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Friday, May 28, 2021

‘Funhouse’ and Charting the Low-Key Horrors of Reality TV

Reality television, a genre dedicated to documenting unscripted real-life situations, dates back decades yet rose to prominence in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Shows like The Real WorldBig Brother, and Survivor helped catapult reality tv into the cultural spotlight, fueling an obsession that never waned. The drama that the fishbowl setting induces draws many viewers, but it’s the voyeuristic aspect of reality tv viewing that lends so well to horror. In other words, it’s no surprise that reality tv-based horror carved out its little corner of the genre.

The latest is Funhouse, a horrific spin on a Big Brother-type show that sees eight C-list celebrity contestants from around the globe assembled to compete for a hefty monetary prize. They don’t realize until it’s too late that they’re playing for their lives, with those voted off suffering grim consequences for the world to witness. Written and directed by Jason William Lee, Funhouse stars Valter Skarsgard (Lord of Chaos), Christopher Gerard (Arrow), and horror filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero (La Quinceanera, “Culture Shock”).

Funhouse collects its players in a luxurious house for partying and competition. The low-tiered celebrities form friendships, alliances and vie for votes through the internet and social media. That is until the murder starts. Lee seems to aim at the meaningless of celebrity culture intertwined with reality TV, but it also hints at another recurring theme of reality tv-based horror movies; desensitization toward violence through voyeurism.

Kolobos (1999)

One of the earliest horror movies to tackle the subject was 1999’s Kolobos, and no doubt inspired by the massive wave of reality tv programming. Kolobos opens with a badly battered woman so shook she can only utter the word “kolobos.” Cut to three days before, where that same woman accepts an offer to participate in an experimental film that gathers an eclectic group to live together in a house for months while cameras observe their behavior. Paranoia sets in when deadly traps start picking them off one by one. Kolobos takes the premise of a reality series but instead opts to focus only on voyeurism. It relies on vague ambiguity to enhance the eerie atmosphere.

My Little Eye, released in 2002, follows a similar setup with five contestants gathered in a mansion to live their lives in front of the camera. As the players begin dying, it becomes apparent that this twisted game is orchestrated to entertain wealthy observers. Like many in the subgenre, My Little Eye holds up a mirror as if to ask viewers to reflect on the media they consume.

My Little Eye (2002)

The early aughts brought reality tv from indie horror into the mainstream with a pair of sequels in popular franchises; Halloween: Resurrection and Wrong Turn 2. Both feature plots that see the filming of a reality show interrupted by the arrival of iconic horror villains. Both movies inject humor through slasher mayhem and bloodletting to poke fun at the reality tv concept at the ground level, with varying degrees of success.

Art massively imitated life with limited UK series Dead Set, which aired on the same channel as Big Brother just weeks after its latest season wrapped. The plot even emulated Big Brother, offering a fictionalized story that chronicled the contestants and production staff discovering that their insulated bubble provides a bizarre little shelter against a zombie outbreak. Series creator Charlie Brooker employed biting satire here, much like he does for his much more prominent series Black Mirror.

Dead Set (2008)

While many reality TV-inspired horror movies explore the voyeuristic component, some aim at the exploitive nature of those that thrive on creating reality tv. Grave EncountersThe Cleansing Hour, and even Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum all center around money-hungry reality tv hosts that tend to take advantage of viewers’ gullibility. Grave Encounters and Gonjiam take on ghost hunting shows and implement effective scare tactics that bring the chills. The latter adapts the found footage format and delves into the modern era’s YouTube influencers. All three movies turn the table on greedy hosts.

Advances in technology and connectivity transformed reality television and the way we consume it over the past few decades. Viewers can interact in real-time from their phones and through social media. The sheer volume of content available has grown substantially. That translates to the psychology behind reality, lending well to horror. Reality TV makes the act of voyeurism far more comfortable and socially acceptable in many ways, but the confrontation with that accessibility through media is surprisingly far more low-key. Even now, it’s a subgenre mainly relegated to the independent scene.

Grave Encounters (2011)

Dissecting reality tv presents richly layered commentary, from desensitized viewers to the moral dubiousness of production and beyond. Funhouse looks to broach a few topics at once, bringing the slasher fun to the fold by way of lethal traps.

From Magnet Releasing, Funhouse is now in limited theaters and on VOD platforms everywhere!



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/sponsored/3666431/funhouse-charting-low-key-horrors-reality-tv/

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