Edward Furlong has not just gotten chubby wobbly, but he seems to be wallowing in his ability to walk and jiggle at the same time. You have to wonder if the former promising actor (he was John Conner in “T2” for God’s sake!) has completely given up ever retaking the mantle of leading man status once more. Then again, considering Furlong’s recent oeuvre, it’s perhaps too much to expect the young man (just 28 at the filming of “Cruel World”) to make an effort to stay in leading man shape. To be fair, Furlong’s current body shape does make for an effective villain, as we can easily see him as the loser who gets rejected on reality shows; and yes, he’s also the type to go off the deep end after said rejection and go on a killing spree.
“Cruel World” stars Furlong as Philip, a Reality TV reject who, in the film’s first 15 minutes, exacts bloody revenge on the woman (an extended cameo by Jaime Pressly) who spurned him on a “Joe Millionaire”-type show. As soon as Pressly is dispatched (to run back to the set of “My name is Earl”, one assumes), Philip takes over her house to get it ready for a gaggle of college-age contestants that have arrived to participate in Philip’s fake Reality TV show. The contestants are the usual bunch of Teen Horror movie stereotypes, and to the screenwriter’s credit, they actively (with a wink and a nod) admit to their characters’ shallow characterizations. But Philip’s reality show has a twist: whoever gets voted off doesn’t go home, they get dead!
Made sometime in 2005, “Cruel World” is about 5 years too late to cash in on the Reality TV Gone Wrong subgenre of horror movies, with the most recent being the British “House of 9”. One of the very first was the shot-on-DV “Series 7”, the Canadian “My Little Eye”, and other similar efforts from around the world. (You can even find a Chilean effort in the subgenre called “The Nominee” if you are so inclined.) In this respect, there’s not a whole lot “Cruel World” can do that would make it stand out from the usual genre fare.
The film’s biggest flaw may be its own Reality TV concept. You don’t have to be a Reality TV know-it-all to know that this isn’t how Reality TV shows are run. People aren’t bussed into isolated locations then left to their own devices while a singular, faceless voice directs over a speaker. As well, shouldn’t Reality TV shows have cameramen, you know, shooting the show? Instead, Furlong’s entire “crew” consists of a couple of close-circuit TV cameras and his retarded brother, while he directs in a less-than-convincing fashion from his “command center” — essentially a room in the house that the contestants are staying in. (Do they share a bathroom, one wonders.)
If it’s not clear by now, Philip’s villainous plan is not very well thought-out. The fact that he’s culled random contestants to torture and kill already makes the whole enterprise simply pointless. Director Kelsey Howard also takes great liberties with time and space, and Furlong’s brother gets to appear and disappear at will, apparently endowed with that one thing all masked maniac killers have, his very own personal teleportation device. And how exactly does the crazed Philip arrange all of the elaborate stunts for the contestants to perform each day, when all he has is a hulking retarded brother to do all the work? (Remember, Philip spends 90% of the movie in his command center boozing and eating and slurring his orders to the contestants through a microphone.)
“Cruel World’s” only redeeming feature is watching Edward Furlong flaunting his lack of physical, shall we say, attractiveness. Furlong has either gotten so deep into his loser-psycho character’s psyche (ala Robert De Niro and his obsessive method acting style), or the guy has completely given up even trying. Watching Furlong work is like watching the perennially creepy as hell Billy Drago before he started getting set in his creepy ways. And as if to give the finger to critics who have bemoan his current paunchiness, Furlong’s Philip is played as a sloth, forever shoving food or booze or both at the same time into his mouth. It’s quite a wonderful performance by Furlong, and really the only thing that makes “Cruel World” worthwhile at all.
Furlong aside, “Cruel World” is your average Teen Horror movie, and it makes no real effort to extend beyond that limited range. There is even a moment in the film that makes me wonder if Furlong didn’t just decide he was through with the movie, and ran off the set never to be seen again. This would easily account for “Cruel World’s” rather abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. The film does miss a chance to give the audience one last twist, which would be making one of the contestants a traitor, revealed to be part of the scheme all along. Sadly, this is not the case, which makes “Cruel World” essentially Furlong’s audition tape to be the next Billy Drago. Edward, you got the job, my man!
Kelsey T. Howard (director) / Eugene Hess, Paul Lawrence, Paul T. Murray (screenplay)
CAST: Edward Furlong …. Philip
Jaime Pressly …. Catherine
Daniel Franzese …. Claude
Susan Ward …. Ashley
Andrew Keegan …. Bobby
Laura Ramsey …. Jenny
Nicole Bilderback …. Mikko