A prodigy, a genius, a philanthropist, a multi-billionaire: Atticus Virtue is all these things, yet he has never forgotten his beginnings, the school he went to, Bentonville High in Northwest Arkansas, from which establishment five students have been selected to compete in a night of games at his home, the winner being handed the keys to Virtue Manor.
Instagram star Sophia Peach is the most popular girl in school, at least in her head, and lacrosse champion Connor Lawson is heading to college on a scholarship; Benny Carrasco is happiest playing first person shooter Fortify on his tablet while Aiden Ross is never happy, and that just leaves Maxine Winslow, friendless computer nerd.
Greeted by the artificial intelligence which runs Virtue Manor, HAVEN, and Sir Morded, the robotic servant, Aiden makes it clear: they are not friends and he expects to win, but while some of the challenges are individual others will require them to work together, not if they are to win the challenge, but if they are to survive.
Directed by Sean Olson from a script by Jeff Wild, Max Winslow and the House of Secrets is a science fiction tinged adventure whose headline draws, Riverdale’s Chad Michael Murray and Picard’s Marina Sirtis as Atticus and the voice of HAVEN, play strictly second fiddle to the youthful stars of the ensemble, Jade Chynoweth, Tanner Buchanan, Jason Genao, Emery Kelly and Sydne Mikelle as Sophia, Connor, Benny, Aiden and Max.
The cast all possessed of talent and charm as well as perfect bone structures, Max Winslow and the House of Secrets is the eccentricity of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the sweet filling replaced with something of more substance than the immediate gratification of fondant, the characters breaking out of the roles their peers have cast them even as the film slips sideways into scenes out of the horror playbook.
The games physical and mathematical, practical and virtual, directly presented or hidden in plain sight, the ultimate destination is perhaps predictable given the target demographic but the path taken is not the conventional ride, moving from the sinister to the outright menacing as the competitors are forced to face their fears about their own shortcomings and the expectations of their parents.