Max Winslow and the House of Secrets (3 stars)

Max Winslow and the House of Secrets

Entertaining enough YA thriller that just about overcomes the limitations of its budget

While sophisticated grown-up films are faring somewhat better, the current nervousness around cinemagoing has resulted in a dearth of decent options for tweens. With its plucky kids in peril and mysteries to be solved, YA thriller Max Winslow and the House of Secrets hopes to fill that void. It's no Hunger Games, nor Maze Runner, it's not even Divergent, but manages to generate suspense on a budget and work a host of relatable issues into its sci-fi story.

With movies like Demon Seed, The Breakfast Club and House on Haunted Hill acting as amusing inspiration, the story sees five high schoolers competing to win the mansion of tech billionaire Atticus Virtue (One Tree Hill's Chad Michael Murray) as they are locked inside of it. Marina Sirtis (perhaps best known as Troi in Star Trek) is at her plummiest providing the voice of the computer that ominously controls everything. Shy hacker Max (Sydne Mikelle) is our heroine and the person best placed to win. She's trapped in there with her crush, Connor (Tanner Buchanan), as well as troll Aiden (Emery Kelly), the Insta-obsessed Sophia (Jade Chynoweth), and Jason Genao's gaming addict Benny.

Directed by Sean Olson, who has a lot of TV movies on his CV, Max Winslow is in the tricky position of having quite a flashy concept – with talk of Atticus's vast riches and the various futuristic tech on display – but clearly having to do things predominantly on the cheap. But, if the visuals are underwhelming, there's enough invention in the plot to maintain a diverting tempo.

There are some quirky touches, mild horror and the film's general sense of maniacal mystery is fun. As Max, Mikelle is an endearingly unlikely heroine; it's probably too laidback a performance to centre a movie around but she's affecting in her insecurity, whilst also being capable of saving the day, and the rest of the cast provide solid support. While lacking in the polish and edge its young audience will be hankering for, it'll pass the time entertainingly enough before the next YA smash comes along.

Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 23 Oct.

Max Winslow and the House of Secrets

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 38min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Sean Olson
  • Cast: Tanner Buchanan, Chad Michael Murray, Marina Sirtis
  • UK release: 23 October 2020

Five teens compete to win a mansion owned by an eccentric billionaire.