Max Winslow and The House of Secrets (Movie Review)

Chad Michael Murray stars in the family-friendly Max Winslow and The House of Secrets which had some limited theatrical releases across the USA before its Blu-ray/DVD combo debut August 25th through Skip Stone Pictures. Now making an international splash, it hits UK theaters, on Friday, October 23, 2020 via Munro Films.

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Directed by four-time Emmy Award winner Sean Olson (The Other Mother TV movie 2017, F.R.E.D.I. 2018) and written by Jeff Wild (Chelsea Lately series, The Josh Wolf Show series), Max Winslow and the House of Secrets is the latest tween/teen Sci-Fi/Thriller offering. Its story revolves around eccentric billionaire Atticus Virtue (Murray: One Tree Hill series, Camp Cold Brook 2008), who has extended a once in a lifetime offer to five Bentonville, Arkansas students.

But their e-vites are not for a swanky costume party at his mansion, no: instead, the teens will be competing for ownership of Virtue Manor and, presumably, a chance to be the next billionaire prodigy like Atticus himself. Which explains why the guest list features such a motley crew of personalities, including Insta-baddie Sophia (Jade Chynoweth: 300: Rise of an Empire 2014, The Last Ship series), bully Aiden (Emery Kelly: Dog with a Blog series, Alexa & Katie series), video game enthusiast Benny (Jason Genao: Logan 2017, On The Block series), lacrosse king Connor (Tanner Buchanan: Designated Survivor series, Cobra Kai series), and tech genius Max (Sydne Mykelle: Destruction: Los Angeles 2017, The Thinning: New World Order 2018).

However, when the young group arrives at the mansion, they soon realize that this contest is a lot more dangerous than any of them could have anticipated, much in thanks to AI creation HAVEN (Marina Sirtis: Star Trek: The Next Generation series, Star Trek: Picard series), who is hellbent on weeding out the bad from the good. Can they last the night?

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Adults are apt to note a multitude of correlations between Max Winslow and the House of Secrets and 1985’s The Breakfast Club, as well as additional similarities to 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (or 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, if you prefer). With definite overlap, each of the stories establishes a group of varying tropes who start out their time as opposing forces—the princess, geek, rebel, jock, and misfit—but end up coming together to ‘defeat’  a common enemy. In this, the parallels are admittedly more frequent to John Hughes’ Teen Dramedy, with the new film rebranding its tropes as a narcissist, troll, liar, catfish and recluse.

Let’s just be honest: the fact that the title character is a female tech genius shows that teen films have come a long way since the ‘80s. And Mykelle’s portrayal of the spirited yet soft-spoken, intelligent but humble Max is also a feather in the film’s cap. The talented actress leans her character more towards Willy Wonka’s sweet-faced Charlie than The Breakfast Club’s uber dork Brian. With her family struggling to make ends meet after her father walked out the door and abandoned them, she stirs our empathy, all while her sophistication at such a young age is inspiring. Solely by delivering the role with panache, Mykelle makes herself a proud role model for the female STEM majors of the future. Equally key to the plot, Murray is flawless in the role of Atticus Virtue, a less quirky take on the lovechild of Elon Musk and Willy Wonka. Though his screen time is limited, the actor does his role justice and crafts a (mostly) likable billionaire tech genius who never forgets his roots.

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Chynoweth (Sophia) does a superb job of maintaining a self-centered focus, and she absolutely shines in scenes where she’s acting like a true ‘mean girl.’ Conversely, Genao’s Benny is an introverted gamer who never really gives us a whole lot of personality, good or bad, unlike Kelly’s Aiden, who is fairly well-developed. A bully with a past that leaves us to feel great empathy for his character, Kelly’s approach softens over time as Aiden evolves. Which is similar, in a sense, to Buchanan’s Connor, who seemingly has it all until we learn the truth behind the facade. For those well-versed in the Breakfast Club tropes, Chynoweth’s Sophia is a more rotten version of Claire; Kelly’s Aiden is somewhat identical to John; and Buchanan’s Connor shares many traits with Andrew. However, Genao’s Benny and Mykelle’s Max are not so clear-cut.

All of this said, for tweens and early teens, Max Winslow and the House of Secrets is apt to be a fun foray into the Sci-Fi Thriller, and one that parents can enjoy, as well. It’s sole downfall is in its product placement; and controversial products, at that. Otherwise, the film is certain to bring back your youth while delivering some life lessons to the youngsters, as well as jokes about the dreaded common core math and a stellar blanket fort. An experience that the family can share, and one that’s worth the price of popcorn, Cryptic Rock gives Max Winslow and the House of Secrets 4 of 5 stars.

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