Ever watch one of those reality shows and wonder what would happen if someone got killed, or what if one of the cast members turned out to be a psycho ax murderer? Well, I’m not ashamed to say the thought has crossed my mind from time to time in hopes that it would make the season of Survivor mean a whole new thing with the stakes raised, and instead of a vote off you were literally cut out of the show. Well, HazMat tackles this very notion of a reality show breaking from the script (come on, we all know by now reality shows are scripted) after the show’s participant gets the thirst for blood.
Jacob (Norbert Velez) has this obsession with an old chemical plant where his father died. It’s an obsession that is about to ruin his friendship with his best friend Adam (Reggie Peters), but Adam has a plan to fix that obsession. He gets in touch with a reality show that specializes in being a prank show that terrifies its cast members. Adam figures if he can get a good scare out of Jacob, and he comes to terms with the brief humiliation on national TV, that it’ll snap him back to reality. Things clearly don’t go as planned after Jacob accidently kills one of the show’s cast members, and once he discovers the truth behind the TV series, well, let’s simply say Jacob does not enjoy being the butt of anyone’s joke.
The television producers are locked in the only safe room in the plant, and with all the hidden cameras streaming to the shows headquarters they can see the carnage unfolding.
I love the setup for the film. This is a micro-budget horror film that actually plays out better than you would expect, and the smartest move on the filmmaker’s part was utilizing their set and allowing the viewer to see it as a labyrinth of passageways with no discernable way out.
But just as the claustrophobic design of the location helps build suspense as Jacob (now in the role of the HazMat killer once he’s snapped) chases down his victims, because the change happens so soon, we get stuck with uninteresting characters that are just waiting around to be the next victim. Where time could have been spent developing characters, we are weakly thrown developments like a character discovering earlier he will be a dad. This does nothing to motivate the character. Instead of being someone to root for, he simply discusses how he doesn’t want to be a dad, so his inevitable death is nothing to dread but instead to look forward to.
What does work in the film’s favor is the use of all the security cameras. This reminded me of the Brian De Palma film Snake Eyes. I love that these characters are using the cameras to work against the killer and how HazMat goes through and systematically destroys the cameras. Unfortunately that is as far it goes for either side to use technology against the other, and it simply becomes a waiting game. The problem with it being a waiting game is waiting around doesn’t make for good suspense; instead it makes the eyes grow heavy and the mind impatient.
When the survivors do end up finally making a move to escape from the plant, at this point I was rooting for the killer; after all he is someone I can sympathize with more so than those locked away trying to profit at the expense of his humiliation.
The film has such a great idea and shows such promise but unfortunately falls flat and could easily have been about ten minutes shorter. The film allows for it to have sequels, and with more money and a more robust script, I can imagine this could lead to more promising sequels. I wouldn’t say this is a film to avoid, but if you happen to catch it on Netflix late at night it’s worth checking out.