15th Feb2021

‘Max Winslow and the House of Secrets’ VOD Review

by Dom Hastings

Stars: Chad Michael Murray, Sydne Mikelle, Tanner Buchanan, Jason Genao, Emery Kelly, Jade Chynoweth, Tyler Christopher, Anton Starkman, Chuck Meré, Juli Tapken, Candice Michele Barley | Written by Jeff Wild | Directed by Sean Olson

“As soon as we get to this place, we’re enemies.”

Imagine a family film with vague likenesses to both ​Willy Wonka ​and the ​Goosebumps ​series, that manages to strike many chords of relevancy in a digital world… You have ​Max Winslow and the House of Secrets​.

Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray) is a billionaire tech genius – ​Max Winslow ​opens with a series of newscasts, almost in propaganda form, celebrating the life and career of this individual. But he isn’t the main character. In fact, there are at least five characters with greater importance. Maxine Winslow (Sydne Mikelle) – the titular character – is one of five lucky, but quite varied teens, fortunate enough to be selected to compete in a competition where the prize is…Atticus Virtue’s mansion. The challenge? Survive the wrath of an AI system.

Because of its family nature of Max Winslow and the House of Secrets​, the peril in which the teenagers face are never too explicit, though the boundaries are pushed here and there. ​Max Winslow ​is not too watered down nor is it too dangerous either. Again, because of its family nature, there is a safety net of sorts for the safety of those involved, but again, there are several instances where the boundaries are pushed. Because of these notions, ​Max Winslow ​is much more of a thrill than initially anticipated. Additionally, the familiarity present within ​Max Winslow and the House of Secrets​ establishes a much more welcoming approach and accessibility to the film. HAVEN (not the UK holiday camp) – the antagonising AI voiced by Marina Sirtis – successfully mirrors the legendary HAL from ​2001: A Space Odyssey​, but without being too excessive or vulgar.

Max Winslow v​iews in a sinister fashion as it does in a wholesome sense also. Under the direction of Sean Olsen, this picture manages to transcend back and forth successfully between its creepy nature and innocence. Ultimately, a clear family film, but under that umbrella, ​Max Winslow e​ xists as a sci-fi horror to some extent. All throughout, there is an overwhelming tech vibe with an ambiance which occasionally feels forced, yet very modern and appropriate. As expected, the tech involved ranges from VR to social media and beyond. The, perhaps, over-accommodation of tech for its teen members of the audience, does pose great interest for the spectacle of it, but great relevance too as we implicate the dangers of social media, data protection etc. etc.

Away from the tech backdrop, the core of Max Winslow and the House of Secrets​ ​lies within the ensemble of its young cast and their pursuit of both victory and, gradually, survival. This is a film where the harsh differences between individuals is overcome and bettered by the collective good. The trait is exceptionally routine as for decades, we’ve seen many individuals – both young and old – form groups in response to oppressive figures. Five teenagers pushing themselves to overcome the odds whilst evolving into better people can be read as a metaphor for the characters going through puberty. Their exit from the house is the making of them as people.

Ultimately, ​Max Winslow and the House of Secrets​ ​is a terrific adventure for the whole family. A film with good intentions, always keeping you on edge, this may not be the greatest horror house movie ever made, but instead, it is one hell of a modern, technology-based nightmare.

*** 3/5

Max Winslow and the House of Secrets​ is available on digital now from Munro Films.

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