Looking for a thrill this Halloween weekend? Here’s something to watch (out for): At Your Own Risk. Read more below from this film review written by our resident film reviewer, Syracuse film studies graduate, Cher Joy (cheracuse).
“Our entire job is about exploiting people.”
In a film that could easily be part of the Black Mirror universe, At Your Own Risk (2018) follows two friends and business partners, Ang (Alexandra Boylan) and Taylor (Helenna Santos) as they beta test a modern-day treasure hunt in the vast New Mexico desert.
Surrounded by bright lights and cards with no sense of what time of day it is, Ang moves around a casino eyeing cards and slots, trying to withdraw more money from an ATM to no avail. As she leaves the casino in the early morning, we see a man in the corner, texting an anonymous number about her departure.
The audience is then left wondering about the stranger and we see Ang cry in her car, understanding that this is not the first time she’s left the casino after a night of gambling. She drives, parks outside an apartment and in a couple of seconds, she gets dressed, puts on makeup and walks in with two cups of coffee like it’s just another normal Monday morning.
Ang’s friend and business partner, Taylor is already dressed in a power suit, ready to go at any second. As she paces back and forth waiting for Ang, who walks in a couple of minutes late with coffee, she worries about the image they’re conveying to their potential client: a new business opportunity called At Your Own Risk.
In an interview with their CEO (Jeff Schroeder), Taylor and Ang are asked to spend three days in the New Mexico desert beta testing a new scavenger hunt based on the Wild West.
Do they go and risk alienating their clients? Or do they take a chance and perhaps land one of the biggest job offers they’ve ever encountered?
Ang and Taylor are deliberate–Ang is ready to jump in and Taylor weighs the risks. After carefully reading through the contract, they both agree to take a three-day-break. We then follow them on a long car ride, bonding over music and views. Once they reach their destination, they find a container that holds an iPad and other essentials they need on their trip. On the iPad is a video, detailing all the risks and rewards, as well as a scrap of paper with the coordinates of the next container.
Leaving everything behind except for their necessities, they embark on the treasure hunt and the adventure of a lifetime. But as secrets get revealed with each discovery, their friendship begins to show cracks, threatening to rip them apart as supplies run low.
At Your Own Risk brings up questions about our own relationships with nature, technology and the foundation of our friendships. As we admire beautiful drone shots scanning over the New Mexico desert, we wonder if we’re ever truly alone in a world, even if we’re in the middle of nowhere.
As Ang and Taylor uncover each piece of the puzzle, they come to a realization that they are truly not alone and that each and every move is monitored by a drone and hidden cameras, unbeknownst to themselves.
Glitching screens, hidden cameras and over-the-head drone shots clue us in that there is another layer to this treasure hunt. Besides us, the audience, who else could be possibly watching these two women and why? Why Ang and Taylor in particular?
The true reward of the film, however, is seeing a strong female friendship at the helm of it. Rarely do we see many female friendship films in mainstream media and if anything, friendships are usually secondary—only used to build depth to a romantic relationship, or provide comedic effect.
Despite having contrasting personalities, Ang and Taylor are both passionate, smart, career-driven and, above all, care about one another. Having been friends since college and building their PR firm from the ground up, they’ve seen each other struggle and prevail. Although we only get snippets of their background through their dialogue, there’s a sense of camaraderie that stems from the natural chemistry between Alexandra Boylan and Helenna Santos.
It’s in this friendship that we root for not just one of them to come out on top, but both of them, together.
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Runtime: 75 minutes
Directed by: John K.D. Graham
- Starring: Alexandra Boylan, Helenna Santos, Jeff Schroeder
All photos are courtesy of At Your Own Risk‘s promotional images.