Last night I was lucky enough to attend the virtual premiere of horror studio Blumhouse’s latest venture, a web-series entitled Welcome to the Blumhouse. Comprised of four made for streaming films, Welcome to the Blumhouse is pitched as an anthology show that brings Blumhouse’s now recognizable formula of creative led mid-budget scares to Amazon Prime viewers. The virtual live event was made up of two films, Veena Sud’s The Lie, about a husband and wife who find themselves caught in a web of crime and deceit when they try to cover for their daughter’s illegal activities, and Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour’s Black Box, a Black Mirror-esque thriller about a man who undergoes and experimental memory treatment after losing his memory in a car accident.
Frustratingly, I could only choose one of the two films to watch, and the 2am showtime meant that one film, coupled with the intriguingly billed “interactive after party experience” meant that one film was probably all I could really handle. After some research I decided to go with Black Box (The Lie has been knocking about now since 2018, and that set off warning signs for me) and so, after a brief kip, I settled in to enjoy the show.
As a film, Black Box feels derivative. It’s not that it’s particularly bad, indeed most of the concepts are genuinely engaging and the film even finds time to introduce a genuinely creepy and unsettling monster, but it treads on well-worn ground. From the aforementioned Black Mirror all the way through to Paul Verhoeven’s Arnie vehicle Total Recall, there are a lot of recognizable tropes and ideas floating about. Certain elements even bore a surprising resemblance to Jordan Peele’s now iconic Get Out, itself a Blumhouse production.
The biggest issue I had with Black Box, though, was that the central premise simply didn’t feel like enough to sustain the runtime. By the mid-point the inevitable twist had become so glaringly obvious that the remainder of the film was spent waiting for my predictions to be proven true – and they were.
The cast were all doing their jobs well, with special mention to both leading man Mamaudou Athie, who manages to not only deliver an interesting and layered central performance, but manages to do so twice, and to Amanda Christine, who plays our lead’s daughter, Ana, and steals every scene she’s in with seemingly little effort, despite her young age.
Ultimately, though, the film falls flat in its delivery. It looks fine for a direct-to-streaming production but lacks the cinematic quality of Blumhouse’s big screen releases, like Peele’s Get Out or this year’s The Invisible Man, and the script feels rough and unfinished. As if the ideas were almost there, but another pass or two could have elevated them above where they currently are. The fact that it also carries so much similarity to the likes of Black Mirror or Get Out doesn’t help, either, and while Black Mirror itself has fallen from grace in more recent years, meaning that Black Box would likely not seem out of place amongst that show’s newer output, as an introductory instalment of its own anthology, there’s little here to suggest that Welcome to the Blumhouse will be offering anything other than four movies the studio deemed not good enough for cinema.
It’s worth noting, though, that the film seemed to go down a storm in the online chat, and many of the other attendees of the virtual premiere seemed to genuinely enjoy the story and be genuinely surprised by its various twists and turns. Take from that what you will.
In the end, though, the real highlight of the night was the convoluted but incredibly fun “interactive after party” which saw guests navigate their way around the titular “Blumhouse” in an effort to solve the disappearance of a young girl. Actors live streaming video in each of the houses’ various rooms would respond to questions from the guests in the chat box and drop subtle hints and clues to the victims’ whereabouts. Annoyingly, I was timed out before my computer was able to load the final sequence, which took place in the Attic, and at 5.30 in the morning I was ready for bed, so I don’t actually know how it all ended. But I had fun.
Blumhouse as a studio have positioned themselves as the sort of modern-day Hammer equivalent, delivering popular, audience pleasing, ghost train movies that work on a blend of small budgets and interesting characters. If they are indeed the modern-day Hammer, then Welcome to the Blumhouse would presumably be the modern day Hammer House of Horror, and in this regard the comparison is rather apt. Unable to hit the heights of the best big screen outings, but a lot better than some of their lesser products, it’s an interesting, but familiar experience that will please existing fans but likely won’t win over anyone new.
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