Monday, January 25, 2010

Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

Hilarious mockumentary set up as a reality show following 6 people around as they try and achieve the show's goal: murdering the other 5 contestants. Each contestant is given a 9mm and a list of the other players, and must stay within the confines of the contestants' home town or they will be hunted down and murdered by the show's own "SWAT" team. The film was shot on video, and has a distinctly Cops-esque feel, before the reality TV scene became so glossy and over-produced that it makes this film look like a home movie. Brooke Smith plays the protaganist, an 8-month pregnant woman who has survived the show multiple times, but stays and fights on for the welfare of her unborn child. Smith, who's only prior role that I know of was the woman in Buffalo Bills hole (the ditch.) in The Silence of the Lambs. Here, she drops the helpless victim and takes charge; cantankerous and bitter, she kills relatively mercilessly while humorously screwing with their heads to ensure her advantage, until it turns out one of the contenders knows her from her more vulnerable past. The other cast members are very exceptional and real; you remember their faces and their plights, and sympathize with them when they make the decision to kill, or when they bite it themselves. Will Arnett narrates the whole thing as an EXTREME tv show (prob on Fox), adding his patented "Club Sauce" delivery to the films already thoroughly satiric tone.

In some ways, the movie is funnier than Man Bites Dog, but not as provacative. The focus here is on reality tv and exploitation, not on dehumanization. The deaths are played almost straight, and there are scenes of true pathos here. The reality TV format, and the unknown cast, allows you to accept the world that is presented, and I completely forgot the absurdity of the premise and got caught up in the plot. Even when the film begins to take itself more seriously (in its own way), I did not cry bullshit because the reality had been sufficiently set up. This is not another American Dreamz, where the reality of the reality show was as tenuous as Chris Klein's acting, but a legitimate satirical exercise.

Highly Recommended. This film was made after Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but is more relevant than ever; the kicks you get while watching the human drama unfold with the murders shed a lot of light on the appeal of many of today's reality shows. This is an indie that did not want to be something else, but took its underground appeal and ran with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment