27 October 2020 | laudeus
Great Premise, Disappointing Execution
Leo (Leonora), her daughter Alice, and her husband Jacob are struggling to survive in a postapocalyptic city, when a man peddling a dream too good to be true cons Leo into buying tickets to a theater performance and a hot meal at a luxury hotel. As a former actress, Leo is drawn to the promise of nourishment for her daughter's body and soul, and Jacob reluctantly plays along.
Alice with her big eyes, silky curls and red dress is the epitome of innocence, and Leo admits to a foolish hope for something better for her and for the family - what other choice does she have?
As the dinner theater begins, the emcee warns the guests that whatever they see is an act - and only the golden masks the guests are given will distinguish them from the cast members, who are strewn about the hotel. A couple of lovers stage a dramatic quarrel and lead the audience through the stairs and hallways to the many rooms where the story plays out with a few quick glimpses of sex and violence.
An intriguing start to the plot quickly fizzles with little to no suspense or character development. There is some air of mystery as characters disappear, but it's a crowd disappearing, not people we know, so it's less like a game of cat and mouse and more like turning on the lights in the bathroom and watching cockroaches flee into the walls.
If you're hoping for some good blood and gore, there are a few moments of blades splitting veins, but unfortunately the attempt at getting the viewer to second guess whether it is real or all part of the act leads to special effects so pedestrian that you may ask "does it really matter?"
The film misses the opportunity to leverage the family dynamics of the film - Will their love for each other be strong enough to help them survive?! - by splitting up family members too early, and providing the wrong choices at the wrong times to really give us any empathy or feel torn by their circumstances.
If you somehow hadn't figured out what the real purpose of the dinner theater is, the movie wastes no time in confirming your suspicions, but does throw in a little bit of backstory to explain the motivation of the villain. But like most elements in the film, it's shoved in as if it was the first idea to pop into the writer's head and is given no space to grow. You'll probably nod and say to yourself "oh."
A few tiny glimpses of foreshadowing make their way to the end of the movie - notably Leo's acting background and a moment of comfort she provided to her daughter to ward off scary monsters in the beginning - but it almost seems like an afterthought rather than a critical part of the story, leading more to frustration at how a bit more effort in writing the script would have led to a much more satisfying conclusion.
Perhaps in another ten or twenty years someone will produce a remake that knocks this movie's socks off. I hope they do. Sadly, for a plot and setting that had so many easy opportunities at success, the execution of this drops the ball in almost every way.