Max Winslow and the House of Secrets
Five teens compete to win a billionaire’s mansion and find themselves challenged in uncomfortable ways in Sean Olson’s Max Winslow and the House of Secrets.
Early on this film will remind viewers of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a small group of lucky winners selected to take a tour of a mysterious place that can make their dreams come true if they prove themselves against whatever vague criteria will be presented to them. There is a particular sequence that serves as a modern reference to finding the coveted Golden ticket through smart phones displaying a notification to the winners who get to embark on this adventure. The similarities to the Roald Dahl story largely end there even though the script periodically flirts with the idea of doing a techno take on the participants being tested where failure brings dire consequences but it is never taken to the expected conclusion which qualifies as both a missed opportunity and a statement of intent for the film to do things under its own terms.
The young characters all fit into neatly established templates that the film makes good use of. They’re not deep by any means but their starting point is evident and the arc they are to follow is clearly presented. Max (Sydne Mikelle) is the best developed of the group which makes sense as she’s the lead. She has the necessary skills, knowledge and problem solving skills to lead the others through the situation while having the most meaty characterisation. Sydne Mikelle performs well in this role with impressive range and unique chemistry with each of her co-stars. As a lead she more than rises to the challenge and carries the film nicely. Everyone else also performs their roles well. Jade Chynoweth stands out the most as Sophia, the shallow social media obsessed influencer but considering the relatively large cast and thin characterisation each of the actors makes the best of the material they are given.
Many of the challenges are geared around forcing the characters to confront their biggest flaws and overcome them in order to become better people. It’s nothing new and easy to follow considering that most of them are defined by that flaw. Every undesirable trait has a distinct route cause that the challenges are designed to exploit. This leads to some genuinely heartfelt moments as characters face up to issues with their upbringing, their own loneliness or obsessions that they have let consume them. A lack of subtlety doesn’t always make for shallow material and the film is at its best when pushing the characters out of the comfort zone they have let themselves fall into as a coping mechanism.
Some of the challenges are cleverer than others but Marina Sirtis turn as the -could be- sadistic A.I. Haven is consistently entertaining. Sirtis seems to take great pleasure in delivering dialogue intended to unsettle the young characters and the facsimile of pleasure taken in making them suffer in different ways is constantly amusing. Another artificial intelligence based highlight is John Littlefield’s Sir Mordred who provokes most of the biggest laughs to be found in the film. He’s used sparingly and deployed perfectly whenever he is.
One of the bigger flaws the film has is around the billionaire Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray). The myth surrounding the man doesn’t match up with what is presented on screen. He is painted as eccentric and mysterious but neither of those things comes across whenever he appears on screen. Any mystery surrounding him is built by the lack of specific information provided by the film when explaining his background but that fails to translate in how he comes across. Whether that be the fault of the material or Chad Michael Murray’s interpretation of it is unknown but either way Atticus Virtue fails to carry the mystique that the film frequently suggests that he has. His presence is too passive to be meaningful and the supposed eccentricities aren’t on display.
An entertaining film that boasts a talented cast, clearly laid out character arcs, genuinely heartfelt moments and entertaining performances. The premise of the film is simple and well executed with characters defined by one easily identifiable trait navigating a situation on their way to becoming better people. Sydne Mikelle is a strong lead who carries the film well with the rest of the young cast ably following her. Framing the challenges around overcoming character flaws works really well and creates opportunities for some genuinely meaningful character moments. Marina Sirtis’ turn as the A.I. Haven is endlessly entertaining as is John Littlefield as Sir Mordred who is always deployed perfectly. Chad Michael Murray’s Atticus Virtue is the film’s main weak link as the character presented doesn’t match the mystique surrounding him. It’s unclear if this is a flaw in the material or the performance but it does stand out as the well publicised eccentricities aren’t on display. For what it is this is an entertaining experience that manages to remain engaging and does what it sets out to do well.
Max Winslow and the House of Secrets will be available on Digital Download from 15th February. You can pre-order here
- Sydne Mikelle leading the film very well
- a strong young cast
- easy to follow individual character arcs
- challenges tailored to exploit specific personal flaws leading to some genuinely heartfelt moments
- Marina Sirtis’ excellent performance as Haven
- John Littlefield’s Sir Mordred being deployed perfectly
- Atticus Virtue failing to come across as mysterious or eccentric
- the broadly drawn character traits uncomfortably standing out at times
- some missed opportunities
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