Film Review: Haus of Pain (USA, 2017) is an amusing, heartfelt love letter to wrestling and chasing your dream

Do you ever sit back and take stock of your life, and wonder how things might have been if you followed another path? A path you were so adamant you’d pursue at some point? This is the premise for Rooster Teeth’s newest documentary Haus of Pain which sees James Willems of the popular YouTube channel Funhaus, attempt to see what life would have been like had he followed his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Willems takes fellow Funhaus alumni Lawrence Sonntag on his journey and the two have the unenviable task of preparing for a tag team match in a local competition with only a week of training. Diets are altered, bumps are taken and eventually the drastic repercussions are finally met. I’ll make something clear upfront, this isn’t a rival for 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat. After all, it is a Rooster Teeth production and everyone involved has their feet squarely planted in comedy territory. That doesn’t mean that Haus of Pain doesn’t at least attempt to inject some heart and danger into the proceedings. One particular instance is when Lawrence accidentally cuts open James’ forehead. For a pro wrestler, such minor mishaps would be scoffed at but for two gamers who joke around on camera all day, it’s a turning point, at least for Lawrence that maybe they’re in a little too deep. It’s nothing heavy and moments like these don’t detract from the warmth and charm of the doco but it’s great to see director Mat Hames (who has the benefit of not being a Rooster Teeth member) shoot his cast in candid moments, capturing their second thoughts and fear.

It’s no secret that professional wrestling is the subject of a healthy amount of mockery, stemming from its silly storylines, even sillier characters and primarily, its heavily scripted matches which are – to those on the outside looking in – perceived as “fake”. What Haus of Pain does in tandem with its sociological experiment is peel back the curtain and grant us a look at an industry whose secrets are usually heavily guarded. The results are surprising. The amount of work and exactitude that needs to be mastered in order to prevent serious injury and to put on an entertaining show makes not only the skeptical in the documentary believe, but helps to bring viewers around too. Once again, it’s a credit to Hames that he decided to frame Willems’ story with a love for a the sport and not just rush to the final act, which I might add is fantastic pay-off, built to perfection.

There are a wonderful selection of supporting players here too, both memorable and familiar. James’ wife Elyse Willems, also of Funhaus, is a constant source of support and hilarity; Funhaus content producer and host Adam Kovic is present to basically shit on dreams and the guys from the industry itself such as trainers Paul Ventimiglia and Bo Cooper are incredibly passionate, encouraging and helpful. John Hennigan (former WWE star John Morrison) even has a segment where he gives tips on playing to the crowd.

Haus of Pain is a funny, insightful look at an industry shrouded in misinformation. It’s touching and inspirational. There is a very clear message here: that you should always explore your passions, even if it doesn’t work out and that is more that I ever expected to take away from the guys responsible for a YouTube gaming channel.

Documentary Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FIVE

Haus of Pain is steaming now on demand via Rooster Teeth’s ROOSTER TEETH FIRST subscription service.

Funhaus uploads to YouTube every day.