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Overall Rating

Awesome: 34.55%
Worth A Look49.09%
Average: 14.55%
Pretty Bad: 1.82%
Total Crap: 0%

6 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Series 7: The Contenders
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by Andrew Howe

"Big Brother is through"
3 stars

To anyone raised on a diet of science-fiction serials and British comedies, the popularity of "reality" television is difficult to fathom. If I wanted to watch morons blathering inanely I'd be down the local watering hole, not sucking on the glass teat, and on the few occasions I've subjected myself to the likes of Big Brother I've spent the better portion of the proceedings wishing Charles Bronson would batter down the door and put a few rounds into the criminally-obnoxious contestants.

Daniel Minahan feels my pain, and his independent flick, Series 7, rains vengeance of Biblical proportions upon those for whom even 15 seconds of fame is a quarter-minute too much. The set-up is simple: six contestants are drawn at random, provided with automatic handguns, and invited to dispatch their opponents for a cash prize. There's few rules and no time limits, just a duel to the death captured live for the entertainment of the folks at home.

My second thought upon hearing of the above scenario (the first being that I hadn't watched The Running Man for far too long) was to question whether the premise would be best served by playing it for laughs, or if a shocking study in premeditated malice might be the way to go. Minahan avoids such conundrums by playing it straight, and the result is a note-perfect recreation of a twisted entry into the genre. The pounding music, the participants revealing more than we ever wanted to know about their views on life, the portentous voiceovers - every cliché is present and accounted for, and if you stumbled across the film on late-night television it'd take you a good five minutes to realise you weren't in the company of the real thing.

If the script doesn't offer a plausible basis for the program's existence, it's because it doesn't need to. A single viewing of Gladiator is enough to remind us that we are never far removed from the jungle, and given that human nature hasn't changed appreciably since Roman times it's not difficult to picture the masses clamouring for the best seat in the house when murder is on the menu. There are few viewers who won't find themselves obtaining a certain illicit thrill from the demise of their least-favourite contestant, and if nothing else the film is worth catching because it makes us ask ourselves just why that might be.

None of the actors have achieved any measure of renown to date, but the non-existent recognition factor enhances the film's appeal. The contestants are meant to be "normal" people, plucked from obscurity and given a license to kill, and casting well-known performers would have worked against the suspension of disbelief. In any event, the major players acquit themselves admirably - Brooke Smith (Dawn), Glenn Fitzgerald (Jeff) and Marylouise Burke (Connie) are the obvious stand-out's, but the entire cast is uniformly believable, and can take the lion's share of the credit for the film's success.

One of the film's attractions is that you don't need to adopt a specific mindset to obtain the optimum viewing experience. If you want to ponder the prevalence of violence in modern society or the perverse attraction of voyeurism, there's enough material to kick-start your thesis. If, on the other hand, you'd rather just sit back and enjoy the show, Minahan won't stand in your way. The production values are surprisingly high (the music is exceptional), and interest is maintained via several unexpected twists and a healthy dose of mid-level violence. Most viewers will also achieve their quota of laughs - the film wisely resists the urge to step over the line into farce, and once you get past the obvious swipes at easy targets you'll be privy to some truly inspired moments (check out the sequence dealing with Dawn and Jeff's student film if you require further evidence).

Perversely, the film's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, for it does its job so well that it makes the flaws inherent in reality television its own. The initial "meet the contenders" sequence is necessarily boring (true to life, the characters have little of interest to say), and the regular "coming up next" promos defuse the suspense by revealing too much of what is to come (they are, however, exceptionally well-realised: rarely has a masterstroke proved so troublesome).

The absence of likeable characters undermines viewer involvement, but I suspect this was designed to soften the effect of the carnage, since depicting the murder of agreeable individuals would have left a bad taste in the mouth (the film sails perilously close to achieving this undesirable effect during a flashback sequence which features, among other things, a young woman having her throat sliced open in an elevator). The ending, while thought-provoking, is also something of a letdown - just as the excitement hits fever pitch the balloon bursts, with the unusual presentation of the final scene diluting the program's memorable outcome (it's Minahan's way of telling us that "reality" and "television" are mutually exclusive terms, but if we haven't figured that out by the final reel we might as well pack up and go home).

Series 7 is not an unqualified success, but it rarely allows entertainment to take a back seat to the message, and when it kicks into top gear you'll be choking on the dust. It's a sure-fire ratings winner, so tune in, support your favourite contender, and try not to lose yourself in the jungle on the way out.

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originally posted: 05/16/01 22:32:48
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User Comments

11/18/06 AJ Muller disturbing satire; definitely "gives the viewing public what they want to see" 4 stars
11/05/05 millersxing To the jaundiced eye, an irreversible trend toward SnuffTV emerges. Charming, never scary. 3 stars
11/21/04 Tawiah Craig It lookes so real that it was scary. 4 stars
12/15/03 delia johnson another good satire on reality tv, but not brutal enough. 4 stars
11/01/03 Nigel Fox A dark look at television gone mad, this parody of Fascist state is always right tv. 5 stars
1/28/03 graal Not close enough to what would really happen in this situation 3 stars
12/10/02 davebo Aside from the premise all it did was copy realitytv, not mock it 2 stars
7/27/02 sdjfsdkjf fucken crazy film. Lindsey getting beat up like that...not pretty. 5 stars
1/12/02 The Bomb 69 beautifully done, wicked funny with an awesome ending, should have explained rules better 5 stars
1/06/02 hum dark and clever 4 stars
12/29/01 Monday Morning Reality TV shows are fat targets and this gets damned close to the bulls-eye. 4 stars
10/30/01 mr. Pink A bit flawed in some parts, but still one of the best films I´ve seen this year. 4 stars
6/10/01 Roxxy Where can I enter? 4 stars
6/06/01 Belinda This movie ROCKS. 5 stars
6/04/01 lee despite the violence, l liked the clever and dark wake up call for our tv culture 4 stars
5/30/01 Aiken Drum This is one fucked up movie, I loved it. 5 stars
3/18/01 Blubberbot I really wanted to give it 4.5 stars. This is a good film. 4 stars
3/07/01 Kiss My Grits People like Mike Krasienko shouldn't be allowed to post. Sing the films' praises or shut up 5 stars
3/05/01 Finity i liked it a lot 5 stars
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  02-Mar-2001 (R)


  31-May-2001 (MA)

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