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Max Winslow and the House of Secrets review – lightweight Wonka-esque movie puzzle | Film
Targeting the demographic intersection between geeky YA fiction readers, folks interested in psychology that doesn’t go much deeper than an internet quiz, and supermarket puzzle magazine fans, this sci-fi-inflected thriller is moderately satisfying as long as you don’t think about it too much.
In a bland Arkansas suburb that happens to have been the home town of tech billionaire inventor Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray), five very different high-school kids are invited to take part in an exclusive competition at his secluded mansion. The prize is a lifetime supply of chocolate … oh, sorry, no … the prize is the mansion itself – but the Willy Wonka parallels are about as blatant as the nominative determinism of the mysterious benefactor’s surname. Only this time, given Mr Virtue has been detained, the role of maybe-malevolent host-guide is taken by the disembodied voice of the house’s sentient computer, Haven (voiced by Star Trek alumna Marina Sirtis), who sets the kids a series of problems to solve that may be more dangerous than just counting jelly beans.
The title character Max (Sydne Mikelle) is a shy-but-pretty-under-her-flannel-shirts coding champ with daddy issues; she pals up with Connor (Tanner Buchanan), the school star lacrosse player, who turns out to be a more sensitive soul than his jock reputation would suggest. A popular girl obsessed with her online image (Jade Chynoweth), a bully (Emery Kelly) and a gaming addict (Jason Genao) fill out the quintet. Before the night is over, all of them must confront their darkest fears, generated with simple effects and the magic wand that is a screenwriter’s “because tech” justification.
This is hardly profound stuff, although the most creepy and resonant aspect is arguably the plotline revolving around the popular girl who gets stuck in a bathroom staring into a mirror version of herself that’s much nastier than the real thing, a simple cinematic sleight-of-hand that depends entirely on Chynoweth’s skill in projecting bitchy malevolence. A darker, hipper version of this movie might have made her the protagonist and proved more amusing to watch than the simpering leads we have here.
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