Review: ‘Funhouse’ (2021), starring Valter Skarsgård, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Khamisa Wilsher, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Amanda Howells and Jerome Velinsky

June 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Amanda Howells, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Mathias Retamal, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield and Valter Skarsgård in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” (2021)

Directed by Jason William Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed North American city, the horror flick “Funhouse” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with two Latinos, one African American and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A twisted multimillionaire chooses eight strangers to live in a murder house, where they are contestants on a “Big Brother” type of reality show that awards $5 million to the last contestant who can stay alive.

Culture Audience: “Funhouse” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that pander to the lowest common denominator with atrocious screenwriting, acting and directing.

Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Khamisa Wilsher and Dayleigh Nelson in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” is the epitome of everything that people despise about bad horror movies. Even die-hard horror fans will be disgusted by the abyss of stupidity and awful filmmaking in “Funhouse.” There are trash dumps and toilets that have more redeeming qualities than “Funhouse.”

In addition to being sexist, dull and horribly acted, “Funhouse” has a very misleading title because it’s no fun to watch this movie at all. All of the characters are self-absorbed dolts, while the entire movie (written and directed by Jason William Lee) is built on the loathsome concept that people around the world would love to watch a “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants are murdered in cruel, bloody and gruesome ways. The last contestant standing will get a $5 million prize.

This gimmick concept isn’t shocking for a horror movie. What’s offensive is how shockingly bad “Funhouse” is in executing this concept in the movie. There’s a plot twist at the end that viewers are going to hate because it makes absolutely no sense. And leading up to that idiotic final scene, it’s a tedious and repetitive slog of horrendously bad dialogue and airheaded young people getting slaughtered. What also makes “Funhouse” so insufferable is that it’s obvious that the filmmakers thought they were making a good movie, so there’s the stink of pretension to this film too.

The opening scene of “Funhouse” is an indication of the dreck to come. A gory murder has just taken place in a living room of a mansion somewhere in North America. (“Funhouse” was actually filmed in Canada.) The smirking lout who owns the mansion looks on sadistically, as a pretty young blonde has been using a baseball bat to beat to death another young woman, whose bloody body is lying on the floor and is probably dead already. Much later in the movie, it’s revealed that this creepy psycho is a multimillionaire named Nero Alexander (woodenly played by Jerome Velinsky), a tech entrepreneur who hates people who find fame through reality TV or social media.

The woman who committed this vicious murder is not identified by name in the movie, but in the film’s credits, she’s listed as Gilda “The Mad” Batter (played by Debs Howard), and it soon becomes clear that she’s become a murderer for money. Nero sneers at Gilda, “You’re not finished. You still have one final obligation.” And so, after Gilda finishes with her baseball bat beatdown, she stabs the murder victim, carves out the heart, and serves the heart to Nero on a silver platter.

Nero curtly says to some bodyguards nearby: “Clean her up, give her the money, and get her the fuck out of here.” An exhausted and bloodied Gilda, who seems on the verge of collapsing, is given a suitcase full of cash. Nero’s thugs grab her and practically push her out of the room. Now that it’s been established that Nero gets pleasure from watching people murder, the rest of this sordid story shows how he’s the secret mastermind behind a new “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants want a chance to win a $5 million cash prize, but the show is really a setup to massacre people.

The contestants are all in their 20s or 30s, and they arrive from around the world. At first, the contestants think that it’s a legitimate show. They soon find out that they will be imprisoned and forced to commit murder in “survival of the fittest” challenges. The last contestant who manages to stay alive is the grand prize winner. All of the contestants were chosen because they found fame on social media or reality TV.

And only in a dumb movie like “Funhouse,” this livestreamed show becomes a global sensation. There are several cutaway shots throughout the movie depicting people around the world (including some children) watching the show, as if they’re watching a harmless soap opera. In some of these viewer scenes, they’re essentially rooting for which contestants will live or die. It’s just all so moronic.

The eight strangers picked to live in this torture house are:

  • Kasper Nordin (played by Valter Skarsgård), a reality star originally from Sweden who found fame in America as a backup singer of a famous American diva named Darla Drake (played by Kylee Bush). Kasper and Darla fell in love, got married, and starred in their own reality show together called “Darla and Kasper: Back-Up Love,” before the marriage crumbled and his popularity declined.
  • Lonnie Byrne (played by Khamisa Wilsher), an American whose claim to fame is starring on a show similar to “The Bachelorette,” getting engaged twice, and being dumped by both fiancés.
  • James “Headstone” Malone (played by Christopher Gerard), a disgraced mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter/reality TV star who’s originally from Ireland and the most aggressively obnoxious out of all the contestants.
  • Ula La More (played by Karolina Benefield), an Instagram model from an unnamed European country. Ula is famous for her sexy image, but she looks like she’s stuck in 2005 and trying to be like how Paris Hilton was back then.
  • Ximena Torres (played by Gigi Saul Guerrero), a celebrity gossip blogger from Mexico. Ximena is cynical, likes to talk tough, and doesn’t hesitate to start a jealous catfight with anyone she thinks is a bimbo. In other words, you can almost have a countdown to the battle that Ximena and Ula will inevitably have.
  • Dex “El Shocker” Souza (played by Mathias Retamal), a reality star/rapper, who seems to have an instant connection with Ximena when they first arrive in the house.
  • Nevin Evinsmith (played by Dayleigh Nelson), a fidgety Brit who’s famous for having some kind of entertainment/extreme stunt YouTube channel.
  • Cat Zim (played by Amanda Howells), originally from the Philippines and a quiet former chess champ who found fame on a reality TV show called “The Real Witches of Westchester.”

Kasper, who has no real talent at anything, has been trying to cling to fame by being on reality shows, but he’s gotten tired of it and wants to be known as a legitimate entertainer and is trying to break into acting. There’s a brief scene early on in the film of Kasper talking to his agent by phone and telling his agent that he doesn’t want to do this “Big Brother” type of reality show, which is called “Furcas’ House of Fun.” His agent insists that the show will boost Kasper’s sagging popularity, because Kasper was made to look like a gold-digging villain in his divorce from Darla. “It’s redemption time,” the agent tells Kasper.

It’s the closest thing that “Funhouse” has to a backstory for any of the characters, since Kasper is portrayed as the main protagonist. MMA jerk Headstone, who has a ridiculous-looking green Mohawk, is cocky, rude and absolutely annoying. Viewers might be shocked to know that the actor portraying Headstone is Irish in real life, because his acting is so bad that it sounds like he has a fake Irish accent. What isn’t surprising is that Headstone and Ula hook up at some point in the movie.

The contestants have been brought to a mansion, where in the main living room, they are greeted on a big video screen by their “host” Furcas, a computer-generated avatar made to look like a talking panda. Furcas is really Nero in a back room somewhere with his voice in disguise and wearing some type of computer headset so that he can control Furcas’ physical motions. The disguised voice has that distorted computer sound that makes Furcas sound genderless, but Furcas makes it clear early on that a man is controlling the Furcas avatar and all the mayhem that ensues.

The contestants are told that because there are cameras in every single room of the house, if a contestant has any nudity on camera, the contestant can choose whether or not the cameras will blur out the nudity. It’s the only control these contestants really have while they’re in the house. Everything else is dictated to them and decided for them.

The contestants are warned that if try to leave the house, they will be disqualified. Later, they find out they can’t leave the house anyway because they’re being held as prisoners. They are also told that they’re required to give a five-minute confessional interview every day.

Just like the viewer-based voting on “Big Brother,” viewers of “Furcas’ House of Fun” vote on which contestants they want to stay in the house. The two contestants with the lowest percentage of votes have to face off against each other in a challenge that’s really a battle for their lives. The challenges are predictably heinous.

There’s one called Piñata Party, where a contestant is blindfolded and told to hit a piñata with a baseball bat, but the piñata is really a bound-and-gagged contestant who ends up being beaten to death. And when the blindfold comes off, the person holding the bat is horrified to find out that they’ve just committed murder. “Funhouse” wants viewers to believe the absurdity that a blindfolded person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between hitting a piñata and hitting a human body.

Another challenge is called the Blind Rage Challenge, where two contestants go after each other with axes in a pitch-dark room. And the challenges get worse. In the Forget Me Not Challenge, a contestant fails a memory test and is then tied up and stretched to death. It’s not an original way to die in a horror movie, because it’s been done before in other horror flicks, but you get the idea of how low “Funhouse” will go for murder scenes.

Furcas has anonymous and disguised male assistants interacting with the contestants to do things like bring them meals and monitor the activities during the deadly challenges. These assistants, who do not speak, dress in dark business suits and wear panda helmet-sized masks that look like they’re made out of papier-mâché. The production design for the house is as tacky as this movie. The house’s main room, where Furcas gives instructions by video, has nude female mannequins on display in glass cases.

It doesn’t take long for this misogynistic movie to objectify women. The only people who have nudity in the film’s male-female sex scenes are the women. And it should come as no surprise that there’s a scene where Instagram model Ula bares her breasts on camera in a desperate bid to get enough viewer votes to stay in the house.

Later, Cat masturbates on camera for the same reason. While she’s masturbating, Cat looks at the camera and makes a knife-slitting gesture across her throat, as a way to tell the sicko behind this show that she’s going to get revenge. It’s all so cheesy and ridiculous.

As the body count piles up, “Furcas’ House of Fun” gets some criticism from the public, including Kasper’s ex-wife Darla, who does a TV interview pleading for the remaining contestants to be set free. The movie has several cutaway shots to a snarky YouTuber called Pete Sake (played by Bradley Duffy), who constantly mocks and ridicules “Furcas’ House of Fun.” Law enforcement is trying to track down the culprit behind the show, but Nero has covered his tracks by making his computer identity untraceable and setting up wild goose chases for anyone trying to find out the location of the house.

Nero is so confident that he won’t get caught that he gives a TV interview where he disparages the “famewhore” mentality of wanting to becoming famous for being on reality TV or social media. His rants sound a lot like the rants that Furcas spews on “Furcas’ Fun House.” He rails against “the Kardashianization of humanity.” Nero having the same speech pattern as Farcas’ speech pattern would be a big clue to Farcas’ identity in the real world, but not in this movie. Nero’s TV interview is just another dumb plot development in an idiotic story.

Just when you think “Funhouse” couldn’t get any worse, the last 15 minutes prove that this movie is utterly revolting and worthless. And there’s nothing scary about this so-called horror movie. The only fear that “Funhouse” might generate is the fear that some misguided filmmakers will think that this abominable movie deserves a sequel.

Magnet Releasing released “Funhouse” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on May 28, 2021.