Max Winslow and the House of Secrets
This mostly witless young adult adventure tries to reimagine Wily Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but without the extravagance and needle associated with either Roald Dahl’s source material or Mel Stuart’s original film adaptation. Five teenage archetypes, troubled schoolmates one and all, win the chance to tour the mansion of genius AI innovator, Atticus Virtue (inexplicably played by Chad Michael Murray). The prize is the key to his “secrets”, or something similar that’s never clearly specified. Atticus, himself, has very little personality and few attributes to speak of. To suggest the role is underwritten is beside the point, perhaps, but his desultory involvement lessens the viewer’s investment in the fate of the contenders.
The game’s participants include the vain, self-obsessed it-girl, the lacrosse jock with a soft centre, the shoot-‘em-up gaming geek, the grumpy incel weirdo, and the techy emo-goth protagonist. This population make-up corresponds fairly well to The Breakfast Club, and the main villain, an invisible but highly audible piece of software called HAVEN (Marina Sirtis), is a ringer for HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The derivative narrative elements function adequately within the remit of the story (one of coming-of-age and self-discovery), even if they ultimately constitute a set of perfunctory bildungsroman. There are some useful ideas that remain in the germination stage: the characters’ reconciliations with their respective pasts are ably handled in scenes that broach fantasy and the uncanny.
All in all, this film feels like it was made about ten years ago. Instagram functions as a plot point upon which scenes pivot, while jokey asides about the perilous Internet and supposed narcissism of today’s youth produce a vague, dissociated state in the viewer. Are we really still talking about this? The youthful target audience is probably more advanced than the director Sean Olson and writer Jeff Wild gives it credit for. The scattered comic touches, such as the allusions to aioli, are reiterated to exhaustion, and bear frightening resemblance to three-minute parodies of modern comedy tropes found on Twitter. No wonder the script disdains social media so eagerly. It’s not really spooky either. Neither the reanimated knight nor the self-playing piano makes an impression, and the entire exercise feels regurgitative and faintly pointless.
Max Winslow and the House of Secrets is released digitally on demand on 15th February 2021.
Watch the trailer for Max Winslow and the House of Secrets here: