tek's rating: ¼

Series 7: The Contenders (R)
A.V. Club; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: none that I know of

So, I guess this came out in 2001, but I didn't see it until 2017. I vaguely remember at some point seeing something on TV... an interview with Brooke Smith, the lead actress in the movie. And I'm sure the fact that I had (presumably randomly) come across this interview was the only way I could have possibly learned of the movie's existence. I don't remember anything specific about the interview, but whatever was said about it must have made me thought it would be worth checking out. So I've been interested in doing so for quite awhile, though I can't quite believe it's been that many years since I saw the interview. But whatever. Anyway, I want to say there are probably various categories in which I could have placed my review. It's sort of like an art film, and sort of a thriller, and sort of weird, and sort of dystopian. I'm going with "B-movie," just because... well, it's an indie film, and it seems kind of low-budget, and, I dunno... I just think it has a B-movie vibe. I guess.

It's done in the style of a sensationalistic reality TV show, crossed with a snuff film, and it kind of put me in mind of "The Truman Show," except way more fucked up. For some unexplained reason, the show is legally able to choose six "contenders" at random, and pit them against each other as killers. And they aren't allowed to decline. I find it hard to believe that none of the contenders turn their guns on people who work on the show, like the cameramen who constantly follow them everywhere. But they don't. Also, I would assume that they're not allowed to kill anyone other than the other contenders. (I mean, they obviously could do so if they wanted to, but I'm assuming they'd be charged with murder if they did, whereas, as I say, they're allowed to kill other contenders. Which makes no fucking sense.)

The main character in the movie is Dawn Lagarto (Brooke Smith), who is eight months pregnant. (We're given no idea who the father is.) She's the reigning champion of the show, "The Contenders," having won the past two seasons. (Incidentally, it seems a bit weird to me that the movie's title puts the season of the show before the title of the show. But whatever.) Apparently, if a contender wins three seasons in a row, they'll be released from the whole thing, but that's never happened before. Anyway, Dawn will be up against five new contenders: a 57-year-old nurse named Connie, a 72-year-old retiree (and apparently a conspiracy theorist) named Franklin, a 39-year-old unemployed man named Tony, an 18-year-old student named Lindsay, and a 33-year-old artist named Jeffrey. We get to know a bit about each of the contenders, but the most important one to the plot is Jeffrey, who turns out to be Dawn's high school boyfriend. And he's now married to a woman named Doria. There are various other characters whom I should probably mention, but I won't. I just want to mention that the show-within-the-movie has a narrator, who I kept thinking kind of sounded like voice actor Steve Blum, but it wasn't. It was actually Will Arnett, who makes an onscreen appearance near the end of the movie.

And... of course I'm not going to spoil how it ends. But the movie is very dark, but also funny. And there's some real drama. And it's a decent commentary on both reality TV and society in general. Also I want to say that Wikipedia mentioned an alternate ending, which is actually just one of several deleted scenes that appear on the DVD, and it doesn't really look... you know, finished. Or whatever. I mean, it's not the kind of thing I'd call a typical "alternate ending." But whatever. Um... I guess I don't know what else to say. It's just a really weird and disturbing movie. And what's most disturbing is that I just barely have to suspend disbelief. My instinct is to assume something like this could never happen in reality, but... considering how fucked up reality can be, I'm actually not so sure....

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