Reality TV brings out the cynic in everyone, but none more cynical than “The Nominee.” The wide international impact of this punchy, nasty take on the tube trend is all the more remarkable because pic’s an entirely Chilean production. The twisted child of co-helmers and writers Nacho Argiro and Gabriel Lopez — themselves South American reality shows creators — is caught in a trap of wanting to lampoon TV’s worst tendencies while at the same time exploiting them. Bang-up B.O. in Chile has led to a solid fest run and unusual crossover to other South American territories. Cult status awaits.
The idea of creating a reality gameshow that has a contestant going around and killing the competition has been visited before in such pics as “Series 7” (which actually went further, basing the entire game on homicide), making “The Nominee” much less of a shock and rendering its futurist time setting in 2006 quite beside the point. Unlike the extensive simulation of an actual show in “Series 7,” though, new pic is fashioned like a traditional film, shifting character perspectives and pointing a condemning finger at the dastardly creators in the control room.
Swift intros of the contestants in gameshow “Baja Tierra” are intercut with the studio, where suave host Rodrigo (Cristian De La Fuente) updates viewers on the action. Twelve contestants have been flown via helicopter to a remote spot in the Andes where they were taken to a claustrophobic underground bunker. Viewers are to vote weekly on which nominees should be kicked off the show, with only one, uh, survivor.
Given the filmmakers’ TV background, an acrid self-hatred soon permeates the movie, since the director/creator, Patricio (Francisco Reyes), is right away shown as having nary a drop of sympathy for the plight or condition of the imprisoned contestants. Patricio’s worst instincts for ratings domination — he’s up against a major soccer match on a competing web — kick in when one of the nominees, Miguel (Sebastian Layseca) snaps on the air and starts murdering his fellow noms one by one.
The crucial catch with pic’s concept is that “Baja Tierra” is aired live, thus beaming uncensored whatever goes on between the players — the good or, plentifully in this case, the bad, from verbal insults to sex and murder. The Chilean public soon catches on to what’s happening, and of course, it’s a huge hit. Shame on the auds for wanting blood, the film seems to say, even as the film itself dwells on every corpse Miguel leaves in his wake.
“The Nominee” brings little new to the argument, long adored by moviemakers, that TV culture is so much worse than the movies themselves. Instead, pic uses the issue as barely disguised window-dressing for what it basically is — a slasher film, lovingly detailing the crazed Miguel shooting, suffocating, knifing and drowning his victims. Their losses hardly register since characters — ranging from a randy would-be model (Daniella Tobar) to the token gay contestant (Juan Pablo Ogalde) — are barely introduced before they’re dispatched.
A certain dose of intrigue slips in as the control room staff deduces that Miguel has chatted with each player, found out their worst fear, and then has proceeded to kill each one according to that fear. And as in every slasher pic, dumb plot points intrude, including a whopper about how staffers deliberately planted a gun in the bunker while never once imagining that it would be found.
Thesps appear to have studied their horror movies, with plenty of screaming gals and guys running about, while Layseca pours on the madman shtick. A certain slickness blunts the effect of what could have been fun trash in the Corman tradition, and in the end, the rampant cynicism toward the whole human race leaves a nauseous after-effect.
Pic is part of a resurgent Chilean film production wave, showing flashy tech chops in lensing, sound and editing that are unlike other local films.