Without the neon and without the blood, Funhouse has no cinematic personality. A thoughtless horror with empty satire.
“Nu Metal” was a short-lived subgenre of rock music. It came and went in the blink of an eye, to some’s dismay and to many’s gratitude. Korn was one of the leading bands of the genre and has faded into fad infamy- but not without leaving a time capsule of the genre with ‘Freak on a Leash.’ A heavy and retrospectively silly song about who knows what; probably the burden of existence or something. The way “Nu Metal” came and left made me think of the very prevalent subgenre within cinema of what I call “Bright Horror” Yes, I know it’s a very first draft name, leave me alone.
But the genre is defined by bloody and graphic gore over the background of dancing vibrant colors. Ari Aster’s Midsommar may come to mind to those with great taste in movies. Or if you’re one of the many suburban white girls who bought a neon light-up mask for Halloween a few years ago, you’re thinking of The Purge: Election Year. Will Bright Horror fade into fad infamy the same way that Nu Metal did? It’s a bleak thought considering how well neon and horror go together. However, I am happy to share that Funhouse is an addition to Bright Horror, keeping the subgenre barely alive. More like on life support.
Funhouse turns the dial all the way up on the blood and on the neon. That is probably its best quality. You have these highlighter colors splashed all over the sets. They aren’t exactly easy on the eyes or well blended together, but it serves up a little bit of personification for the different characters and situations. If I was to describe the set design it’d be like if the production executives saw Ex Machina and yelled at the set designer “Alex Garland was able to build this in his garage! With a box of scraps!”
It’s just too reminiscent of an odd future mixed with the LMFAO style of the 2010s. The neon isn’t as prevalent without the blood in this film. The two work hand in hand to save a nonsensical and silly premise. The film refrains and avoids offscreen activity. You see everything; every spewing cut, every blood splatter, every gory aspect in all its glory. It was impressive, really. All the energy they removed from a coherent plot, they fully put in the horror.
It’s easy to forgive a messy and meaningless plot when you have excellent visuals, but I just couldn’t shake how satirical and meta they were trying to be. From outdated meme references to low-hanging satire fruit, Funhouse had a message that felt way too on the nose to beg any nuance. It felt like an ‘Among Us’ obsessed toddler explaining to me that fame is the most dangerous thing a person can experience. Satire done right can leave much to think about when the credits roll.
It can move people to change institutions, put a microscope under our deepest flaws, etc. But Funhouse doesn’t move, it lightly shoves until you’re annoyed. They had much to work with: fame, virality, animalistic instinct, cancel culture, people glued to their screens. They treated their message more as jokes instead of actual areas of importance. Which only slightly worked thanks to the reality tv show aspects, but elevated and helped nothing.
I’m going to dedicate this paragraph to how terribly written, directed, and performed the villain was. A villain that only seeks to reflect a mirror on the true horrors of the world, can open a lot of doors narratively. But he only had a very, very corny monologue and very little depth to who he was. He was just there as a vehicle to enact horrific acts of murder to the contestants.
Behind the animated panda, we were given an odd Matthew Morrison-type dude that tried his hardest to be menacing. His performance style was way too cheesy to be given the light of day. They should’ve just kept the terribly animated panda as the main villain. A voice that meant death, all behind a cuddly animal. Now that would’ve been decent.
Coming from a slasher film, I had no hopes for any performances that would stand out to me. I think what really caught me off-guard was how forced every ethnic background and nationality was. You had the Latinos speaking Google-translate spanish, you had the Irish guy doing his best Colin Farrell impression, etc. It didn’t feel natural, it didn’t feel representative of these respective cultures. It was just odd and uncomfortable. Latinos don’t “guero” that much, if ever, to refer to a white person. It’s just ridiculous.
As for Bright Horror, Funhouse didn’t exactly elevate the subgenre. Horror isn’t a genre to have any messages or food for thought. However, if a horror film decides to pursue that path, it can’t be half-hearted like the way Funhouse approached it. It not only muddles the narrative and premise but the ideas and principles also get lost until they’re irrelevant or abandoned. If you’re looking for a film with blood and guts in front of neon sets and lighting, Funhouse is the movie for you. Don’t let Bright Horror be forgotten. Edgar Wright’s upcoming film Last Night In Soho may revive the genre, but it may not be enough to save it from becoming the Nu-Metal of cinema.
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