It's been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (And if you've seen the film Highway to Hell, then you've seen an hilarious sight-gag based on this quote.) This comes from the idea that the wicked claim that they are going to do something, but never follow through with it. In a similar vein, the road to movie hell is often paved with good ideas. There are a slew of movies which have an awesome concept, but simply can't close the deal. Cruel World is such a movie.
Edward Furlong stars in Cruel World as Philip Markham, a man who was rejected by Catherine (Jaime Pressly) on a reality show similar to The Bachelor. As the film opens, Catherine and her husband (the winner of the show) Daniel (Sam Page), are about to leave for a vacation, when Philip suddenly appears, seeking revenge. Catherine and Daniel had been living in the house where the reality show was shot, and it still contains its array of video cameras in every room. Disposing of his old nemeses, Philip arranges for a fake reality show to be staged in the house. He lures a group of college students, Bobby (Andrew Keegan), Ashley (Susan Ward), Ruby (Sanoe Lake), Jenny (Laura Ramsey), Gina (Aimee Garcia), Jack (Joel Michaely), Techno (Nate Parker), Mikko (Nicole Bilderback), and Collin (Brian Geraghty), to the house with the promise of a $1 million prize if they win the show. But, Philip's plan is to torture his guests and make him suffer in the same way which he did.
Despite the fact that reality shows have (hopefully) reached their peak in wackiness and outlandishness, the basic concept of Cruel World is still a timely and creative. Anyone who's watched just a few seconds of a reality show has wondered how the participants don't crack under the pressure. Cruel World explores what would happen if that were the case. And by combining elements of The Real World, Survivor, Big Brother, and Fear Factor, the movie lets the audience know that it's informed, while presenting elements which are familiar to the viewer. The setting looks like a house where such a show would take place, and the ethnically diverse cast appear to have stepped directly off of MTV.
And yet, the film simply doesn't work. Once the main idea is introduced, logic flies out the window. If Philip has gotten revenge on the woman who humiliated him on national TV, why must he torture a group of strangers? The "immunity challenges" given to the participants are odd and rarely make any sense. (How did she get out of that box?) It's quite clear that Eugene Hess, Paul Lawrence, and Paul T. Murray had no idea how to end the film and the finale is not only anti-climactic, but it feels as if it was taken from another movie and edited onto the end of this one. The biggest problem in the film is the character of Philip. He's simply not an interesting villain. Perhaps it's the air of apathy with which Edward Furlong approaches the role, but Philip simply sits in the control room in front of his bank of video monitors drinking, smoking, and yelling at the participants. Furlong tries to make Philip out to be a psychopath, but he simply comes across as a lout.
The film's tone should also be called into question. Again, the concept is clever, and if the movie had been played more as camp, then it may have succeeded. But, director Kelsey T. Howard has opted to make this a straight suspense-thriller, and it doesn't work. The movie contains several violent, gory scenes, but there is no suspense whatsoever, and the torture scenes simply go on for too long. In fact, the only scary aspect of this film is the way in which the participants willfully walk into a strange house and surrender their freedom in hopes of winning a prize.
Cruel World gets voted off of the island on DVD courtesy of Indican Pictures. It should be noted that for the purposes of this review, DVDTalk.com was supplied with a DVR copy of the DVD, and all comments are based solely on that copy. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1, but the transfer is not enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks as if the movie were downloaded to YouTube and then viewed through cheese-cloth. The picture features some of the worse pixellation that I've ever seen on a DVD. The actors faces are blurry and unrecognizable at times. Video noise abounds and the colors bleed into one another. The source material used for this transfer was apparently a theatrical print, as the "cigarette burns" are visible at times. On the plus side, the image is free from overt grain. But, of course, it could be hiding behind all of those pixels.
The DVD has a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track. This track shows issues with the dynamic range as the sound effects are much louder than the dialogue and I found myself constantly adjusting the volume (and wishing for subtitles). There were a few nice stereo effects, but for the most part, the sound comes from the center channel.
The Cruel World DVD carries an odd assortment of extras. "Evolution of a Poster" shows 28 examples of a possible theatrical poster for the film, but most of them are incredibly similar. There is a STILL GALLERY, and a red-band TRAILER for the film. "Oddballs & Ends" features four brief -- 2 1/2 to 5 minutes -- collections of views from the video cameras in the house. Some show random images, while others show multiple angles of scenes from the movie.
Cruel World is yet another one of those movies which features an array of familiar faces, and seems to simply come out of nowhere. Shot in 2004, the movie has apparently languished waiting for distribution. The main idea of the movie would have been even more compelling 3 years ago, but the film would have probably been just as frustrating.