HalloWWEen: Escape the Undertaker

Escape the Undertaker and all the images you see in this review are owned by Netflix and WWE

Directed by Ben Simms

WWE has fallen PRETTY far in the last few years which can be attributed to a lot of things, but the most obvious of them is the arrival of AEW who have been killing it in the ratings recently to the consternation of Vince and crew.  That said, if there’s ONE area where they are still the undisputed rulers of in this business, making fun things only tangentially related to wrestling!  AEW doesn’t have a movie studio, and while they may have one reality show, half of WWE’s programming these days seems to have zeroed in on that market with pretty significant success!  Being the established brand CLEARLY has its benefits, and while we probably won’t be getting another season of the Big Show Show, their relationship with Netflix has given us THIS little gem just in time for the Halloween season!  Does this interactive movie pack enough chills and thrills to delight even the most jaded horror fan, or does this fall even flatter than Seth Rollins’ Monday Night Messiah gimmick?  Let’s find out!!

You may have always wondered what a guy like The Undertaker did on his days off, and apparently the answer is to live in a dilapidated mansion with security cameras all over the place much like the terrifying hotel in The Collection!  All of this seems to be to protect his precious urn that gives him his dark powers and glows bright purple when you get close to it, but on this fateful Halloween night, he is greeted by some unexpected guests!  The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods) want to “borrow” the urn to see if they mix its dark magic with the Power of Positivity (it’s a wrestling thing; don’t worry about it) and so they start knock-knock-knocking on his front door asking to see it.  Now The Undertaker, under normal circumstances, would have just given them all Tomb Stone Piledrivers, but the urn seems to be reacting to their presence so perhaps he can use their souls to add to the urn’s already impressive power!  He unlocks the door from his secret security room and the New Day enter to find spooky fog, mysterious voices, and a morgue in the basement, all in their quest to find the urn and use its powers for good!  Can you guide the New Day through whatever perilous traps and soul crushing trials the Undertaker has in store for them?  What happens if you make mistakes that drain our heroes of their positive attitudes?  Do you think this is what The Undertaker does every Halloween; just stare at his computer all day and hope that someone will try to mess with him?

REALLY don’t want to see his browser history…

Well I thought the whole thing was pretty entertaining from start to finish!  Perhaps a bit disappointing in terms of its limited scope, but the wrestlers themselves are fun to watch as they Scooby-Doo their way around the place and I really loved what they did with the setting!  A lot of the time it doesn’t look any better than your local Escape Room but there is some campy fun to be had with that particular aesthetic and there are moments where the visuals have some flourish.  I particularly liked all the little details when the three guys were facing their fears towards the end of their journey which, at least in terms of Kofi’s challenge, genuinely gets to the heart of the character as they are portrayed in WWE.  I wish the other two got that treatment, but they still have a lot of fun with how they face their greatest fears.  There’s just a fun and lighthearted vibe to the whole thing that manages to capture the whimsical side of Halloween, and as a wrestling fan there are some fun things to discover here; particularly a great little tribute to the late Paul Bearer (William Moody) who shows up as a program on The Undertaker’s convoluted security system.

“I’m what you might call… A GHOST in the machine! MWA HA HA HA HAA!”

So it has all the trappings you want from something like this, both in terms of wrestling fan service and a haunted house experience, but how are the performances and the story?  After all, wrestlers aren’t exactly known for their acting chops aside from Dwayne Johnson, John Cena, The Miz of course, and… I don’t know, Roddy Piper I guess?  It does help that the script here doesn’t ask for much from anyone other than to do their usual shtick with the New Day being all chipper and goofy while The Undertaker stays menacing and aloof.  He DOES come off less like a Machiavellian ghoul of pure terror than he does a REALLY stern dad that’s super disappointed in his kids, but for this kind of thing, it works.  There’s not much of a mystery here for them to solve or even much danger to thwart which is a bit of a bummer, but I can see why they wouldn’t want to make it too complicated since it’s intended for families, and the New Day do get to stretch their acting chops a bit through their interpersonal interactions rather than through the machinations of the plot.  It’s not much, but there are points where they strain under the stress of the situation and almost lash out at each other which is just enough for the big FACE YOUR FEARS moment to make sense.  Since it’s wrestlers we should also talk about what kind of action scenes are in here, which should be a quick discussion since there are hardly any.  I think the most dangerous thing someone does is surf on a utility cart, and the finale is not unlike one of those Cinematic Matches that were all the rage last year, though leaning more towards MOVIE FIGHTING than using creative camera techniques to shoot a wrestling match.  It’s definitely a movie that is held afloat by the personalities in play and less by its story or set pieces as the New Day are always a delight to watch and The Undertaker can still lend some serious gravity to this character even in something as goofy as this.

“All I wanted was to watch The Great Pumpkin this Halloween. Spent five bucks on Apple TV for NOTHING, so now you must pay with your souls!” “I mean I’ve got a few dollars here if that will help our case.” “SILENCE!!”

Now that’s not to say I can’t find something to genuinely complain about here.  I can take delight in the goofy acting, the cheap ghost-house aesthetics, and even the fact that there’s no actual wrestling in this movie, but what really bummed me out is when I got to the end and tried to watch it again only to realize that there simply isn’t much of a branching path here.  The decisions you make don’t affect the story as much as they just lead you through different parts of the whole picture which means having to watch it at least three times to see everything.  There’s no reason we couldn’t cut back and forth between the members of the New Day as they explored the various rooms of the house, and picking one doesn’t affect where the story ends up because they all just come back together by the end of their individual segments.  The only choices that ultimately matter are picking up one item that lets you get the True ending instead of just the Good one, and arguably the bad endings.  There comes a point where you can decide if certain members of the New Day will succumb to their fear or stay strong with the Power of Positivity, but only one of them doesn’t lead to an immediate Game Over screen, and the one that doesn’t only goes on for one scene longer than that.  It’s the closest to a true BAD ENDING the movie has and it all feels like a wasted opportunity to not explore this more.  See, I wanted to have a story where Big E and Kofi went to the dark side while Xavier Woods had to bring them back to the light, but that just wasn’t an option here because those dark side decisions were simply the “wrong ones” and the movie will just replay the scene until you choose the right one.  This is my first Netflix interactive movie so perhaps some of the other ones have more interesting branching paths or this is just the norm, but while I can understand not wanting to reshoot the ending eight times to cover all contingencies, I was still hoping it would try to reach me halfway!

You see failure, I see an opportunity! Put them together and you have… a fail-a-tunity!

The movie always had my attention, but I could only get so engaged with it as it was going on.  The few times I perked up and was about to sit on the edge of my seat ended up being disappointments as the choices I made barely seemed to affect what was going to happen.  If they went all the way with the three guys facing their fears and letting their decisions GENUINELY impact the finale I would probably like this twice as much, but as is, it’s still a fun little distraction that doesn’t overstay its welcome and doesn’t aspire for much more than that.  It’s meant for families and so it can’t go too far in any one direction, whether it’s the scares, the complexity, or the dramatic stakes, but I think it does its job just fine and is a great addition to anyone looking for something not-so-spooky to add to their Halloween playlist!  I’d also definitely like to see a sequel for next year with a bit more depth and a few more wrestlers.  It’s too bad they fired Bray Wyatt or else they could have done a Fiend version of this, but that’s WWE for you these days!  Heck, maybe they should make one of these choose your own adventure stories for Vince so he can test out his absurd decisions before cutting a dozen more wrestlers!

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