Usually when someone throws down a gauntlet, there’s an epic tussle for power that runs people ragged. A fantastical showing of dynamic feats. A gauntlet is something we should fear, something that’s challenging, and most importantly, something really freakin’ entertaining. Matt Eskandari’s film The Gauntlet isn’t a total wash, because there are most certainly moments of thrilling excitement and impending doom – but not as many as there should have been. Eskandari’s eye for atmospheric detail did wonders for the sunken castle set production, but Adam Lawson’s screenplay unfortunately missed that epic “WOW” factor that Eskandari shot for – ultimately leaving us in a battle with our own attention spans.
Meet David (Warren Kole). He’s just woken up in some medieval-looking location, has no recollection of how he got there, and is laying on a pile of bones. Probably not the best scenario to be in, but David, an ex-cop, doesn’t really want to stick around and find out what happens next. This is where David meets Jin-Soo (Dustin Nguyen), another lost soul in the same predicament, and they set out in search of answers. Finding the hallways and rooms to be somewhat of a labyrinth, they meet a few more survivors on their quest, and soon realize there may be more powerful forces keeping them locked away. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but there are also a series of puzzles they must solve first, each with deadly implications. Can these strangers band together and defeat – THE GAUNTLET?!
Inconsistency is key for this film, because we end up riding numerous highs and lows throughout the group’s attempt at survival. We start on a sour note though, as Warren Kole’s character struggles to display anything more than a typical direct-to-DVD performance, and once Nguyen is introduced into the movie, the cheesiness hits a nauseating high. There’s plenty of brooding looks, clichéd lines about why they should trust one another, telegraphed fight moves, and an unavoidably weak way to start Eskandari’s film. The way we start out is reminiscent of a typical Saturday night SyFy premiere, and immediately we give an eye roll.
Admittedly, it gets better from there. More characters are introduced, a backstory is implemented that threads a connective string from the characters to the main idea, there are some decently interesting religious themes incorporated, and the terror is ramped up – minimally. David and the crew basically are trapped in some sort of technologically inferior Saw setup where all the traps have to do with devices from the dark ages, going along with the whole sunken castle aesthetic. Again though, the quality is unfortunately very inconsistent, and with almost no horror to be found, Lawson’s script bounces around from being a tense, straight-forward B-Movie to a slack, hammy F-Movie.
I do want to touch on the production of The Gauntlet though, because the settings our characters interact with are extremely immersive. The stonework architecture absolutely looks the part, and each chamber has a very distinct style compared to the other rooms. I couldn’t help but think these characters were trapped in a deadly version of Legends of the Hidden Temple because of the trap doors and misty waters David wades through, but I have to admit, Eskandari’s eye for physical beauty scores some very engrossing views.
For all the pretty settings and all the puzzling challenges David has to face, The Gauntlet lacks the necessary bite to make said adventure either horrific or action-packed. With characters that are flat and wafter-thin, a story that really doesn’t push any boundaries, and traps that are more mind-boggling than evil, The Gauntlet felt like a reshaping of the “torture porn” drama with a little cultish twist for flavor. The true test here will be for viewers to see if their patience runs thin before the final test. Granted, you probably won’t even have to watch that long, because everything becomes obviously predictable before the conclusion is reached. But, if you’re the last man standing, consider yourself the victor – or loser, for that matter.
The Gauntlet is half "torture porn" horror and half religious thriller, but unfortunately its parts equal nothing more than a mediocre watch.