Screamfest 2013: THE GAUNTLET Review


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DIRECTED by:                                                                    Film Pulse Score: 4.5/10

The Saw franchise was all about making choices.  Do this and this will happen or do that and that will happen?  Often times it was something unpleasant for the one making the choice or the one on the receiving end of that decision.   When it comes to life and death and you’re under the gun just what would you choose to do?    In Matt Eskandari’s latest film The Gauntlet these are the types of decisions that must be made by a group of strangers.

Five strangers must find a way out of a multi-level dungeon by solving puzzles that will require them to make some tough choices.   With very little memory of what they were doing before they found themselves in their predicament they try to piece together the mystery of why and who put them in there.

This film had potential but it didn’t come together in the end.   The film had solid production design and features numerous great set pieces.   The sets, while they do still look like sets, are quite convincing for a low-budget film such as this.   The saying goes every dollar is on the screen.  The puzzles that the group are forced to solve are interesting and at times gruesome.   The standouts being the first they encounter, essentially a wringer, and a water-filled corridor.   How the puzzles are solved are interesting but in some instances are a bit heavy-handed.

A film like this is heavily dependent on its ending.  If the deus ex machina doesn’t work then all that came before it will fall.   As the film progresses, the most astute viewer will catch on to just where this may be going.  Looking back it’s as though the final destination was an inevitable one.   The reasoning why the group is in the dungeon is not readily evident but in short-order you can figure it out but for some reason time is wasted when the characters try to piece it together themselves.  When the “a-ha” moment comes instead of “whoa” you may feel “ummm…I knew that already why are you wasting my time telling me that.”   After a rather implausible attempt at heroics, the reasons why this has transpired is revealed and audiences will have different reactions to it for sure.  For this viewer it was “really?  Okay you lost me.”   Not lost as in confused but lost as in I’m no longer interested.   For certain there will be people who love the ending, hate the ending or are simply indifferent towards it.   But for a film like this the ending is key and in this case, for this viewer at least, it didn’t work.

The acting is serviceable with no clear standouts.  Warren Kole stars as David, the first person we meet and ultimately the leader of the group.  The film focuses on him the most and overall he’s fine but when it counts, back to the ending, he wasn’t convincing enough.  The film also stars Bai Ling, Dustin Nguyen, Jamie Ray Newman and Nick Lane as the other strangers in a strange land.   Considering the situation, while the acting was okay, performance wise I wasn’t convinced they were in any real danger.

The film has great production design and some interesting situations but overall it didn’t come together in the end.   Plot holes, illogical actions and an ending leaving much to be desired resulted in an interesting concept that was poorly executed and didn’t live up to expectations.

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