Union Furnace indie film from newcomer director and writer Nicholas Bushman with co-writer Mike Dwyer, uses an intriguing golden lion masked individual as its cover, making one recall thoughts of Eyes Wide Shut (1999), therefore the potential viewer needs to keep an open mind and avoid pre-judging. Many comparisons flow from Bushman, such namely the film Saw (2004) which believe it or not the director had not seen beforehand when creating this feature, but instead of straightforward grisly violence an understandable backstory filters itself into the minds of the audience. Nicholas uses the title to reference a real place in Ohio, dating back to the 1850s, but he goes further with the surrounding areas showing a harden community, suffering in poverty and despair shown in the clear day rather than hiding the darkness.
We learn about Cody (Mike Dwyer) a man suffering from no luck and debt drowning him, and his career path fraught with crime, currently a car thief, who steals a one from a parking lot at church, never a wise maneuver. He finds a man, later known to viewers as the Lion (Seth Hammond) following him, who offers a game with few rules, a grand prize, and entices the response with a bundle of cash, from there the movie, takes a quick uptick, with Cody taken secretly to a hidden location. Herein he meets other contestants, who play an innocent game with a variation to a well-known board game as the losers vanish the remainders find themselves in a dangerous web. The game watched and bet upon by a masked audience giving the nature of the games and the willingness to play, one can see the surpassing of a Saw plotline and more closer to that of David Guy Levy’s Would You Rather (2012). The Lion character enforces a major rule given to the players, no talking about themselves, likely to work for creating alliances, sympathy and thereby influencing the betting and demoralizing the immoral audience. One cannot speak too much on the film, as to giveaway spoilers, needless to say, viewers can only wonder if these games already occur in heartbroken towns, and with little options for the breadwinners, either way a nice way to kill some time.
A thriller film masked in a horror setting, using strange angles and kooky images to convey an uncertain fate for each consonant or least attempt that, it sadly foreshadows the two end players and of course follows the blueprint for the winner in a horror movie cliché. As the actors try to explore their roles, Keith David (The Thing (1982)), nails the performance, as does Seth Hammond both present boldness in their roles in carefully choreographed tempo and swaying of emotions expressed clearly in tone. It becomes a film layered more in dialogue, hence leaning to a dark drama with thriller undertones, rather than pure horror. The primary location of the set, excels with nice visuals and added to the landscape of images ranges from deplorable conditions and creating a depress state all showing the viewer of the absent of hope, a last grasp of fleeting victory in life. Therefore, understand no heaping amounts of bloodshed and brief gore, just a storyline basic description filled with thick emotional content, motivation and drama.
Therefore to comprehend Union Furnace think of it as Saw-lite, with less gore, but more character development, hence skirting the torture-porn element. Yes, the movie uses horror elements, no true jump scares or a polished finish rather leans more too dark drama and thriller techniques to house the story within the confines of wretched gamblers. The movie swirls around the concept of willing participants in a game of rich and poor, rather than kidnapped by force, all trying to earn a better place in life. Would you play this game or just suffer in life?
IMDb rating: 6.6
Baron’s rating: 5/10