If you watched a lot of basic cable in the early 2000s, chances are good that you stumbled upon at least one episode of MTV’s Fear. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, here’s the setup: Five contestants are blindfolded and taken to a haunted location, often a hospital, a school, or a prison. They are left in a “safe house” that serves as their base of operations throughout the recording of the show. Each contestant is assigned a random color, and a computer in the safe house uses those colors to assign tasks to specific contestants. The tasks usually involve traversing the haunted locale in the dark and then performing some sort of scare inducing ritual or investigation before returning to the rest of the group. Contestants have the option of dropping out at any time if the scares become too much for them, but anybody remaining at the end will get a share of the prize money. And now you also know the setup for 2010’s The Task, part of the After Dark Originals line of horror flicks.
It really is exactly the same arrangement. The Task begins with seven potential contestants being kidnapped and brought to an abandoned prison, where they will take part in a new reality show. The prison touts a sordid history of gross mismanagement by a warden who liked to walk the halls naked while murdering the inmates. All the contestants are flat stereotypes, from the smart girl to the gay guy to the blonde girl to the British guy. There’s no character development for any of them, and all of them are in the movie just to fill the requisite potential victim slots. That’s really okay, though, because the movie very intentionally mirrors MTV’s Fear, and we never knew anything about those contestants, beyond what their scaredy faces looked like in night vision.
The Task‘s contestants stand to split a pot of $20,000 at the conclusion of their time in the prison, and the producers tell them that they will receive a special bonus if no one drops out and the entire team makes it through to the end. Of course, fate has some other things in mind as soon as the kids go into lockdown and the task assignments begin. There’s quite a bit of predictable spookery in the prison, but there is a point at which the film takes an unexpected turn or two and becomes a much more interesting story than it first appears to be.
For all the weirdness and haunted history in the prison, the level of gore is surprisingly manageable throughout the movie. Sure, there are some bloody scenes and a couple of moments where the overly squeamish might want to avert their eyes, but nothing in The Task is mind bendingly gross. Further breaking with the horror tropes, there is absolutely no nudity or sex to be found in the film. It’s all straightforward story and action as we see the contestants and the production crew dealing with more than they bargained for during the course of their TV production.
For a straight to DVD horror release, The Task looks great and plays surprisingly well. Director Alex Orwell easily could have churned out all the shots to cobble together a by-the-numbers horror movie, but instead there’s some artistry at work here. Shots and sets display good technical work and creative design and framing, and the overall movie benefits immensely. Most of the time, The Task looks indistinguishable from most modern theater released horror films. It’s not without it’s flaws, though. There are quite a few jarring continuity errors between shots. Notably, a pool of blood disappears from one shot to the next near the end of the film. Accents also flub a few times throughout the movie. The Task ostensibly is set somewhere in the US, and most of the characters are presented as American. By the end, nearly all the supposed Americans have betrayed their characters’ accents and let their true British speak slip through. It’s not enough to completely yank you out of the story, but it is noticeable throughout.
Despite its stumbles and some issues with the pacing, The Task manages to be a competent and enjoyable horror film. It skewers reality TV by closely mirroring it, and it even twists and turns in some ways that will leave you guessing until the end. The Task released on DVD on July 26 from Lionsgate and is available as past of the After Dark Originals line.