Directed by Daniel Minahan, starring Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, Richard Venture, Michael Kaycheck and Merritt Wever.
Perhaps the 'Series 7' website sums it up best with its introduction of the film as having been "inspired by such recent hits as 'Survivor' and 'Big Brother'". At this stage, even the mention of 'Big Brother' evokes strong responses, usually ranging from misty-eyed adulation to animated gagging simulation. 'Series 7' is likely to provoke similar reactions.
The pitch: six ordinary people are selected at random to take part in a "reality TV" show in which the object is one of brutal simplicity: kill or be killed. Chosen from all walks of life, the 'contenders' are then propelled into a nightmarish cat-and-mouse realm of paranoia, violence and brutality.
The first contender we are introduced to is reigning champion Dawn, eight months pregnant and with 10 lives dispatched in the two previous rounds. The rest of the line-up comprises Tony, the obligatorily unemployed epitome of white trash; religious ER nurse Connie; elderly conspiracy theorist Franklin; all-American girl Lindsay; and terminally ill artist Jeff. The latter, funnily enough, was Dawn's high-school sweetheart.
Perhaps the first question to ask yourself in relation to this film is whether or not you are a fan of the reality TV concept. Audience figures for most of these shows suggest that many people are, whether they admit to it or not, avid fans. Personally, I find the concept sadistic. The only difference between 'Series 7' and 'Big Brother' is that metaphor is being replaced with tangibility. In 'Big Brother', contestants tried to kill each other with their inanity and dullness, here the instrument of death is an infinitely more immediate and, by extension, satisfying revolver.
To give director Daniel Minihan his due, 'Series 7' is shot with a balance of grittiness and sensationalism which a satire of this nature depends heavily upon. Through a series of cheesy, sensationalist action previews, Minihan pumps the reality TV clichés to the limit, which is essential in this context. Ultimately however, it is hard to negate the potential perils of making a movie such as this. It is refreshing that Minihan credits his audience with the intelligence to see 'Series 7' for what it essentially is: a send-up of the reality-TV phenomenon. However, it is also obvious that some audiences are irrefutably naïve and impressionable.
Brooke Smith as Dawn easily takes the acting kudos here. Frazzled and edgy, Smith invests Dawn with the required measure of world-weariness and, crucially, she never succumbs to the temptation to slide into flippant, mocking territory.
If you like reality TV, you will almost certainly like 'Series 7: The Contenders'. If you don't, it's quite likely you'll find it harder to stomach than the voyeuristic nonsense it parodies.