameplan than anyone else. Lindsay is just a teenager, only just old enough to enter, who thinks it's quite cool and whose parents have aspirations of her winning fame and fortune on the show, to the point where they drive her around looking for her victims and get her revved up to kill in the car. They also buy her an extra gun, a big one.
It's not a happy scenario. However, with a hugely upbeat power-punk soundtrack and omnipresent gallows humour, complete with a Rescue 911-type narrator/voice over in the background, the film comes across as gleeful; just good old-fashioned family fun for everyone to enjoy round the TV at night. The fact that it is all so tragic seems not to occur to anyone bar one or two of the contestants.
The characters are richly textured, the plot fast-paced and unpredictable. At times your stomach will turn, at others you will burst out laughing. As the story winds up, and people's attitudes change, the climax comes completely out of left-field to blindside you.
The film is cutting-edge stuff with razor-wire social commentary. The humour, when there, never seems set-up, and there are no "punchlines" so you know when to laugh. It all just happens. I found it to be hugely enjoyable indeed; and I think the film tells us a lot about ourselves as a species.
The soundtrack by Girls against Boys is also excellent.