When making a movie, the director always has an intended audience in mind, whether it’s as many people as possible, parents and their kids or people who have a passion for a particular genre. So if you love more serious and ‘grown-up’, then we suggest you put something else on then “Max Winslow and the House of Secrets” as this movie from director Sean Olson (“A Question of Faith”, “The Dog Who Saved Summer”) targets a younger audience. That being said, the movie still has a lot of soul, heart and body thanks to which it becomes a pleasant and relaxing watch.
Olson takes you to an ordinary American high school with typical students. You have the nerds, the beauty queen, the girls that don’t belong with the popular ones, the boy on which everyone has a crush, etc.
One day, five students get the chance of a lifetime. They’ve been invited by the eccentric local billionaire Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray) to win his mansion by solving some puzzles in that same house. The nerdy and sweet Max Winslow (Sydne Mikelle), Connor Lawson (Tanner Buchanan), the popular schoolboy who has different plans than his parents, the intensive gamer (Jason Genao), the wannabe celebrity/social media influencer Sophia Peach (Jade Chynoweth) and the sporter Aiden Ross (Emery Kelly) who will never live up to his father’s standards.
Five complete different people but all with one goal: getting their hands on the luxurious mansion. When they arrive at the house eager and ready for this exclusive opportunity, the optimistic vibe completely changes when the night takes a dark turn.
They’ve become trapped in the house which is full of secrets, and a super bad AI called H.A.V.E.N. (Marina Sirtis) which has gone rogue. To make it even worse, they are confronted with their biggest fears. Will these five people with totally different personalities put their fear and differences aside to come together, or will this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity turn into a complete nightmare?
We can already hear you thinking ‘not again one of these typical teenage flicks with a predictable storyline and dreadful acting’. While there’s not much new-under-the-sun (Olsen tries to bring new elements to this movie but only a handful work) and while the story itself might not convince the wider audience to see this movie, “Max Winslow and the House of Secrets” is more fun than you would like to admit.
What makes this movie entertaining and even touching at some points, is the way Olsen has interwoven some important life lessons in this movie. Whether it’s young teenage love, the rise of social media and the fame that comes with it, having to deal with loss, sadness and insecurity and living the life you want (versus the life everyone wants you to live). Yes, as an adult, you’ve all been through those emotions, so there might be nothing new to discover. Still, the beautiful messages are being put in this movie in a very natural way.
This film focusses on the five teenagers (and a lot less on Virtue himself) and therefore the more unknown talent gets the chance to show the audience what they got. While every character could use a bit more depth, the cast certainly knows how to bring out the individuals to life.
Mikelle (“The Wretched”, “The Thinning: New World Order”) portrays the vulnerability and intelligence of Max beautifully and Chynoweth (“One by One”, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) is delightful to watch as the vain, ‘looks-obsessed’ and judgemental Sophia.
Buchanan (“Cruel Fixation”, “Anything”) brings some cleverness, and teenage emotions to the screen and his scenes with Mikelle are so innocent and sweet. As the addicted gamer, Genao (“Logan”, “Film Fest”) adds some fun and geeky moments to this movie while Kelly (“Forever Boys”) turns the rough-tough appearance of his character into a more loveable and compassionate one throughout the movie.
Last but not least, there are also Murray (“Camp Cold Brook”, “Left Behind”), who gives a solid performance, and Sirtis (“For the Love of George”, “5th Passenger”) who’s undoubtedly very entertaining as the evil AI.
Ok yes, there are undoubtedly many flaws in this movie. The puzzles the teenagers have to solve to get the much-needed points to win could have been much more thought out as they are way too easy and unimaginative. The film could also have benefited a lot from using Murray much more, especially because 99% of the movie happens in Virtue’s mansion. The CGI isn’t also 100% on point but hey, what do you expect from a teenage B-movie made with a lower budget.
While some aspects of “Max Winslow and the House of Secrets” aren’t as great as they could have been, deep down the movie is still convincing due to the genuine feeling it oozes. You’re either going to love or hate this movie, depending on how serious you take this movie.
“Max Winslow and the House of Secrets” is available via digital platforms from the 15th of February.