Something diabolical is taking place on the set of "The Task," a new reality show in which players compete for a cash prize by enduring a night in an abandoned prison and completing a series of creepy tasks designed for maximum terror. As six college students explore, things start to go amiss. Locked in this decrepit, labyrinthine prison, the contestants and the production staff start to realize that the scary reality show they thought they were taping has become real horror.
As part of the After Dark Originals lineup of horror home video, The Task
is a little derivative to bear the series' hallmark too boldly. But a lack of originality in its premise doesn't mean that this nifty little thriller can't deliver a few authentically spooky scares and a creepy atmosphere that makes for some giggly, gross-out good times. The setup has a batch of clichéd young characters shackled together and shuffling into an old abandoned prison, where they're condemned to spend the night as contestants in a reality-TV show. The producers explain that each challenger must complete an assigned task within the crumbling walls before the night is through. Their individual tasks are one part of the show, but if they also demonstrate teamwork and help each other out they stand to take home even more cash winnings. The first collective task is to make it into the warden's office, where they'll find the keys to unlock their chains. The office will also serve as home base, where each character's instructions will be delivered by a psychotic clown on a video monitor. The pompous production crew is controlling and observing from a mobile nerve center parked down the road. They've tricked out the sinister old building with hidden cameras and other devices to make the devilish tasks more frightening. If all this is starting to sound like a cross between the Saw
franchise and one of those haunted-house reality shows on the Discovery Channel, that's kind of the point. As each character type starts off on his or her task (there's the gay guy, the brainy girl, the dumb blonde, the wannabe gangsta, etc.), the script takes special care to explain the sensational back story of a psychotic warden who took sadistic delight in having his murderous way with inmates while he was in charge. Instructions for each of the tasks that unfold in dark, decrepit corners of the prison such as "the hole," the execution chamber, and special rooms the warden set up as personal torture chambers are both elaborate and a little uninspired, especially considering that we've been here and done this before in other movies and reality-TV shows. Nevertheless, the clever use of camera angles that mimic those of the show-within-the-movie and the cutting between the contestants and the production crew keep the fear factor lively and tangible. It's no spoiler to say that the warden gets up to some of his old tricks when his ghost is tickled thusly. But is it really his ghost, or is it part of the TV crew's deception to keep the contestants on their toes? Saying too much more about that part of things would get into the area of giving too much away. To its credit and in a stab at genuine originality, The Task
does save up a few big surprises for participants and observers on both sides of the video monitors--yours and theirs. --Ted Fry