Task, The (2011)

The Task (2011)

The audience isn’t the only one watching

‘The Task’ is a new reality TV show in which contestants must complete terrifying missions in an abandoned jail if they wish to claim the substantial prize on offer. Six young students are the first group to compete for the cash but they are unaware that the jail still harbours the spirit of the murderous warden who used to torture and kill the inmates before being executed.
Horror films set around reality TV are nothing new. Heck, they’ve been on the go for years since the dawn of Big Brother and these daft reality celebrity shows clogging up our televisions. But they’ve run their course, as the latest couple of series of Big Brother in the UK have shown with dwindling audiences and lack of mainstream media interest. So to see The Task released in 2011 (with a couple of reality-style horrors released in 2002 with Halloween: Resurrection and My Little Eye) seems to me to be the result of a distinct lack of originality and risk-taking in the genre at the moment. Why bother creating a new story when you can just wheel out some tried-and-tested plot?

This isn’t a knock directly at The Task – it’s a knock at the genre in general at the moment. The straight-to-DVD series of After Dark ‘Originals’ (of which The Task is a part of) have been largely forgettable teen horrors, pimped up a little with fancy covers and made to sound like the bees knees of cutting edge scare material when really they’ve been highly derivative and largely non-descript. I appreciate the sentiment behind giving new talent the chance to prove what they can do and get their product out there to a wider audience. But if these are the future of horror, we’re in for a barren couple of years.

The Task is competently made but is nothing more than by-the-numbers teen horror. Everything about it screams pedestrian from the plot, to the characters, to the setting, the lack of any sort of tension or atmosphere and modern-day reliance on flashy editing. It’s the embodiment of a film which will no doubt keep you interested for its running time but is immediately forgettable straight afterwards.

Director Alex Orwell is no doubt pleased that his film has made it onto DVD but he should at least learn how to build suspense or create some sort of an atmosphere. I mean, the setting is decent enough but how many times are we going to see horror films set inside abandoned jails, asylums or other kooky places with sinister histories? It’s just not fun to watch a group of twenty-somethings walk around dark corridors and jail cells for the umpteenth time, talking to each other and generally being irritating to the audience. Are we supposed to care for this bunch of self-obsessed idiots? After all, they’re all in it for the fame and the money. Forget doing hard work, let’s all just take the easy way out and do reality TV! The usual caricatures are here including the goth girl, the dumb blonde, etc. Throw in some expendable crew members from the company running the show and you’ve got the recipe for a predictable ride.

It’s a good hour into the proceedings by the time things start to get interesting and remotely exciting and that’s a bit of a overstatement. The idea of each character having to do tasks seems to have come straight out of the Saw films complete with a Jigsaw-style host (a guy in some clown make-up explains what the characters need to do). But then you’ve also got helpings of The House on Haunted Hill thrown in there too, with the TV crew having devised all manner of weird and wonderful surprises for the contestants in a bid to throw them off – there’s even a ghost walking around the corridors caught on camera. Only this time Jeffrey Combs is nowhere to be seen.

The first couple of tasks each character has to do are hardly nerve-shattering and I’m sure if I had been watching this TV show, I’d have turned over long before the better ones later on. Things do pick up slightly once the vengeful warden has made his presence felt but we’re never really sure of what he is or why he’s there. And if you think his arrival will signal the start of the gore, then you’ll be sorely disappointed too. I’m not quite sure why the film’s certificate is so high (it’s an 18 in the UK) because from what I remember, the film is bloodless. Problems are confounded with a script which messes around with too many ideas, all pulling in different directions and inevitably ends up tearing the film apart. The case in point being the overblown finale which makes no sense and comes right out of leftfield. Either the production ran out of cash or the writers ran out of ideas. You make the call.

 

The Task takes a long time to get where it’s supposed to be going and even then you’re not really sure where you’ve ended up. The only thing you realise is that you’ve been there before – many times. It’s deja vu all over again.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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