“Welcome, Little Piggies, to The Task.”
The reality show craze shows no sign of letting up. To some of us that’s a horrible enough thought. But, to director Alex Orwell and writer Kenny Yakkel, it’s the spark of inspiration for a rather entertaining new horror film from the folks at Lionsgate and After Dark Films. The film gives new meaning to the term survivor and offers us a glance at reality show people getting their just desserts. And this dessert comes with a lot of red syrup.
“And now for a little history of Pennyville State Prison. In 1931 with the climbing budgets during the depression, the cold-blooded warden thought he could keep his fortune on track by eliminating certain overhead costs… his inmates.”
It’s here at the very same prison that the game is set. The concept is pretty simple. The contestants must spend the night in the old abandoned prison. It’s wired with plenty of cameras and microphones to keep tabs on the players. During the stay they will each be required to carry out certain tasks that will take them to the darkest reaches of the prison itself and force them to come face to face with their own particular fears. But of course there is another presence at work here and it will have some fun of its own, and it’s not just the contestants who are at risk. The show’s crew find themselves just as vulnerable to a spirit or force that might be that of the warden himself.
“Eventually the warden was exposed, but not before having executed 85 inmates. The last person to be served a death sentence here was warden Harvid himself. To this day it is on record that his last words were: “My work here is not yet done”.
Meet the victims … eh … I mean players:
Shoe (Mulheron): She sees herself as a glam star who just hasn’t been discovered quite yet. She’s about to be discovered all right, but she might just wish she hadn’t.
Toni (Karan): She thinks her IQ is the same as that of Einstein and Hawkings … combined. She wants to be a national leader. She’s going to find this game a gas.
Randall (Pickering): He’s about as flamboyantly gay as they come all dressed in pink. He calls himself off-the-hook gay. He thought coming out of the closet was scary. Now he’s going to find out what scary means… oh, and that hook? Never mind.
Stanten (Payne) and Angel (Campbell-Hughes): This is a brother and sister team. He’s overprotective, and she sees herself as a party Goth girl. She’s not going to have to worry about that overprotective thing much longer. And she’s about to find out what real Goth is all about.
Dixon (Battle): He thinks he’s a pretty boy with all the right looks and moves for the ladies. He’s about to find out what it really means to be in deep…
Then there is the unlucky crew to think about:
Connie (Staden) is the girl who is in charge. She’s the producer, but she’s in way over her head.
Scelzi (Stockman) is the pothead tech guy who has a truly mind-altering experience.
Pisser (Ostlere) and Bob (Srebrev) are the board operators who provide tons of lame dialog between the scares and such. You really just keep hoping these guys will get it just to shut them up. I guess they’re the comic relief. So where’s the relief from the comic relief?
The look of the film is actually pretty awesome. First-time director Alex Orwell has chosen a wonderful location for his carnage. He’s found some talented camera folks who did a pretty good job of capturing all of that nice creepy atmosphere for the movie. But where Orwell fails pretty badly is in the pacing of the film. He relies too much on trivial banter and a setup that takes entirely too long to fully reveal himself. There’s a clever twist at the end, but he’s exhausted the attention of his audience by the time he gets us there. He also relies too much on performances that just aren’t up to that kind of workload. Everybody here is a cliché, and Orwell appears to take some pride in the fact. He doesn’t offer us even one character that we don’t want to see dead from the first time they open their mouths. I suppose these folks were intended to be somewhat larger than life, but they’re all pretty much grade-A jerks; intentional, I’m sure. But it doesn’t help getting your audience to root for anyone. The twist is clever but is somewhat of a letdown that really makes one think they’ve just wasted the last 70 minutes of their life. In the end, it’s about as fulfilling as an actual reality show.
The Task is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The film does have a wonderful production design, and it looks pretty good here for a low-budget affair released in standard definition. There’s a ton of atmosphere to be found. The film is mostly all rather dark, and fortunately black levels are pretty solid. Compression issues do exist, but they are kept under control by a solid bit rate and transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is less impressive. It’s really all dialog, and the occasional surround effects don’t hold up as well as they should. The place offers a ton of immersive possibilities that just fall a little flat on your system. You can hear the dialog and some score work, but don’t expect anything terribly dynamic.
Behind The Scenes: (5:16) Mostly short interview clips of cast and crew.
For a first-time director Orwell appears to have skills, particularly in production design. If he can learn to use that as a solid foundation and continue to build, he could be on to a nice little career. He’s too into his ideas that he’s not doing a great job of stepping away for a moment. I guess this will appeal to the reality show crowd as well as some horror fans. No question the images will stick with you, and that’s what horror viewers should be watching this one for. If you love eerie images, this one is definitely for you. One question, though. “How do you sleep at night?”