The Task

Another horror film from the After Dark production stables. And yet again, it’s a clever idea that falls flat because the story and characters never really got past the outline stage. What is it these people have against doing a second draft of a script? The Task is a new reality show where six people compete for a hefty cash prize. They have to spend the night in an abandoned, supposedly haunted prison that’s been rigged with speakers and remote-control lights to make it even creepier than it is. They also need to carry out a series of tasks based on the greatest fears they explained in earlier interviews. So it’s part Fear Factor and part Big Brother as the contestants are watched by the array of cameras all throughout the prison.

I’d introduce the six contestants but...well, you already know them. The smart girl (Amara Karan), the overconfident jock (Texas Battle), the pretty girl who wants to be a star (Ashley Mulheron), the flamboyant gay guy (Marc Pickering), and so on. They’re watched over by a bored film crew, which is in turn watched over by the cold and bitchy producer (Alexandra Staden).

Except...guess what? The prison is really haunted! Yep. Who saw that coming? Turns out a brutal warden (Valentin Ganev) ran the place a few decades back and was eventually arrested and executed for torturing and randomly killing his prisoners (all in the name of cutting costs -- which is at least understandable in our modern world of death panels).

So, with that in mind, picture what you think probably happens. Don’t go deep, just stick with your first impressions. We’re saving time now because you’ve just summarized the film.

Well, not exactly. Take your summary and slow it down by about 70% or so. Y’see, nothing happens in The Task until the one-hour mark. Yeah, there’s a few bits with the seeds of eeriness, but they don’t really have any effect on anything. It’s as if you flipped the channel to another, slightly scarier movie for a moment before coming back to this one. Up until then, it’s just a bunch of characters overacting in a so-so reality show. They’re too cool, too scared, too loud, and so on.

It also doesn’t help that the contestant who makes it to the big finale is the one we’ve spent the least amount of time with (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). It’s kind of like watching the kids get picked off in a Friday the 13th film (assuming none of them got picked off until an hour into the movie) and then, in the last 20 minutes, a new character gets introduced who spends the rest of the movie running from Jason Voorhees. Once she realizes Jason isn't the camp’s hockey coach.

There’s also a very uneven tone to the scenes with the production crew. They alternately seem bored, confused, and seriously worried by the events taking place inside the prison. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if it was somewhat consistent, but when they go from worried to bored it makes you wonder if they asked the cast to ad lib but didn’t tell them they were filming out of order. Are they supposed to help build dramatic tension because they don’t realize what’s going on inside the prison or are they just comic relief?

Without giving too much away, there’s kind of a double-twist ending. Alas, rather than surprising you twice, it feels more like the filmmakers weren’t quite sure how to end the movie and just flailed. One of these twists would’ve made for a great second-act reveal. The other one...well, it’s supposed to be a twist. Let’s say that.

Honestly, this is one of those B-horror movies that’s just frustrating. The actors are pretty good considering what they’ve got to work with -- enough so that I was tempted to give this three stars -- and the general premise is neat, but that’s really all there is here. Director Alex Orwell and writer Kenny Yakkel are so concerned with being creepy and scary they haven’t bothered to give any thought to their story. Or their characters. Or their ending.

And that’s pretty much the whole film, isn’t it? The After Dark movies are always loaded with trailers, and I have to admit some of the others looked a lot more interesting than The Task. There was one called Prowl that looks like it has some promise.

There’s a “Behind the Scenes” feature where the cast talks about their characters and why they were interested in the roles. It’s keen to note that most of them talk about background and motivations which never come up in the movie itself. The filmmakers are conspicuously absent, so we never get a sense of what they were aiming for or what inspired them. As a bonus feature it’s short, it’s weak, and you’ll forget it instantly unless you’re required to keep it in your mind for a review you’re writing.

What’s really fascinating is the trailer for the film itself, which actually begins with the last scene of the movie. Not a clip of the last scene or a few frames of it, but the entire closing scene. Granted, it’s a vague scene (and the logic of it completely fails if you think about it), but they’re giving away the survivor right up front. Honestly, they give everything away in the trailer. Every clever beat or moment is shown in this two-and-a-half-minute preview.

Then again, it’s not really like The Task goes anywhere you don’t expect it to.