Max Winslow and the House of Secrets, 2019.
Directed by Sean Olson.
Starring Sydne Mikelle, Tanner Buchanan, Chad Michael Murray, Jade Chynoweth, Tyler Christopher, Jason Genao, and Marina Sirtis.
Five teens are chosen to compete in a game devised by an eccentric billionaire, at his sprawling mansion. But things take a darker turn as the competition progresses…
For YA-film lovers the year 2020 must be a particularly dismal one. With mega franchises such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and the Divergent series concluding their respective story arcs there has been a dearth in such films during the past few years. But Max Winslow and the House of Secrets should certainly fill this empty void and whet the appetites of even the most hardcore YA-film fans. A small caveat for the uninitiated though, if you are going in expecting a large scale big-budget blockbuster, you might end up being disappointed. But if what you’re looking for is a small-scale family friendly drama filled with suspense and adventure, then this film will certainly not disappoint.
In a lot of ways, the plot of Max Winslow and the House of Secrets shares a lot in common with Roald Dahl’s seminal novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, whose story also revolves around five children and an unconventional competition to win the keys to a confectionary wonderland. But instead of a whimsically eccentric Willy Wonka, we get a more insidious HAL 9000-esque A.I named Haven, who steer the hapless participants through the labyrinthine mansion, which soon turns out to be their worst nightmare.
Four-time Emmy award winner Sean Olson does a fantastic job helming this modestly budgeted sci-fi thriller. Not letting his creativity be restricted by the film’s budget the talented director finds inventive ways to pull off the action set pieces featured in the narrative with enough style and panache. Performance wise Sydne Mikelle truly shines as Max, imbuing her character with the right amount of charm, heart and humor. She is instantly likeable and relatable to the general audience, and her performance certainly comes off as the best of the YA bunch, with Tanner Buchanan and Jade Chynoweth being the other clear standouts. Chynoweth in particular turns in an impressive performance as the self-obsessed, social-media influencer Sophia. And last but not least, how can we forget One Tree Hill alum Chad Michael Murray? This is the second feature I’m seeing him in this year, the first being the utterly forgettable Bruce Willis vehicle Survive the Night. Murray comfortably slips in to the shoes of the eccentric but charismatic billionaire Atticus Virtue and does what is required from him for the role, which is more than sufficient.
In spite of its relatively short run-time each of the five characters has their own poignant character arc and life-altering experience, which leaves them a little worse for wear but rest assured they all become better versions of themselves when their adventure comes to a close. The even pacing of the film owes a lot to Jeff Wild’s taut yet meaningful script and Olson’s skills as the flick’s director and editor. Yep, you saw that correctly. Olson not only directed this film but was also responsible for its editing as well. Here’s hoping that this talented individual would fall on Hollywood’s radar sooner, rather than later. Also, worth mentioning here is composer Jason Brandt’s musical contribution to the film which elevates the action spectacle and heightens the emotional aspects of the story, and DOP Isaac Alongi’s outstanding cinematography.
Max Winslow and the House of Secrets doesn’t try to break the mold in terms of originality. But it certainly accomplishes what it set out to do by delivering an entertaining, family-friendly adventure with an emotional punch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.