Whyboy Spotlights: Tontine Massacre

Tontine: An investment plan in which participants buy shares in a common fund and receive an annuity that increases every time a participant dies, with the entire fund going to the final survivor.

Why am I suddenly copy pasting dictionary entries and pasting them into spotlights…? Well Tontine is the theme of the annoying, maddening, and repugnant independent film Tontine Massacre. I bet you can’t guess how the movie ends, huh?

In all seriousness, Tontine Massacre was one of the movies I was forced to watch during class at my film school to learn how a distributor rates a movie and decides which one is worth the investment to put money into. Final verdict after that viewing of Tontine Massacre? BLEH! But you know what, I was actually lucky because when my teacher originally featured the movie all I heard was just half the title “Tontine.” That title right away just sounds more mysterious and interesting then the blunt “Tontine Massacre.” I would go directly to talking about the story of the movie but funnily enough that’s not where the story starts off. Not at all. Remember way back, when the directors of The Blair Witch Project posted fake missing posters of the three main characters to help create hype for the movie. If that hype-building machine was a 1 on that meter, Tontine Massacre goes a perfect 10 on its hype. First, Tontine was marketed as a BRAND NEW reality show, and already I’ve lost half my audience out there haven’t I?

Time to lose the rest. I don’t mind most reality shows in the slightest. There are obvious exceptions, most easily pointed out would be “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo,” but I can sit down and enjoy some Dog Whisperer, Auction Wars, Junk Raiders and such. Why? I guess for me watching these shows is like peering into a zoo and looking into multiple cages. It’s just interesting to see the different life styles of all these different people around the world. Plus, after being in film school I can understand the more “thematic” aspects of reality TV and can see the warning signs of BS. But moving back on topic, what about Tontine? Not only was it purported to be a mixture of Survivor and the Amazing Race, BUT the prize was a collective amount of $10 Billion. Now that’s a lot of moolah but there is a twist to the prize money. The $10 Billion doesn’t come from any bank or investor but from the collective assets and life savings of the contestants. THAT’S RIGHT. If you lose Tontine you don’t just lose some pride, you lose EVERYTHING you own too.

The prospect of finding the 10 most idiotically economically suicidal idiots sounds like it would be impossible but NOPE. LOTS of people came out to “try-out,” like thousands. Remember this is ALL a hoax to publicize their crappy movie. Unlike Blair Witch where its ad campaign made it such a success, Tontine Massacre’s campaign is definitely the main reason that the first people who watched it, hated it. It wasted a lot of people’s time and that obviously didn’t give off a very good first impression and the movie suffered financially because of that. But hell first impressions aren’t everything. They are a large portion but not EVERYTHING. How’s the movie itself on its own merits?

Tontine Massacre is a shaky cam/found footage horror film. Ugh… yes I know that old horror trope. The story is edited together from footage found after the 9 bodies and 1 survivor of the show Tontine were found on a deserted island. The footage entails the selecting process of the contestants (which goes on for way too long) and the four days of the Tontine contestants surviving after being shipwrecked. To help nail home the theme of Tontine, each contestant is handed a key to their own safety deposit box, which holds all of that person’s possessions, and when they lose the game they give their key to the victor. Now with this sort of setup you can already smell the taste of greed and desperation.

But do not fret I am not implying that greed and desperation are not human traits, stories like the Lord of the Flies show that deep down we are all just animals that want to survive, and greed and desperation are sadly a by-product of that thinking. Conceptually this sounds like a pretty cool movie but execution is everything and the only way to properly execute Tontine Massacre is through lethal injection. There is nothing enjoyable about the movie. It’s just one punch to the gut after another of pure hatred and “tension.” The story is filled to the brim with easily poke-able holes in logic, story and human desperation. The shaky-cam aspect is sadly the most well thought out aspect of the movie but still leads to the traditional problems with Shaky-Cam movies. The characters are all unlikable and unmemorable. Finally the framing device of the movie is just overall sluggish, conceptually convoluted, and leads to several fake-out endings. But let’s go into more detail.

First the framing device being that the movie is just the police edited down version of news footage, and footage from the contestants’ cameras. I can wave my disbelief that sure police would hire the film studio, who got all those contestants killed, to edit all that footage together because they’re movie police and therefore outrageously lazy. But I just had to think BS when there were several moments where over some of the contestant’s death scenes they would play their confessional audio and make the scene bluntly dramatically ironic. This isn’t clever writing. This is just being ironic for the sake of irony. But there’s a second half of this BS framing device. The entire movie takes place during a period of 4 days. Now you have no idea what it’s like, but to sit through this long movie with that knowledge is like taking 2 hours to rip through 2 feet of Christmas wrappings to find a dead mouse. I’m not kidding when I say this is a long movie, and each 24-hour day segment takes a 25 minute chunk out of this movie. Your mind just feels like it has been longer in movie time passed because of the slow pace of the movie.

Next let’s talk character. You will not be able to remember any of the characters’ names. They can be simply labeled the jackass, the blond, the quiet one, the crazy one and so on. There is nothing likable about these characters in the slightest because in an instant they start killing each other and may I remind you this is a group of intelligent adults and they start killing each other on day 2 of being stranded. Even the kids in Lord of the Flies took a few more days before deciding to kill pigs. Also what needs to be stated is that the movie’s tone is just unrelenting hatred and anger without a single relieving moment. Even in movies such as this there must be an undercurrent of levity or some form of lighter tension to offset the harshness of the situation. This is like my problem with The Dark Knight’s climax, because the climax was basically non-stop action for 30 minutes straight many people including myself became exhausted of the climax. But at least The Dark Knight has great characters and a story, Tontine Massacre is basically the adult version of Lord of the Flies mixed with an idiotic greed fueling plot device.

A funny thing I also notice, for a movie called “Tontine Massacre” there are a lot of off camera deaths. I would say to anyone making a horror movie to use subtlety and don’t go all out on death scenes unless absolutely necessary to nail home the horror of the scene (and let these horrific scenes happen to characters we actually liked so it is horrifying), and Tontine Massacre does that but still half-asses it. By first giving us the “subtle” setup of someone usually saying when they see someone carrying a bloody shiv “What are you doing with that knife?”and then cutting to black. That happens like four times in the movie and each time somebody dies, you don’t care, nobody cares. You especially don’t care when they do their over the top deaths, like the suicide, the beating death or the multiple stab death. All these deaths, I will admit, are shot relatively well considering the sickening camera movement but WE DO NOT KNOW THESE PEOPLE. So, why should I care that someone who (gonna spoil a little bit of the movie to nail home my point) raped a women is beaten to death by the biggest asshole in the cast? That’s right. They try to shock us with rape too but only bring it up in that one instant that the rapist dies. Why?

Now the plot holes and discrepancies in character can be summed up in two words. Their keys. More exact, their safety deposit box keys is the root of all their hardships. That is the reason why they all die because all the asshole characters logic is “If I murder everyone and take their keys then I get all the monies.” They also freak the hell up whenever they lose their keys which leads to the very first plot hole. SPARE KEYS. Getting a spare key for your safety deposit box is as simple as paying the bank $200, plus I think the bank would take the excuse “I lost my key in the middle of being shipwrecked on a deserted island” and open your safety deposit box for you. But let’s just give this movie a break and say this is an “alternate universe” and say in this universe when you lose your safety deposit box key the bank is able to hold all your possessions hostage until you can get the key. Even then, the movie would still hit a brick wall when dealing with the casts more desperate characters. If the only thing standing in your way of death is a key hanging around your neck, then any desperate man/women or coward (which is the best word to describe half the cast) would either give up the key, throw it in the ocean, or throw it in the opposite direction and run from the contestant who somehow found a machete.

Finally, a horrible story, characters and plot holes wouldn’t be complete without annoying camera work. Yes, shaky cam was this big huge thing way back, and it is pulled off horribly here. Anyone with motion sickness issues will feel slightly queasy as our camera guy is easily excited and turns and zooms the camera constantly it gives one a headache. Also, seeing as how all the cameras, that the dead film crew for Tontine brought, were all damaged we get the wonderful visual treats of constant edited in freeze ups, and glitches, which yes makes sense in context of the Tontine Massacre but at one point while watching no one who was watching could tell that the movie had actually froze. Overkill might be the appropriate term to describe this aspect of the movie.

Now I’m first got to say, just to offset all the negativity, that I liked the idea of the concept. Contestants of a survivor-esque game show truly surviving on their own, carrying around the keys to their monetary status around their necks. This could be a very intelligent and horrifically introspective look at society’s compulsion to be rich and powerful through monetary and social status and in this case also speaking from the perspective of a reality show. But that isn’t what we got. Maybe I was being overly optimistic but sadly when I first saw this movie I was only told that it was called “Tontine” which at least in my mind gave me the impression that “Hey this might be an interesting look at the degenerative nature of our trust in our fellow man because of greed and status.” That is until you hear the full title “Tontine Massacre.” This is when immediately know this is just gonna be the most mean-spirited, badly paced, boring, unsympathetic, unidentifiable and moronic piece of shaky cam garbage you ever seen. DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE.

Written By: Taylor ‘Whyboy’ Wyatt

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About the author

Chozo Ninpo

Chozo Ninpo is a founding member of Channel Zero and one of the hosts of The Zero Level. He is the Project Manager for the Orlando Nerd Fest and an avid gamer, as well as a nerdcore rapper, a cosplayer, and the real life inspiration behind the FX cartoon "Chozen".