Main cast: Brooke Smith (Dawn Lagarto), Marylouise Burke (Connie Trabucco), Glenn Fitzgerald (Jeffrey Norman), Michael Kaycheck (Tony Reilly), Richard Venture (Franklin James), and Merritt Wever (Lindsay Berns)
Director: Daniel Minahan
Hmm, another one of those movies who take the Survivor concept and turn it into a bloody and violent movie. Although this is not a new concept (see last year’s more shocking Battle Royale), Series 7: The Contenders is almost an intelligent movie. Almost.
This movie is primarily saved single-handedly by the amazing performance of Brooke Smith. She plays the main character Dawn Lagarto with a well-balanced mix of wry humor, cynicism, and unabashed sentimentality. The result is a fascinating heroine who engages my emotions from the get go. That, and the fact that Dawn is heavily pregnant while she is playing the game.
It is now Series 7. Dawn has been playing the last few seasons and emerging the winner. In this game, six people are picked using a bingo system, and these people are then ordered to kill the other five. Winner walks away with the most precious prize: his or her life. Meanwhile, TV crew will film the whole carnage, right to to “diary confession” sessions of each contestant. This time, if Dawn wins, she will finally be allowed to stop playing and walk free. She will do this, she will win this for her baby… but complicating things is her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Norman as one of the other chosen players. Jeffrey is dying of testicular cancer, however. Can Dawn kill her one true love? Stay tuned!
The other contestants are a nurse who used God as an excuse to slaughter her opponents, an unemployed loser, a crazy old man, and an 18-year old female student.
Series 7: The Contenders has a few brilliant moments. The love story between Dawn and Jeffrey, particularly, has a wildly lurid, melodramatic, and campy air to it that makes it charming and unabashedly bittersweet at the same time. There’s also a brilliant scene in which student Lindsay’s parents drive her around town and cheer her on as she tries to kill her opponents.
Unfortunately, this movie chickens out and does a predictable and tired plot twist thing towards the late quarter of the movie, derailing anything good about the movie. The closure is a smart and funny turn that teases the audience – is that really what happened? – but alas, by then it’s too late.
Dawn is an amazing character, and watching her blow other useless folks’ brains away before she asks for some pills from the pharmacy is just so cool. But this movie with its unwillingness to actually be daring doesn’t do her justice. Too bad, really.