Sunday, November 7, 2010

DVD Review: DeathTube (2010)

Cinema Epoch

RATED: Unrated
DIRECTOR: Fukuda Youhei
CAST: Shôichi Matsuda, Wataru Kaoru, Ishino Atsushi, Tsukamoto Sanae

SUMMARY:  There's a new internet craze and eight separate people frequent a website called DeathTube which streams a real time game show in which contestants are put to task under penalty of death if they lose. To their horror each of them awaken to find out they are now contestants on DeathTube as millions of people watch.

FILM: The internet is teaming with websites catering to our darkest desires, one such site is a streaming video site called DeathTube whose logo mimics the ever-popular YouTube. The site delivers a murderous game show wherein "contestants" are coerced to complete a series simple game-based tasks. If they fail they are gruesomely murdered for millions of viewers to see. The site is an underground sensation and only intermittently appears online. Those who watch are fascinated, some think the deaths are faked or staged while others believe them to be true snuff films.

At the start of the film we are introduced to a young man watching DeathTube but he is distracted by his fiance before he sees the bloody outcome. Sometime later he awakens alone in a strange room. He's disoriented and confused and becomes quite shaken once he realizes he's in one of the DeathTube rooms. The room is small and sparsely furnished with a table containing a laptop computer and a small television set. There is also as a smaller table full of seemingly random objects that play into the contests challenges. The room is wired with several web cams including the laptop. On the laptop there are eight camera feeds visible on the screen showing all the other contestants in this round of DeathTube, each in their own identical room. All eight contestants can see and hear each other via the laptops and are able to coordinate their efforts to some degree. On the television set a computer animated yellow bear calling himself Ponkichi appears and informs the group that they must all compete against each other in a series of contests and that the losers will die. The lone survivor will be allowed to leave unharmed. Unlike the Saw films the games are seemingly non-threatening and are actually a bit comedic in nature; word puzzles, rubik cubes, history and children's games are all included. These games though non-threatening in and of themselves hold the threat of death with each round. Soon after the start of the game contestants start dying in bloody ways.

Eventually Ponkichi appears in person dressed in a giant yellow bear suit and armed with a pistol.  As the game continues the challenges become more physical in nature and the players start to turn against each other. As the final few compete for survival twists and turn are revealed adding to the lunacy of the and threat of the situation.

The premise though not wholly original was well executed. It's a demented idea for a film but it works. We've all seen crazy shit on YouTube and the idea that live deaths are streaming on the Internet is not a great stretch of the imagination, in fact it's probably more common than I'd care to think about. The demented giant yellow bear is a very surreal and threatening element to the film and the whacky film score adds to the game show-from-hell atmosphere. The film is well stocked with bloody violence though not to a fantastic level. To be honest I'm not a fan of what I like to call the high-pressured Asian blood splatter we've seen in films like Tokyo Gore Police (2008) and Machine Girl (2008) and that style of gore is represented here. I didn't think any of the deaths were particularly great, a few were decent, but it was the deadly game show elements that kept my attention, the deaths were not the focus of the film.

I'm not someone who reads a lot into films for the most part. I don't dissect films to evaluate their subtext and social commentary. But I would be blind not see see that DeathTube is making some attempt at commenting on our need as a society to indulge our darker interests online, the search for entertainment regardless of the expense of others. Much like the idea of live streaming deaths online the thought of a game show where persons lives are in jeopardy is not too far from Jack Ass or Total Wipeout, a theme that was similarly explored in Running Man (1987).

DVD: The DeathTube DVD from Cinema Epoch is presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic wide screen with a 2.0 stereo Japanese soundtrack with optional English language subtitles.  The only special features are a collection of Cinema Epoch film trailers.

VERDICT: DeathTube's two-hour running time is a bit long and could have easily been edited to a more brisk 90 minute film and the acting is a bit spotty and overwrought in places but the demented and dark premise is strong. I can see fans of Saw (2004) and/or Cube (1997) enjoying this quite a bit.   *** (3 out of 5 stars)