Cruel World is a cheaply made 2005 horror film about a reality show gone wrong. It essentially amounts to MTV's "The Real World" crossed with a slasher film, with a little bit of gorno mixed in. It's almost as exploitative as it sounds, but not quite. It's relatively postmodern about the reality T.V. part; in one scene, the show's contestants each name the reality T.V. stereotype they fulfill. This is clever, but then the Asian girl turns out to know martial arts, so, in a sense, Cruel World becomes the crap it satirizes.
In the movie, Phillip (Edward Furlong) has been dumped by the lovely Catherine (Jaime Pressly) on a reality show called, "Lover's Lane." Seeking revenge, he comes to the home that Catherine and her new lover live in, courtesy of the network that financed "Lover's Lane," and he arranges for a new reality show to be filmed there. Nine college students have been tricked into believing that they will be competing for $1 million at the house, but Phillip is actually involving them all in a sick, life-and-death game.
I can't tell you much else because the film's biggest twists are contained within the first twenty minutes. The emphasis switches from Pressly and her lover to the college students who accomplish the obligatoiry partying and hooking up before they die. The crux of the horror elements of Cruel World is the idea of reality T.V. challenges being taken to a horror movie extreme. (It's not hard to imagine what I mean if you consider the stuff people are eating and swimming through already on reality shows.)
So, how does Cruel World do as a horror film, you ask? Sadly, not well. This is not on the level of the latest Jason or Halloween movie because Cruel World is not enjoyable in its ridiculousness. First of all, it really isn't scary. Many of the deaths are telegraphed for you, so you know they're coming. A few frights are accomplished by having things jump out at the characters, but that isn't enough to keep a modern horror audience interested. To be honest, I believe that one of the biggest shortcomings of the film is the amount of sunlight. The beautiful sunshine of the Southwest (the film was shot in New Mexico) makes for some beautiful footage, but it just doesn't stimulate an atmosphere of impending doom.
But the writing is what really pulls Cruel World down. A couple of interesting ideas, like some Lord of the Flies manipulation by Furlong, forcing the contestants to kill each other, don't get explored enough to warrant pondering, and I feel that the writers, Eugene Hess, Paul Lawrence, and Paul T. Murray threw together a lot of ideas they liked while having very few of their own. Cruel World did get me thinking a little bit about some socially relevant issues, like voyeurism and Americans' willingness to be exploited for money and fame. However, no statements are made about these issues but for a warning: go on a reality T.V. show, and you could end up dead. If only.
The editing in the film is a little awkward at times, as first-time director Kelsey T. Howard seems unsure of how to transition between the different storylines. The acting is relatively above average because a good portion of the cast actually has experience, and you may recognize some of them from various straight-to-DVD releases and teen movies and such. For example, Andrew Keegan was in 10 Things I Hate About You with Julia Stiles in 1999, and the lovely Susan Ward was in Wild Things 2. So the cast does a good job of acting scared before their blood is all over the pavement. However, Furlong, who looks terrible, is absolutely horrendous in this film, whining all the while. His large amounts of screen time are not welcome. If you are a fan of his, do yourself a favor, and don't watch this.
The image is pretty colorful and relatively sharp, with standard cinematography by Ward Russell (Days of Thunder). There was some occasional blocking around some stuff, like when a tiki post is filmed in front of a pool. Even upscaled onto an HDTV, I just didn't find the film to be as sharp as it should have been, but other than the aforementioned blocking, the video doesn't have any artefects. The colors are not as rich as I've seen, and the black are averagely deep. Overall, the DVD's video is nothing to write home about.