Series 7: The Contenders

18 Mar

Director: Daniel Minahan (2001)

Using the recent trend of films asking a ‘what if…?’ reality TV took a more sinister turn, Series 7: The Contenders takes it the extreme as contestants must kill to win the ultimate prize, their life. But instead of the high gloss stunt-tastic blockbusters, Daniel Minahan’s Series 7: The Contenders is stripped down, gritty and somewhat unnervingly real. Well, as real as you can get from this rather ridiculous, but nonetheless thought provoking, concept.

Series 7: The Contender is the perfect pastiche of the reality show attitude and selfish interest in orchestrating rating winning television at the expense of the contestants wishes and, in this case, their lives. But at the same time, it recognises the depths the contestants themselves will reach to win fame, raising the question of whether it’s a latent desire or one that surfaces in the pressured land of reality shows. And in the case of The Contenders, was the desire to be a killer there all along or would the pressure of being hunted unearth their killer instincts… It’s a fascinating concept and a question with no answer, which is why there are so many questions left unanswered in the film. How did the contestants get chosen? What is the prize? Who is in charge of the show? But any attempt to answer these questions would be to break the illusion of reality within the film. Ironically.

Set up like one of those garish (also awesome) American TV shows with quick edits, graphics and dramatic voice overs, Series 7: The Contender throws us in, well seven seasons in. Dawn (Brooke Smith) the reigning contender we learn has survived so far and if she survives this season she will win her freedom. Which is all very good considering she is 8 months pregnant. The cast of contenders is hilarious, ticking every box of society and taboo thus adding the (darkest) comedy to the film. We have a teenager, family man, old man, pregnant lady, middle aged religious lady and terminally ill man all ready to kill one another to be the winner. Contestants seem to be chosen by a lottery, chosen by their social security number. There seem to be no rules, other than no suicide. God forbid anyone cheats and takes the easy way out.

Minahan once worked for a reality TV show and so has firsthand experience of this dark world, making you think if society ever reaches the kind of gladiatorial low where actually watching people kill each other on live TV is appealing, this is probably what it would look like. Concept aside, it is a very slow film, and rather long. Like watching an entire box set in one day. But not a very exciting box set. Originally Minahan planned to make this as a TV series, an option I think would have worked better and allowed more time to get to know the characters. But then again, we aren’t meant to care about these contestants as people. They are merely objects manipulated for our entertainment – as the tagline boasts ‘Real People, Real Danger’. A dark, provocative look at the future of reality TV? Let’s hope not.

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