Into the Lion's Den (UK DVD)
Directed by Dan Lantz
Distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures
Bored with the gay scene in their native West Hollywood, best friends Michael (Kroell), Johnny (Archer) and Ted (Griffith) take off on a road trip to seek a new life of fun in New York City. Along the way the trio stop off at a secluded motel, after which the sexed-up Johnny convinces his friends to join him at the local dive bar ("The Lion's Den" of the title), where he has arranged a no-strings-attached tryst with a mysterious stranger via an instant messaging app. Obviously, things aren't entirely what they appear to be, and by the end of the night all three find themselves fighting for their lives.
Crossing gay culture with torture porn, Into the Lion's Den offers up a capable, if unspectacular, horror-thriller with a solidly gay outlook. With pleasingly little in the way of hyperbolic reactions, persecution or needlessly negative interaction between the gay and straight characters (even when it comes to the denizens of the rough titular road-house), director Lantz keeps a firm grounding with his story, handling the entire unfolding with naturalistic aplomb. The villains' motivations also prove quite imaginative, with their rather inventive method of keeping their loving marriage going even though the husband has a strong attraction to gay men being the crux of the horrific happenings.
In keeping with this natural approach are the performances by the main cast -- all of which, while not Oscar material by any means, have a distinctly "real" feeling to them. Lead Kroell gives an earnest turn as the recently heartbroken Michael, while as sex-mad party boy Johnny, Jesse Archer treads the line well between annoying and endearingly reckless. Kristen-Alexzander Griffith, as the somewhat reserved, newly outed Ted, paints a level-headed, sympathetic individual, even if his bookending voiceover comes across as far too saccharine and cack-handed for its own good. Less well-drawn are the husband and wife duo of antagonists who, while ably performed by Mcfadden and Shultz, lack that extra dimension.
Coupled with the raw visual style, which admittedly feels more due to budgetary necessity than artistic design, it all comes together to give Into the Lion's Den an uncommonly authentic feel. Despite this, however, it never really manages to up the shocks beyond base level (except perhaps for the first death, which certainly isn't easy to see coming). More shocking than the violence and torture, in fact, is some of the more graphic sexual content. An early sequence involving a toilet stall blowjob featuring porn star Jake Steel feels unnecessarily gratuitous and vulgar considering the film's raw styling. A turn of events utilising AIDS as a weapon feels similarly uncouth and uncomfortable, even if it isn't exactly intended as such.
Note: This review is of a screener version of the film rather than the DVD, but the special features are included below for reference purposes.
With a brisk runtime of just over seventy minutes, Into the Lion's Den doesn't outstay its welcome but never manages to fully excite or innovate. As a low budget exercise, it's certainly worth a look if you have the time to kill, but it rarely manages to drag itself above most other indie survival horror efforts. A repeated testament to the film's stature is the woefully placed score, which attaches an unnecessary sense of urgency and malice to the smallest of activities where silence would have easily sufficed, even if the aforementioned bookends scramble to attach a sickly poignancy to the proceedings that simply doesn't exist.
2 1/2 out of 5