“I put you in charge of my death and you fucked it up.”
With the dropping prices of good quality cameras and increasing access to half decent editing software, the world craps out no budget movies every few minutes these days. But as recently as a decade ago, they were still a novelty. And when a feature length film shot on video made it all the way to a major release and actual distribution, it stood out. In 2001, one of those rare shot on video, no budget indie oddities was Series 7: The Contenders. I may have taken 14 years to finally get around to watching it, but the landscape of indies back then meant that I have never forgotten that it’s out there, and it never disappeared from my, “I Should See Really That Some Day” list.
In some perverse alternate version of the present day (well, 2001present day), reality TV has been taken to a new level. The Contenders, a competition reality show, picks everyday citizens and forces them to play to the death. But there’s no arena or stadium for their battle. It’s played out across an entire city as the contestants, and the regular citizens, all go about their regular lives. With each contender followed by a camera crew, the only way to win is to kill the others and be the last left standing.
The contenders are Dawn (Brooke Smith), the current champion and most successful contender of all time. Even being eight months pregnant doesn’t slow her down. Connie (Marylouise Burke), the middle aged emergency room nurse who is one of the few characters in this world to have a healthy disgust for the game. Jeffrey (Glenn Fitzgerald), an ex flame of Dawn’s who’s currently battling cancer. Anthony (Michael Kaychek), a blue collar guy with a temper. Franklin (Richard Venture), a grizzled old hermit. And Lindsay (Merritt Wever), a self absorbed teenager who acts like a self absorbed teenager.
What I like most about Series 7: The Contenders is that it’s not a movie about a fictitious TV show, it’s made to look like a long episode of the TV show itself. We don’t see the producers and people behind the scenes making decisions about their show and their contestants. We don’t see viewers at home, watching the show and reacting to it. Every single second of footage is the TV show in action.
Watching it in 2015, the way this movie gets the look, feel and tropes of reality TV right is impressive. But when I thought about how old it is, I was realty blown away with just how spot on it is. When this movie was conceived and being made, shows like Survivor and Big Brother hadn’t happened yet. So that means these guys didn’t do a great job of mimicking that style. They accomplished the way more impressive feat of perfectly predicting what TV was going to become in the next 15 years.