Starring Texas Battle, Alexandra Staden, Adam Raynor
Directed by Alex Orwell
Distributed by G2 Pictures
The premise of fatal interruptions on the set of a reality TV show is by no means new ground in the horror genre, but it’s very rare that the concept is handled as successfully as it is in Alex Orwell’s The Task.
A briskly paced spook show, The Task opens with a young man being forcibly abducted from the street and bundled into the rear of a van populated with sobbing victims, all adorned with pig masks, and other camera-wielding persons wearing malevolent-looking clown getup. Quickly, it’s revealed that months previously all of the abducted victims had auditioned to be contestants on a new reality TV show entitled – you guessed it – The Task. The rules of the game are simple – they must spend the night in an abandoned prison with a notorious history, with the show’s producers subjecting them to various tasks that will force them to confront their greatest fears. If they complete their tasks and make it through the night without quitting, they will receive a formidable cash prize with a bonus for completing the entire show as a team. Viewed through the lenses of various cameras remotely observed by the show’s producers and tech team, the contestants set about working together to win the money. Of course, this being a horror movie, things go awfully awry when the ghost of the prison’s monstrously sadistic warden shows up to throw a murderous spanner in the works.
With the ghostly appearances racking up, the crew behind the scenes become convinced that the studio is playing with them too – but will they realise quickly enough that something isn’t right before serious harm befalls their contestants?
The Task is a straightforward fright flick done right. Each of the contestants is a simple archetypical character, from the blonde wannabe movie star to the flamboyant gay and the take-charge jock, right through to the rebellious Brit and nerdy know-it-all. This is usually a sign of impending disaster, but The Task’s script and cast know better. Orwell’s film wins by managing to make not a single one of them outright annoying, and even more by having them react respectfully towards one another. There are no forced conflicts – they all want the money, and they’re all prepared to work together without complaint to get it. The character trappings that prove the downfall of far too many a low-budget ensemble horror flick are avoided with impressive precision, and not only through interaction between the individuals involved but also via their personal activities. Not one single character in The Task makes an obviously stupid decision. These aren’t just idiotic fodder blindly walking into obviously life-threatening situations and behaving like dolts; everything plays out with a perfectly organic nature that seeks never to insult the intelligence of the audience. The script also displays a fitting amount of wit that works equally well, such as the early interactions between the two camera techs, and a producer discussion that manages to reveal the horrific nature of the prison’s past whilst also delivering believable character interaction and humour. It’s writing done right, and you can’t say any better than that.
Visually, Orwell manages to stage quite a few legitimately spooky situations and sequences, especially the first task involving the blasphemous recital of the Lord’s Prayer within the prison’s church. Well handled lighting and effective sound design create effortlessly uneasy set pieces, and keeping nearly every shot of the aforementioned warden’s ghost in an out-of focus presentation also serves as a simple, great idea. Speaking of the ghostly antagonist – this guy makes for an excellent villain. Physically imposing, topless, with suspenders and moustache he tends to look very much like the atypical sideshow strongman. Actor Valentin Ganev manages to imbue an intense aura of violence and evil through mere stares and physicality. Coupled with the aforementioned blurred looks at him, the warden is a villain that more than hits the mark.
For the most part, that’s exactly what The Task does: It just lands right on the mark. You get a basic premise, complete with short audition vignettes that name and briefly explain the characters that you would expect from every reality-TV-show-gone-bad movie out there, but you get it all done just right. Peppered throughout are further inventive and witty ideas and moments (the introductory video that the contestants watch upon receipt of the first task is brilliant), including a perfectly executed twist or two that, again, feel absolutely organic. With The Task, Orwell and co. have taken a simple recipe and through absolute focus covered every base that could cause it all to collapse like many a dime-a-dozen attempt and come through with flying colours. If there’s anything to complain about, it has to be the finale, which feels horribly unfocused and unsatisfying in light of what immediately precedes it.
With very little fanfare to be noticed anywhere regarding its existence, it is absolutely criminal that The Task isn’t receiving more attention. Alex Orwell is one to keep an eye on; if he can manage to produce such a spot on exercise in the horror basics then I for one can’t wait to see what he can do with more intricate scare material in the future.
Keep your expectations in check (it must be stressed that no mould is being broken here – rather, it’s like a reference piece popped from a very familiar one) and you’ll find a very easy to watch, enjoyable, witty, scary and at times outright remarkable little gem right here. This is one task most definitely worth accepting.
Unfortunately, the time coded review copy of The Task lacked any special features and is obviously not up to the expected full quality of the release so the technical side of things can’t be discussed here. Research would appear to indicate that this UK release is bare bones, but it may include the featurette already revealed as part of the upcoming US version. In any case, it doesn’t really matter. This one’s great for a Saturday night in.
4 out of 5
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