Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!
Plot Summary: Gamers meet at an amusement park where they are forced to play games...to the death!
Review: Who did the marketing for these movies? Does that poster say "please buy me" to anyone?! As I mentioned in the review for "Dead Cruise," this is the other half of the promotional "Twilight Syndrome" movies, but it's much better in terms of story and taking place at an amusement park is a fun setting. In fact, this is a surprisingly good, little film with a few unexpected twists and moments that set it apart from the numerous Asian horror films that reuse the same routines. Unfortunately, they must have blown the majority of their budget on renting the amusement park and that cruise ship, because the effects here are horrendous! If you thought DC looked cheap at times, wait until you see virtually every death in this film. On top of that, the running time manages to be shorter than DC--making this film clock in at barely over an hour when not counting the credits. The ending also leaves something to be desired, but I'll get to that later.
The first thing you'll notice is the creepy carnival music that sounds like it should be in "Hellraiser;" this helps enhance the mood for me over the dullness in DC. We meet a guy who is clearly outlined to be the hero who suddenly finds himself at the appropriately titled "Twilight Park;" this aspect will come to be significant in a cool twist. Seven gamers who allegedly scored the highest in the last "Twilight Syndrome" game have been invited to a special event held by the game's creator; I have no idea if this is supposed to be the real life maker or not. The seven are mostly your typical geeks with the exception of one wannabe tough guy. The girls of the group are cute, especially the biggest dork, Mei, played by Moe Arai. Actually, let me get this out of the way regarding the ladies: one looks like a '60s housewife for some odd reason, one mindlessly tells a guy to stop looking up her skirt yet she's wearing shorts, and Ms. Arai looks like she's auditioning for "Men in Black." As the event is about to begin, one of the dorks is mysteriously called away as we are introduced to the movie's antagonist: a mildly creepy clown. They definitely wasted a chance here with the clown, because with the right lighting and angles he could have been downright disturbing. Oh well. The clown tells the group that the kid that was called away is out of the game for blabbing about the event on the internet. Next, the clown explains that the creator has developed an experimental new way to play games that he wants these kids to try out in the amusement park; at this point you learn all the extras that had been in the background are gone...but were they ever there? Hmm.
The group is then tasked to look around the park for balloons to find which ones have a game cartridge in them that plugs into each character's Nintendo DS; if you don't find one in time you're out of the game. At this point, the audience is given a chance to get to know the characters who appear as stereotypical bitches, at first, except hero man and Mei; if you can't figure things out on your own, the clown takes the time to skip exposition for us and sum up the characters' personalities with tacked on cheap shots against them like how one girl wants implants. When the time is almost up, everyone has a cartridge but wannabe tough guy, and, luckily for him, hero man gives him an extra one he found so they all make it to the next round. But the clown informs the group that one of them is not making it to the next round anyway. This is when the film ditches the cliches and takes things up a notch. After preparing an elaborate trap--a Ferris wheel cranking up a metal plank into a harpoon shot--you think wannabe tough guy is toast, but, instead, the guy set up to appear as the main character gets killed! I have to give them credit, they had me fooled. They spend about 20 minutes building this guy up, and even though you get the feeling Mei will be important, you don't suspect she will transition into the real main character. The only downside to this twist is the laughable effect of the guy dying...ugh so bad. Oh, and the reason hero man died was because the rules of the first task said you can only have one cartridge. Scared shitless, everyone takes off running out of the park when they realize they are trapped by a barrier. This is when upskirt girl dies since she unknowingly runs out of the barrier and is electrocuted to death. This should also clue the audience in on what's happening since the further the girl runs the more pixelated the background becomes. I should also note that poor upskirt girl is the only person who doesn't get a chance to redeem herself.
The clown shows up to tell them that the game is to the death, they can't leave unless they finish, and that the creator wanted to see how things would go without resets and continues; this is pretty much the opposite of DC's premise. Not taking too kindly to this revelation, wannabe tough guy goes berserk and beats the clown to death...only problem, there's another clown to take his place! The next task is to stop this man-eating balloon that chases the group around the park. I'm sure they imagined this to look cool in the script, but it looks so bad and makes baby noises for whatever reason. Wannabe tough guy ends up saving Mei before he is devoured by the balloon, and Mei is told she has to make up for this sacrifice by the '60s girl. Mei does this feat by luring the balloon at her when it somehow pops on her broken glasses. Now down to three people already, the kids are told the next task is to shoot crossbow bolts at balloons while the clown rides on a rail for one lap around the park. They also learn that the game will never end until there's only one survivor and even then that person must win whatever is the last challenge they're playing. When the clown begins to ride, they realize what became of the guy that was called away as his corpse is on this particular ride. The only character I haven't mentioned so far was the token fat geek, who was being the biggest bitch, but he finally redeems himself by helping '60s girl, who is injured, by carrying her on his back to chase the clown's ride. I really liked that the characters started off like cliches but gained some depth unlike DC. Eventually time is almost up and Mei tries to be a badass by taking her last shot from the roller coaster. Just when you think she will miss, fat geek and '60s girl kill the clown so that she will land her shot without interference.
This is probably the point where the plot gets a little sketchy with it suddenly becoming night and a shit ton of clowns emerge seeking out what they claim is an intruder to the game. Again, missed opportunity to make these clowns look freaky when the potential was right there. The three hide while brushing up on their archery skills, I suppose, since later they're all dead shots with those crossbows. The intruder turns out to be the actual game creator who explains they're in the matrix in a manner of speaking. The creator developed this virtual reality for the best gamers, but he somehow lost control with the clowns acting like agent Smiths. If you die in the game, you also die in reality so you're fucked. The only way to end things is to throw a special game cartridge into a magic vortex overlooking the amusement park. Uhh...okay. When they go to the escape portal the creator came through, fat geek gets killed pathetically. The creator is attacked by a clown and they try to turn him into an agent...I mean, clown, while Mei slips through the portal by herself. The makeup effects on the creator, turning into a clown, were pretty good and it makes me wonder why they didn't stick to this the whole time. Mei finds she is back at home and decides to return to the game in order to save '60s girl since now they've become friends. '60s girl gets captured by the clowns but Mei runs them over with a bumper car. The girls make it to this vortex the creator talked about and throw the cartridge in, thus, releasing them from the amusement park. Mei is happy she finally has a friend and wonders where she may be since all she knows is '60s girl's name. The film ends with a final shot of a vortex-looking thing in the sky. Soooo...she's still in the game? The real world is the matrix? A dream within a dream? Donnie Darko? You tell me?
Yes, this film is corny, but it has a lot of good things going for it. The characters are interesting and toy with your expectations of them, the twist regarding the main guy is fantastic, the use of the amusement park setting was fun and they utilized it properly, the girls are cute, and the story was engaging without ever feeling like a blatant advertisement (ala "The Wizard"). However, the effects are a serious, if not the primary, detriment to the movie in its entirety; there are a lot of ways they could have worked around this. The film felt too short considering it had a lot more to offer, I believe, and effort should have been put into expanding the ideas. And, of course, the ending leaves you hanging and the explanations for why everything was happening are questionable. Honestly, had they fixed these mistakes, polished up a few ideas, I think this could have easily been in the 7/10 territory for the originality and creativity alone. It's still a good movie that's highly entertaining and should come as a surprise treat, but it's hard to ignore the flaws. Overall, I think if you watch this along with "Dead Cruise" you will have the optimal enjoyment from these films as a double feature. But like I said before, if you must choose one, considering the rarity and price issues, get this one.
Notable Moment: When the first guy gets killed. This is notable for both looking like shit and coming as a big shock.
Final Rating: 6/10