Still, Ula cries when she shows us her boobs, and her tears are meant to speak not only for her character, but also for her creators, whose pessimistic view of social media is less than convincing. Another character, in a previous scene, is accused of crying “crocodile tears,” but Ula’s sobs are “more authentic,” according to sadistic gamemaster Nero (Jerome Velinsky). “People love authenticity,” he adds, boldly providing “Funhouse” with its epitaph.
The sight of a half-naked woman crying is exactly the kind of exploitative image viewers are supposed to feel bad about staring at. Ula is, after all, looking directly at the camera and flashing us from inside a “confession booth.” At the time, she tries to convince House of Fun viewers to vote for her so that she doesn’t have to participate in the next elimination challenge, which, again, is fatal. The FBI is aware of Nero’s online game show, but cannot locate him in time to stop competitors like Ula from killing each other.
So we are stuck with Ula and the others as they fight among themselves and struggle to gain the approval of internet thugs. If they don’t get enough votes, they have to participate in degrading party-game style contests, like “Piñata Party”, where one participant is tied up and attacked with a spiked baseball bat; the other competitor (the one with the bat) is blindfolded and must wear soundproof headphones. Nero’s funhouse is a well-padded meat grinder, complete with high-end furniture and accessories, like the Korova Milk Bar-style nude mannequins hugging the living room flat screen. This whine-worthy reference to pop culture is as scathing as this media review is.
As for Ula: she is one of a handful of meat puppet protagonists, none of whom are more sympathetic than their inhospitable circumstances. The same goes for the film’s main protagonist, backing vocalist turned reality TV star Kasper Nordin (Valter Skarsgård). Kasper is sometimes presented as a rightly edgy voice of moral relativity, someone who can respond to Nero’s speeches about the soulless and brainless “Internet age”. “A woman’s breasts are more censored than a slit throat, the ‘f ** k’ word more than a severed head,” Nero said at one point. “And look no further than any comment thread from any social media platform to see how quickly harmless debate can escalate into aggression, violence and hatred.” Kasper’s clapbacks are sadly just as superficial – “What, mum and dad didn’t like You couldn’t get a date at the prom?” – and only seemingly more satisfying given how much the film sets are often unconvincing.